Demands for ending police harassment
Overt and Covert Manifestations of Racism
While enjoying a pleasant event at the recently minted Golden One Center, it can be difficult to imagine that Sacramento was a literal battleground of racial unrest within the lifespan of African and African Studies at UC Davis. According to the Sacramento Observer, on Father’s Day, 1969, “At the height of Sunday's disturbances in Oak Park the Black Panther Party office was teargassed and fired upon. Prior to that Charles Brunson, head of the local Panthers, and other[s] had been clearing people from the street. This group warned the very young that they must go home or they would be hurt. Some lived too far away to walk home alone. Some others didn't know the way.” This realization of pressing need, of young children who could not find their way during violent interactions with the state, was reflected in the BSU’s demands given to the Davis administration at the birth of the AAAS department. An end to police harassment of Black people was the paramount goal. Protests as recent as 2015’s campus mobilization, BlacksUnderAttack, to the popular resistance of the Movement for Black Lives against the acquittal of the police officers who killed Stephon Clark, demonstrates painfully just how relevant this fifty-year-old demand remains.
Recurrent within the legacy of activism in our department is the realization that the ‘ivory tower’ did not always offer a defensive rampart to Black people within the academy. Included in a November 1968 open letter to California college and university administration from the assembly of Black Student Unions of California, received by our Chancellor, is the sobering assertion that while “Black students at California have attempted to deal openly and honestly with the proper authorities in abating the overt and covert manifestations of racism”, the reward for these initiatives was that “Black students have been objects of brutal beating by gestapo type policemen, and the expulsion and suspending of Black students for their efforts to obtain justice is accelerating at a phenomenal rate.” One of the paradigmatic achievements of scholarship fostered within a Black Studies framework, such as the reconceptualization of Critical Race Theory, has been to showcase that policing in extreme forms, like extrajudicial killings and incarceration, or in quotidian forms, such as implicit bias or microaggressions, have a markedly more profound impact on Black people. Whether combating unjustified imprisonments, or inordinately frequent dismissal from higher educational institutions like UC Davis, African and African American Studies has and will continue to interrogate the interlocking cultural forces and legacies that criminalize Black identity.