Two local, activist organizations work together to stage a sit-in against Humboldt State’s police department.
A small group of concerned students and community members gathered outside Humboldt State University on Nov. 7 to protest the University Police Department.
The two day protest was organized by Abolish Humboldt Police and Students for Quality Education groups. The two labeled it online as an information sharing session regarding the history of the UPD and Interim Chief of Police Scott VanScoy. VanScoy is the second interim chief that HSU has had this year.
The UPD Chief position has not been permanently filled since the retirement of former chief Donn Peterson, who retired in May of this year. Peterson faced allegations from his fellow officers of creating a hostile work environment and making racially motivated statements. A independent investigation concluded that there was not enough evidence to either exonerate Peterson or to sustain the complaint.
Two candidates for the position were recently turned down, with a campus wide email stating that both “…did not demonstrate the leadership needed for our campus.”
A leader of the Abolish Humboldt Police group, who wish to only identify themselves as an alumni of the school for their safety, said that they seek change in all departments within the county but chose UPD as a jumping off point due to events within the past year.
“They are adding more psychological load and heaviness to [students] trying to go to class and learn,” the Abolish Humboldt Police organizer said. “That is what the police do in order to keep you from learning, and we do not want that on our campus.”
Irritation within HSUPD further imploded in the earlier parts of the year when Black Lives Matter protests exposed police brutality specifically targeted on the Black community. Campuses across the nation started questioning the need for campus law enforcement.
“They have been going on for too long and they have damaged too many people’s lives,” the organizer said. “I didn’t like seeing them as a student here, I don’t like seeing them as an alumni.”
On the Instagram page for the activist group, the SQE listed the demands they wish to be met if UPD were to be defunded. The demands included the removal of firearms from campus, establishing “a student and faculty run, mutual aid based, program for the emergency/blue lights,” and the creation of a system to address virtual harassment.
Outside of UPD reform, the group seeks better funding for BIPOC organizations on campus and better protection for LGBTQ+ members of the community.
Kei Chow was an incoming freshman when they heard about the investigation. Chow was proud to see groups like Abolish Humboldt Police and SQE in the area, sharing the discontent for UPD.
“I saw their Instagram page when I first came here and I didn’t realize that the school had a defund the police movement,” Chow said. “I think that’s really important, especially since I’ve seen what the campus police spend their time doing.”
Jasmine Martin, a marine biology major, helped organize the Abolish Humboldt Police event after being directed by other activist organizations in the area.
“Being white, I have a lot more safety and privilege than a lot of other people do to speak my mind,” Martin said. “I felt it was important to use my privilege to hep the BIPOC members of the group feel safe and encourage other white allies to show up and listen.”
As cars drove by, some honked their horns in support or gave a thumbs up as the protestors held up signs calling for the abolition or defunding of UPD. At one point a driver expressed their support for the protest by dropping off a carload full of coffee.
For Chow, the decision to join the Saturday night protest came after witnessing an impactful and resonating event of officers flashing their dominative power.
“Seeing a group of six squad cars pull up to my residence hall and have a picnic,” Chow said. “They were all in their uniforms and they were in their squad cars. It’s one thing to do it when they’re not on duty and having a lunch, but to do it on campus in their uniform with their cars, I don’t think that is right.”
While they have plans for future protests on their social media, members of both Abolish Humboldt Police and SQE at the protest said they plan to continue to voice their demands and concerns against HSUPD.