College campuses around the United States have lately been inundated with local and state police forces, in addition to the schools’ own cops. From Berkeley to the University of Florida to Michigan State University, hordes of police have been deployed during and in some cases, leading up to talks by Richard Spencer, president of the white nationalist think tank, the National Policy Institute. Wherever Spencer (who recently announced a hiatus from his campus tour) and his posse of white nationalists show up, a horde of law enforcement officers follow.
Campus police, local police and state police have all repeatedly proven themselves to be collaborators and protectors of white supremacists. As such, cops are often as unwanted on campus as white supremacist infiltrators. At minimum, some leftist student groups want to keep guns out of campus cops’ hands and stop the growth of police presence at their schools.
Campus police departments have proliferated since their inception at the turn of the century. According to a 2015 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) on campus police for the 2011-2012 school year, a total of 31,904 law enforcement officers were employed by four-year colleges with an enrollment of at least 2,500 students. According to the report, 68 percent of the colleges and universities surveyed employed sworn officers with full powers to arrest, and 75 percent used armed officers. Additionally, the report states that 95 percent of universities surveyed used their own campus police departments, rather than contracting officers from local police departments.
While universities by and large employ their own cops, they also bring in local and state police forces for events ranging from football games to fascist speaking events. And though campus police departments claim to have safety and security in mind, history shows that cops on campus tend to disrupt student protest and protect racist speakers and their supporters, while failing to support survivors of sexual abuse on campus.The report also reveals that police presence on university campuses is on the rise. The numbers of both sworn officers (with or without the ability to make arrests) and armed officers were higher in 2011 than they were in a previous 2004-2005 BJS study: 75 percent of schools surveyed had armed officers in 2012, up from 68 percent in 2005. Furthermore, the 2011-2012 report states that “the increase in full-time campus law enforcement employees (16 percent) outpaced the increase in student enrollment (11 percent).”
Over the last year, both the militarization and student upset over police on campuses have been thrown into stark relief with the rise of fascist infiltration at universities.
When white nationalist Richard Spencer visited the University of Florida in October last year, the campus was veritably flooded with cops. Though the university’s administration initially tried to block Spencer’s visit, he threatened to sue, and the school granted him permission to speak on campus. The University of Florida recently paid Alachua County $67,000 of an approximately $300,000 bill for police used during Spencer’s visit. The school spent around $500,000 total on security for the event, which ultimately included more than 30 law enforcement agencies. Student activists who protested Spencer’s speech were angered not only by the school’s decision to host a white supremacist speaker whose followers have committed acts of violence but also by the exorbitant funds the university committed to law enforcement for the event.
“A large police presence is something we kind of expect,” says Chad Chavira, a University of Florida student and one of the organizers behind No Nazis At UF, a student group formed to resist Spencer’s visit. “Police are an extension of the state and they protect white supremacists.” The school has committed several hundred thousand dollars to police on campus, while other resources, such as mental health support, are underfunded, according to Chavira.
Student activists organizing with No Nazis At UF also took issue with the fact that part-time staff were forced to take time off from work leading up to and the day of Spencer’s visit — time that they didn’t choose to take off and for which they still haven’t been compensated.
At some colleges, fascist activity is more pervasive than a one-time visit from Richard Spencer. Fascist groups including Identity Evropa and Patriot Front have become notorious for spreading their propaganda on university campuses. Members of Identity Evropa were present at the violent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August, and Patriot Front is an offshoot of Vanguard America, whose membership includes James Alex Fields Jr., the man accused of ramming a car into counter-protesters and killing Heather Heyer in Charlottesville.
Fascist groups have also been recruiting in person on college campuses. Leaked Discord logs recently published by the independent media collective Unicorn Riot revealed that a Patriot Front member in Chicago founded a “College Republicans” club at Roosevelt University in order to recruit members to the fascist group.
When Patriot Front hung banners and posted flyers at the University of Texas-San Antonio last year, university president Taylor Eighmy condemned Patriot Front, asserted that all incoming students would undergo “diversity and sensitivity training,” and said the school would increase security cameras and officers on campus. However, some students opposed the administration’s decision to increase the number of police and video surveillance.As fascists recruit on college campuses, official responses from university administrations and campus police have been too tepid for some student groups, who argue that inaction on fascist recruiting is more evidence that campus police are ineffective — and are often actively harmful.
Sci Ortiz, a junior at the University of Texas-San Antonio and a member of Revolutionary Horizon, a radical student group founded last year, tells Truthout that Eighmy’s decision to increase police on campus prompted Revolutionary Horizon’s campaign to disarm and dismantle the school’s police department. Fearing that an increased police presence on campus would only lead to harm against marginalized students and community members, Ortiz says, “The effort to disband UTSAPD in every capacity is a public health initiative.” Oritz adds that Revolutionary Horizon’s campaign to disarm and disband the University of Texas-San Antonio’s police force would “significantly decrease the number of pigs available to arrest poor people, murder people of color, and uphold inequality in our society.”
