By Jessica Zhu
Students and community members demanded the defunding and abolition of police at Stanford at a rally held by Abolish Stanford last Thursday night. In front of a projected backdrop of messages like “Cops Off Earth” and “Cops Off Campus,” speakers gathered in Main Quad to advocate for community justice and international solidarity.
The rally, which was attended in-person and virtually by over 100 people, was the most recent event of the Cops Off Campus Coalition’s “Abolish May,” a month-long push for the abolition of campus police across the United States. Abolish Stanford’s specific demands included defunding the Stanford University Department of Public Safety, ending the Memorandum of Understanding with Santa Clara County that gives rise to SUDPS, halting negotiations around and ultimately terminating the Stanford Deputy Sheriffs’ Association Collective Bargaining Agreement. Students also demanded the removal of law enforcement from mental health response at Stanford.
“Organizing this rally was a very rewarding opportunity to bring together so many different voices from different parts of campus and the community,” Abolish Stanford wrote in a statement to The Daily. “Organizing is all about building relationships, and this event relied on just that.”
During the rally, speakers challenged attendees to think about the purposes for which the institutions of police and prisons are designed, criticizing popular slogans that typically call for fixing a “broken” system.
“The system is working to perfection. It is doing exactly what it’s supposed to: keeping the marginalized oppressed,” said Ray Evans, who was formerly incarcerated for 27 years. Evans is a co-facilitator of the Citizens’ Circle, a weekly restorative justice circle held by Oakland nonprofit Community Works for people who have been paroled after initially being sentenced to life in prison.
Evans recounted his own experiences in prison, saying that he was paid between eight and 18 cents an hour for his labor. “Sounds a little like slave labor to me,” Evans said. “The prison system needs to be dismantled; not reformed, not fixed, but dismantled.”
Similarly, JT Faraji, a representative from Tha Hood Squad — a collective of artists of color in Oakland — criticized the idea that the police are designed to protect the public. “Police work is law enforcement, they don’t give a fuck about you,” he said. They enforce laws, usually for property and corporations.”
Faraji described the work that Tha Hood Squad did in protecting and providing support to his community, such as health and safety programs. In an encounter with a California Highway Patrol officer, Faraji said, “He told me I’m standing on state property. I told him, actually, I’m standing on Indigenous land. He told me, he’s here protecting the property. And I said, I’m here protecting the people.”
To replace these systems, speakers urged attendees to think about restorative and community justice, and to envision and create spaces without police. Evans said that no one is irredeemable: “It becomes about whether that individual is willing to do the work. That’s the barometer for me for whether someone is irredeemable or not.”
He advocated for a response to crimes that centered and included “the victim and community,” focusing more on repairing harm than on punishment.
In light of recent protests attended by Stanford students in support of Palestine, the rally also invited Lara Hafez ’24 from Students for Justice for Palestine to speak. Recounting her own parents’ experiences of being violently evicted from their homes in Palestine, Hafez connected the struggle for Palestinian liberation to the movement for police and prison abolition in the US.
“Although police brutality in the U.S. results from various domestic issues endemic to America’s long history of institutionalized racism, some of America’s militarized framework for law enforcement is imported from abroad,” she said. “For years, U.S. police forces have been learning the wrong lessons through extensive training with Israel’s military, as well as its national police and intelligence forces.”
“Our struggles are morbidly intertwined,” Hafez added.
In setting up the event, Abolish Stanford said that they encountered issues with SUDPS: Some of their organizers were “followed by an SUDPS officer as they carried equipment to Main Quad,” and after they finished setting up, “another SUDPS officer drove into the Main Quad with all of their lights flashing and drove a lap around the Quad to intimidate the organizers,” according to a statement to The Daily.
Bill Larson, spokesperson for SUDPS, wrote in a statement to The Daily that although SUDPS personnel were requested at Main Quad in response to possible criminal activity in one of the buildings, they “did not encounter any organizers for the ‘Abolish Stanford’ gathering.” He added that SUDPS is unaware of any officer who drove into Main Quad with lights flashing.
Looking back on the rally, Abolish Stanford said they felt it to have been a success. “There was a lot of momentum going into it after the Day of Refusal on May 3rd, and this energy was sustained and grown during this rally,” they wrote.
“Let’s build together, let’s build the world that we want to see,” Faraji said near the end of his speech. “Everything is possible if we do it together.”