UC Santa Barbara students and faculty participated in a National Day of Refusal on May 3 to demand the removal of police from campus, with participants cancelling or refusing to work — whether that be missing virtual classes or not holding classes at all — to show their support for the abolitionist initiative.

A “virtual walkout” video projection was held outside of I.V. Theater by UCSB FTP. Courtesy of Charmaine Chua

Organized by the North American abolitionist coalition Cops off Campus, the Day of Refusal took place across the United States and some locations in Canada, including on several UC campuses and other universities. The Day of Refusal marks the first event in a full month of pro-abolition actions that Cops Off Campus has dubbed “Abolition May.”

Participants in the Day of Refusal signed a pledge that outlined reasons for abolition and put forward three demands: to remove all cops off of all campuses, to demand “the Land back” and to demand investments in community safety and education.

By advocating for land back, the Cops off Campus coalition stands in solidarity with the LANDBACK movement, which advocates for all public land to be returned to indigenous people.

The Cops off Campus pledge currently has over 2,000 signatures from individuals, 27 signatures from various university departments and centers and 55 signatures from various university organizations from universities across the country.

At UCSB, the Department of Asian American Studies and the Orfalea Center for Global & International Studies both signed the pledge in support of the Day of Refusal.

Sherene Seikaly, an associate professor with the Department of History, said she cancelled classes and took a day off work in honor of the work stoppage day.

“I believe that honoring the national and global reckoning with institutional racism, structural violence and police violence means opposing police on our campuses,” Seikaly said in a statement to the Nexus.

Along with participants abstaining from teaching or attending classes, a “virtual walkout” video projection was held outside of I.V. Theater by UCSB FTP, the UCSB branch under UC FTP, a UC Cops off Campus affiliate.

An organizer with UC FTP explained in a message to the Nexus that the group’s acronym does not have an official expansion, but can be interpreted to mean various things such as “feed the people,” “for the people” or “fuck the police.”

The group projected a video of avatars walking across a screen carrying virtual signs that participants drew and submitted online as a way of visualizing the number of people digitally walking out.

Charmaine Chua, an assistant professor of Global Studies and organizer with UC Cops Off Campus, UC FTP and UCSB FTP, said that of the groups’ demands, the most important is to remove police from university campuses immediately.

“We don’t mean the gradual defunding, we don’t mean the gradual dismantling, we do mean that we literally want the UCPD to be dismantled and abolished as a police force,” Chua said.

Chua noted that according to the most recently recorded crime statistics from 2016, UCSB had over 1000 recorded arrests — more than any other UC. The majority of the arrests — 836 out of 1082 — were relating to drugs, alcohol and disorderly conduct, rather than violent crimes, according to the crime statistics.

“I think that the UCSB PD sees itself as sort of like policing campus partying. And as abolitionists, the Cops Off Campus campaign really takes the stance that there are many other ways that you could actually address drug and alcohol use more safely,” Chua said.

“It means having safer transport, it means communities taking care of each other when they see each other potentially overdose,” Chua continued. “There’s lots of resources and harm reduction trainings that actually have been proven to be far, far more effective than police”

Chua said planning for the Day of Refusal had been in the works for many months. Outreach ranged from asking students to not attend class to asking faculty to cancel their classes or replace their classes with a recorded lecture on police abolition. Several offices that were not able to close their doors, like the MultiCultural Center and Educational Opportunity Program, instead committed to having a day of education, according to Chua.

First-year pre-biology major Uma Clemenceau said she was participating in the Day of Refusal because she didn’t believe police belong on campuses or in any place of education.

“I think that having cops at a place of learning is never a good idea. Just looking at things from the past [such as] the school to prison pipeline, it never serves people well,” Clemenceau said.

As a student living outside of UCSB and attending all remote classes, Clemenceau was not able to congregate with other students, and noted the advantages and disadvantages of having a work stoppage day occur fully online.

“On the one hand, it’s a little bit less impactful, because having physical bodies in a room versus the absence of them is a very stark, striking image,” Clemenceau said. “But on the other hand, it’s so easy to go to a Zoom call. The statement you make by just simply not going [to class] and showing that you’re not even willing to do that simple thing can — in a different way — be impactful as well.”

Chua said the Day of Refusal served as a kickoff for the month of actions throughout Abolition May and as a way to give visibility to the demands for abolition that the Cops Off Campus movement has put forward.

“We are aware that a one-day stoppage is not the same as a kind of prolonged strike, but we hope that by getting as many universities and as many people to try to see if [having a national work stoppage day] is possible, that it kind of shows a mass position,” Chua said.

Correction [5/10/21/ 10:02 a.m.]: A previous version of this article said the LANDBACK movement advocates for public land across the region of Black Hills, South Dakota to be returned to indigenous people. This article has been corrected to reflect that the LANDBACK movement advocates for all public land to be returned to indigenous people.

Sindhu Ananthavel
Sindhu Ananthavel (she/they) is the Lead News Editor for the 2023-24 school year. Previously, Ananthavel was the Deputy News Editor for the 2022-23 school year, the Community Outreach News Editor for the 2021-22 school year and an assistant news editor for the 2021-22 school year. She can be reached at news@dailynexus.com.