On March 5, Spencer made another attempt at a campus speaking engagement, a sparsely attended and heavily protested event at Michigan State University. Not long after, Spencer announced he was taking a step back from his so-called campus tour. Members of the now-defunct fascist group Traditionalist Worker Party and the fascist group Patriot Front showed up to support Spencer and harass protesters. Coltrane, a junior at Michigan State University who asked to be identified only by his first name because he fears for his safety, protested Spencer’s appearance at his school, and noted the huge police presence. The police were “extremely unorganized and made things more violent,” Coltrane told Truthout. “They were harassing protesters and protecting Nazis.”
A recent report from the Intercept reveals that of the approximately 200 cops from eight different departments present that day, nine were “undercover.” Two of the undercover officers were from the school’s own police department.
Instead of a police presence on campus, a costly and ineffective investment, student activists want to see financial commitments to programs that actually benefit students. “Safety has a lot to do with systemic issues,” Hutchinson explains, adding that she would like to see “mental health services normalized on campus.” Chavira echoes Hutchinson’s desire for more student-oriented services on campus: “That money could be better spent on professors’ salaries, more counselors and tutors for students.”
Campus law enforcement officers have also come under harsh scrutiny in recent months for their handling of political protest and for physically harming students. And while fatal shootings are less common among campus cops than city or state police, there are ample reports of violence carried out by university law enforcement.
Currently, students at Chicago’s Loyola University are speaking out against two recent incidents of racial profiling and police brutality against Black students. As students protested the school’s spending millions on a new athletic facility before a basketball game in February, campus police carried out stop-and-frisks against two Black students who were attending the game. When protesters noticed what was happening to the two men and called attention to it, police grabbed one student, also a Black man, who was questioning why the two other men were being detained. Campus officers shoved the protester to the ground face-first and handcuffed him.
The University of California police also have a long history of excessive force, including the infamous “pepper spray cop” incident in 2011, when a university police officer sprayed peaceful, seated protesters at UC-Davis in the face with pepper spray at close range, and several incidents between 2005 and 2010 that involved students being arrested, tased, beaten with batons and shot with rubber bullets.This is hardly the only recent incident of police violence against students. Just last week, a University of Chicago police officer shot and injured University of Chicago student Charles Thomas off-campus in the Hyde Park neighborhood where the school is located. Thomas’s mother told the university’s student paper, the Chicago Maroon, that her son has a history of bipolar disorder, and that she believes he was having a mental health episode when the officer shot him. Students and community members held protests following the shooting. Major student protests erupted in Georgia last year after a campus officer at the Georgia Institute of Technology fatally shot Scout Schulz, a student at the school and president of the Georgia Tech Pride Alliance. After a University of Cincinnati police officer killed 43-year-old Samuel DeBose in 2015, Buzzfeed reported that three students, all of them Black men, had been killed by University of Cincinnati police officers since 1997.
Students of color and leftist student groups are usually at the forefront of organizing against campus police; and as cops have become a fixture of university life, so too, has student and community resistance.
Naadiya Hutchinson, an undergraduate student at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the school’s Black Student Union has been organizing with her peers to stop Hopkins from getting its own police department. “There’s been a lot of petty robbery on campus lately,” Hutchinson told Truthout. She says the robberies have led the school’s administration to push for recently introduced state legislation that would allow Hopkins to establish its own police force. However, “Hopkins didn’t talk to students or the community members first,” before advocating the legislation; it came as a surprise to Hutchinson and every other student at the school.
Hutchinson believes that “adding more police officers will only add further tension to the situation” at Hopkins, where she says there’s currently a lot of bad faith between the school and the local community. Not only that, but the Baltimore cops who currently work on the Hopkins campus don’t have a positive relationship with Hopkins students or the local community. Following the police killing of Freddie Gray in 2015, the local community protested for weeks against police violence against Black people. Recent investigations into the Baltimore Police Department have also revealed deep corruption, resulting in the trial and conviction of two detectives.
Following major pushback from students and other community members, the Hopkins administration began working with lawmakers on certain amendments to the bill, mostly related to accountability and transparency. However, university leadership still supports the creation of a campus police department.
“We should be doing restorative justice,” Hutchinson says, not adding more law enforcement officers — especially armed ones — to a community where Black residents already suffer greatly at the hands of police. “Responses to violence shouldn’t perpetuate violence.”
For more than a century, students have resisted the presence of police on campus, pointing to funds wasted on ineffective and dangerous policing at the expense of student safety, and in the worst cases, students’ lives. Now, activists are pointing to universities’ moves to increase police presence to protect fascist guest speakers as just another example of the ways in which policing serves white supremacy.