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Beyond the First Amendment: the impact of police presence on campus

Jeffrey Edleson, dean and professor, social welfare | November 7, 2017

The campus has embarked on a series of Free Speech seminars to discuss both the benefits and limits of speech in our society. The most recent to be announced is a panel discussion next week titled “Beyond the First: Healing and Harmful Speech,” which will focus on the impact of hate speech on our community.

Missing thus far in our discussion of recent events on campus is the impact that a highly militarized police presence had on many of our students. My interactions with students in the School of Social Welfare indicates that more concerning than the presence of hateful speakers and their supporters on campus was the presence of over 400 police in riot gear on multiple occasions.

My scholarship in the area of domestic violence has often focused on unintended consequences of well-meaning actions. The events of this past year on campus also require our attention to the unintended consequences of large numbers of police on our campus.

Social welfare students, at both the undergraduate and graduate level, are majority under-represented minority students, what we call here on campus URM students who are of African-American, LatinX or Native American descent. Others identify as GLBTQ or gender non-conforming. For many, they are the first in their family to attend college and have made many sacrifices to come to our campus. So amidst their excitement to start studies this fall they were confronted with lines of police in full riot gear on multiple days during their first weeks at Berkeley.

It is no secret that different communities in our country have historically experienced police in very different ways. The Black Lives Matter movement has raised our national awareness of the impact of police on black communities as well as others. While white communities may see police as sources of safety, many in communities of color and others often see police as a direct threat.

For example, one of our graduate student instructors had to meet three undocumented social welfare students at an off-campus site and escort them to campus so they could complete their final presentation this past spring on the day Ann Coulter was scheduled to speak. These students were terribly afraid that among the planned police presence there would be U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and that they could possibly be taken into custody as they walked to their final presentation. During a dialogue last month with dozens of my own graduate students they consistently expressed the deep fear and intimidation that the huge police presence created for them. And students were not alone in this fear, faculty and staff of color voiced similar concerns about their own safety.

I have spoken to other deans about the traumatic impact of these events on students. One dean suggested I not use the term trauma as that portrays our students as weak “snowflakes.” My students are anything but snowflakes! Rather, they are incredible survivors of daily discrimination in their lives and communities. They deserve a Berkeley that does not replicate the danger they sense in their lives elsewhere.

This year our campus police have focused on providing physical safety during threatened actions as individuals and groups from around the country do battle at Berkeley. My hope and that of my students is that our administration and police will work closely with affected students, staff and faculty to design more sensitive approaches that balance the many different views of what creates safety for them on our campus.

Comments to “Beyond the First Amendment: the impact of police presence on campus

  1. dave, focusing on cost is missing the point. The campus had to secure the physical safety of students and others in the aftermath of Charlottsville and the earlier Milo event last Spring. The discussion we haven’t yet had on campus is how we secure physical safety in a diverse community where the presence of so many police actually created a sense of physical threat and danger to many students, staff and faculty. I hope that is the discussion on which we can focus. Best, Dean Edleson

    • Dean Edleson,

      i used an analogy to explain my observation that vastly overpaying for security by frightened administrators is similar to vastly overpaying for auto repairs by frightened vehicle owners…
      in other words, trying to be polite by alluding that one thing is comparable to something else in significant respects.

      So let me flesh it out: a “check engine” light is the kiss of death when you have to get a smog test, and some auto mechanics exploit fearful customers when possible ….
      e.g. the mechanic who rubs his chin and dramatically says “solving this ‘check engine light’ could cost a couple of thousand dollars, but that misses the point because you have to pass the smog test
      since you have to “secure” your vehicle because you need it to commute to work.”
      (paraphrasing your “focusing on cost is missing the point. The campus had to secure the physical safety of students and others”)
      ” Leave your vehicle with us and we’ll fix it and don’t be shocked by a repair bill for $2,000.”

      On the other hand, a sincere, down-to-earth mechanic could tell you to take a seat, and he could poke around your vehicle’s engine for 10 minutes, and then reach in and reconnect a loose vacuum hose
      and the “check engine” light goes off and you are good to go after you pay him $60.

      $600,000 for security for one speaker?!

      How about perhaps $150,000 for sincere, down-to-earth security with a less overpowering but still nimble and effective presence that would’ve/could’ve provided adequate security and alleviated the collateral damage you described:
      “During a dialogue last month with dozens of my own graduate students they consistently expressed the deep fear and intimidation that the huge police presence created for them. And students were not alone in this fear, faculty and staff of color voiced similar concerns about their own safety.”

  2. $600,000 approved by Cal administrator(s)
    for the massive “security” show of power ….
    imagine instead 60 checks for $10,000 apiece to needy students!

    Disingenuous car mechanics et al earn more money
    than 80+% of college grads
    by knowing how to play on customer fears and gullibility
    and bill at outrageous rates.

    Cal students intimated and aghast by the massive “security” show of power must express their feelings and reactions
    to the Berkeley administrator(s) who ordered it.

    “In anticipation of potentially violent protests, the campus paid an estimated $600,000 in security expenses for conservative author Ben Shapiro’s visit Thursday, according to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof.”
    ( Elise Ulwelling, Daily Cal)

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