The Coalition of Black Students and Allies met with University of Arizona administration on Tuesday via Zoom to discuss the controversy surrounding the June 6 protest on campus and COBA’s list of demands.
Both UA President Dr. Robert C. Robbins and UA Police Chief Brian Seastone refused to apologize for UA Police Department’s presence at the June 6 “Celebration of Black Lives” event, organized by the Black Student Union and Black Live Matter Tucson.
The meeting was led primarily by Maryan Hassan, administrative vice president of the associated students of the UA, the university's undergraduate governing body.
“Before I say anything,” Hassan said at the beginning of the meeting, “I’m just going to be completely transparent that we’re not going to thank you for being here, President Robbins, and anyone else who is on your team. We do find it really disrespectful and a bit disappointing that you could not manage to move some things around to allow us the two hours that we requested, but I think that you all should be grateful that we are even meeting with you all.”
Before beginning the dialogue with administration. Malaika Denis, a student from the College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, shared her experiences of racism, sexism and elitism at UA.
“I regret coming to the U of A because if I knew I would be experiencing this kind of racism and treatment from people who are supposed to be helping me reach success in higher education, I would’ve taken my money and been put into debt somewhere else where they genuinely care for their students’ success and the environment that they’re putting them in,” Denis said.
Hassan proceeded to describe the June 6 protest and how UAPD’s presence was seen as unexpected and disruptive.
“Despite the reassurance that was given to the BSU and Black Lives Matter Tucson that there would be no police presence at the event, approximately 50 uniformed officers from the University of Arizona Police Department marched into the Student Union dressed in heavy riot gear including batons, gas masks and other tactical police gear," Hassan said. "It took an hour of threatening to cancel the event and negotiating with President Robbins and [Chief Seastone] to get the uniformed officers to leave the premises with their vehicles. However, there were still remaining uniformed officers who surveyed the event from various buildings around campus.”
Hassan said the action was inhumane in light of the incidents of police brutality across the nation and made attendees feel unsafe. She then asked Robbins to apologize for the police presence and for his “dismissive” attitude at the event.
“When I arrived on the scene, I was approached and told that I lied about something that I’d never met anybody who was involved in this process," Robbins said.* "I went in and talked to Seastone, I came back out, and then I encountered the organizer from Black Lives Matter who told me that the event was going to be cancelled. I said 'please don’t cancel the event,' I went in and talked to Seastone and the officers left as they were requested to do.”
He added that he didn’t intend to be dismissive or violent and apologized if anyone was offended. Seastone was also asked to comment and apologize.
“There were never any promises made, and as soon as the President explained the concerns, I also said that we didn’t want the event to be cancelled, and so with that we visited with several members and we made an agreement that we would leave the area, but we said that we would be within the parameters of that area and that we would only respond as necessary, which we did to several medical calls and several other calls that occurred during that time frame," Seastone said.
Seastone also clarified that the officers were not wearing riot gear, but that they were wearing exterior vests and had their patrol bags with them, which contain batons. He said that it's the same gear officers take to other university events like football games. The chief also cited the possibility of counter-protestors that might disrupt the peaceful protest as a reason for UAPD’s presence.
“That’s what we were there for, to ensure the event could go on safely for all of you," Seastone said. "We have to be able to protect ourselves to protect other people as well.”
Hassan criticized Robbins and Seastone for refusing to take ownership of and apologizing for the June 6 incident.
“I’m not going to apologize for protecting our community,” Seastone replied. “I’m sorry that there was miscommunication … there was never any promise that law enforcement would not be at that event. I was told on Friday afternoon before the event that UAPD was not going to be there and no one in my department had made that promise.”
At the end of the meeting, both Robbins and Seastone were asked to issue a public apology for the incident, as described in the first demand of COBA’s list of demands. Both declined to do so.
Additionally, Robbins was asked if he support divesting from UAPD's budget and reallocating funds to various community resources, such as Counseling and Psych Services and the cultural resource centers.
“I would be open to talk about reallocating resources away from UAPD to the cultural centers and to hire individuals working with mental health, social workers and things that we need in the cultural centers," Robbins said. "The previous example of a budget of $1.9 million for student success is just not right.”
All other officials from administration were asked if they supported divestment and reinvestment into student resources. Each individual affirmed their support for the initiative.
However, Robbins also stated that he does not support abolishing UAPD and severing ties with other law enforcement agencies, like Tucson Police Department and U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement.
A full recording of the meeting can be viewed on COBA’s Instagram account.
A follow-up meeting has not yet been scheduled between COBA and UA administration.
According to Hassan, “We will be waiting for [Dean of Students] Kendal Washington White to reach back to us."
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