Commentary: Armored Vehicle on a College Campus?

Since the late 1960s, American higher education has been a policed state. One day in the near future, it may become a militarized state.

The days of a single unarmed security guard everyone knew seem like ages ago. The greatest fixation from in loco parentis—tremendous, sympathetic care for each and every student—seems now to have existed on another planet. 

The UC Berkeley Police Department (UCPD) is partnering with the local police departments of Berkeley and Albany to seek funding to purchase an armored vehicle. 

Why? Security—as we live in an age when the larger the arsenal, the more people feel secure.

It is “just a resource the agencies are trying to acquire in terms of protection for the community,” UCPD spokesperson Lt. Eric Tejada told The Daily Californian. Berkeley police department spokesperson Sgt. Mary Kusmiss added the vehicle would be used for “active shooters, barricaded subjects and rescuing individuals.”

The agencies are applying for funds from the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI).  “UASI program funds address the unique planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercise needs of high-threat, high-density urban areas, and assists them in building an enhanced and sustainable capacity to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism,” according to the grant program’s website.

Who are the perceived terrorists UCPD are worried about?

Are they principally concerned about protecting against a terrorist attack planned by foreign or domestic cells? Are they principally concerned about protecting campus communities from the rash of recent college massacres?

Although I think those are concerns, I do not think they are primary. I agree with the series of Berkeley groups who have lined up in opposition to literally and figuratively stop the vehicle from entering this esteemed house of learning. The perceived terrorists are principally the students: students from all walks of life who continue to protest against budget cuts and campus racism, students who continue to protest against the one percent and Occupy everything they see; students who continue to protest against war. It is the students they are principally worried about.

As we all know, UC Berkeley has a storied history of student protest. When we image a student protester we think of him or her donning the Cal logo, then and now.

There were “tree-sitters” in 2008 protesting against the building of a sports center and the university’s refusal to donate millions to environment and American Indian groups. Students barricaded themselves inside a building in 2009 to challenge the university’s fee hikes and layoffs.  And of course there were the recent Occupy protests.

A mass multi-racial, multi-issue student movement is in the making, in the making on campuses like UC Berkeley. And the UCPD is preparing for and trying to prevent this future.

The emphasis seems to not be on sympathizing with the students and the problems that generate student protests. As they have showed in recent years, too many administrations and campus police departments seem more interested in literally beating the young protesters into submission. And now, the UCPD, one of the greatest campus desperadoes of excessive force in recent years, may get a new weapon.

The thought of an armored vehicle on an American college campus—truly amazing.

Dr. Ibram H. Rogers is an assistant professor of Africana Studies at University at Albany, SUNY. He is the author of The Black Campus Movement: Black Students and the Racial Reconstitution of Higher Education, 1965-1972.