Friday, May 25, 2007

Governing Campus through Crime

Reading about Alette Kendrick's 3 year suspension from UC Santa Cruz after pleading guilty to two misdemeanor charges sent chills down my spine this morning of recognition and change. Kendrick, apparently the only "black student" among protesters at an October 18, 2006 protest of a UC Regents meeting held on the campus, was also the only one to receive substantial disciplinary sanction (read the SF Chron story by Leslie Fulbright; read Alette Kendrick's account). According to David Sherman, the prosecutor who negotiated Kendrick's guilty plea: "Alette was one of the people who was very aggressive. She got knocked down, bit an officer's leg and was basically out of control and screaming."

Sherman's explanation seems oddly ambivalent. If Kendrick was "one of" the aggressive people, why was she the only person facing serious charges (originally three felonies)? If she was knocked down, an assault on her body by the police officer(s), wouldn't screaming, biting, and being out of control be reasonable responses (certainly ones easily understandable in the calm deliberation of the prosecutor's office). Also, we have every reason to assume that Kendrick's race helped define the relative level of aggressiveness that police observed. The populist and professionalized mentalities that associate blackness with criminality in American governance make black individuals of either sex more readily seen as acting in accordance with that stereotype. Substantial cognitive science now shows that in controlled experiments observers more readily read black faces as expressing anger or threat.

The 3 year suspension, also reflects a degree of governing through crime that was not on UC campuses in the 1980s when I faced similar charges to Kendrick after the infamous Shanty-Town riot at Berkeley in Spring 1986. While I was charged with felony offenses (along with hundreds of others) and pre-emptively banned from coming to campus, only to plead guilty to a misdemeanor later (just like Kendrick), neither I nor any others from my recollection, were ever disciplined by the Berkeley campus. Instead, angered by campus administrators' decision to allow police to mass arrest peaceful demonstrators, I exiled myself from campus for a semester to take a visiting lecturer offer from the University of Michigan. I would bet that campus disciplinary bodies have gotten increasingly willing to bring down heavy sanctions on students when criminal charges are involved. Governing through crime tends to break down traditional boundaries among institutions, and centralize the flow of all "trouble" toward criminal justice "solutions."

1 comment:

pacovilla said...

Why did she plead guilty if she was not?