Black Students at UCSD Share Their Experiences Protesting Police Violence


a crowd of protestors in black and white
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If you were watching the protests in La Mesa, they looked nothing like how the La Mesa Police Department described them, according to Alexander Pile. 

“It was peaceful the entire time. We weren’t violent,” said Pile, a fourth year Black student at UCSD. “My friends and I were willing to walk in the front to help lead the chants, but we were following this elderly Black woman who seemed like she had helped organize the protest.”

Pile said he arrived at the La Mesa protest after it had begun, at one point standing on top of their car and chanting with the protesters as they marched by. He and his friends followed the march past the La Mesa Police Department (LMPD) onto Interstate 8, where they were met with a line of police. 

Pile also commented that at least one officer, separated from the rest, was just watching the protest and laughing. “He was isolated from the other policemen … maybe he was an instigator, but watching him felt like a slap across the face.” 

Since George Floyd was killed under the knees of a police officer on May 25, protests have been occurring throughout the country, calling for police reform and an end to systemic racism. Black students at UCSD have been involved in local protests in the last few weeks, and The Triton reached out to discuss their experiences, both on campus and in the protests themselves. 

According to a report released by the LMPD regarding the timeline of the protest, the peaceful protest slowly turned “criminal” after 4 p.m. However, Pile said that until tear gas was deployed, the crowd outside of the police department was peaceful. 

The protest stopped traffic on both sides of the freeway before protesters began heading back toward La Mesa PD. Pile said that the police officers closer to the station were more openly dismissive of the protest; some were agitating the crowd, harassing a girl that was on her knees with her hands in the air. 

“Honestly, I didn’t even notice any news cameras until people started throwing rocks. It happened so fast, and you could smell the gas,” Pile said. “My roommate got gas in his eyes and I saw a woman get shot with a rubber bullet and fall.”

Pile said he wondered: “If they were just trying to “protect” the station, why were they moving forward?”

After the violence, he and his friends left. 

But although Pile said he had not participated in many protests before, this was not his first negative interaction with police officers. 

When Pile was in his first year, he was at Oceanview Terrace (OVT) with his friends around midnight. He says police pulled him over and said his bike looked like another bike that was recently reported stolen. 

“It’s embarrassing as a Black male, that’s the only way people see us. When they see us pulled over by a cop, they automatically assume we’re doing something wrong. I felt so small, and I tried to avoid situations like that again. I don’t really bike on campus anymore.”

Chaise Hamilton, a fourth year student studying Sociology, attended protests in Riverside, Diamond Bar, and LA. He described the protests in Riverside on June 1as similar to news reports. Protesters called on police officers to take a knee with them outside of the Riverside Library. But fireworks were set off, and tear gas was deployed while people were still taking a knee outside. 

When Hamilton tried to go to the Diamond Bar protest a few days later, he said he was unable to join the actual event because the roads were all shut down.

“The cops were cutting people off before they could get to the intersection. I knew the protest was already moving, and some people got into their cars and tried to join them,” Hamilton said. “By this time, I was getting calls from my friends, some who had been shot with pepper bullets. Most of them were leaving, because the cops were citing an unlawful gathering to disperse the crowd.”

According to Hamilton, when he tried to head back toward the direction of his house, police officers stationed along the road refused to let him pass. 

“They said I couldn’t go home, and that if any of us had complaints, we could file them at the Walnut Police Department,” Hamilton said. “When I kept asking them why I couldn’t pass, they just stopped answering my questions.” 

Hamilton said that most of the protests trending in news reports and online were those that had turned confrontational. Compared to his experiences at the Riverside and Diamond Bar protests, he said that the LA protest was the most peaceful, even with 10,000 protesters present.

“After I got home, I looked on Twitter, and most of the posts about the LA protest were about how dense it was. That’s also what the news reports focused on too,” Hamilton said. “There were no confrontations, and we were largely left alone.”

Hamilton has participated in at least one protest before. On Library Walk, in his first year, he attended a BSU protest on Library Walk, which made him realize that it is difficult for students to organize on campus. 

“UCSD sacrifices student well-being for the neighborhood it’s in, and it feels like we are being silenced,” Hamilton said. “In my sociology classes, my Black peers and I all sit together in the same section. The lack of diversity at UCSD is apparent, so it’s insincere when the administration tries to market our campus as diverse.”

As a Black student, Hamilton told The Triton that he can recall specific instances that made him painfully aware of his skin color. 

“I was playing basketball in RIMAC during my first week at UCSD, and someone there said there was no way I went to school here, that I looked like a gangster,” Hamilton said. 

Another time when Hamilton was a host for incoming students, as a part of the Black Student Union’s (BSU) overnight program, someone called him a racial slur. “I was walking with the two students staying with me, and as we walked toward OVT, this guy walked past us and muttered something under his breath … he called us the n-word on our own campus.”

Although UCSD constantly markets its diverse student body, Black students only make up 3% of the student body. A 2015 UC-based study on campus climate showed that 47 percent of Black students who attended UC San Diego from 2008 to 2014 reported not feeling respected on campus, the second-highest percentage behind UC Berkeley. In 2018, a study conducted by The Campaign for College Opportunity revealed that Black people only hold 3% of all faculty and senior leadership positions within the UC system. A follow-up study conducted last year reinforces these trends, calling for support for Black students as they struggle to pursue higher education.

Since the protests began last month, Associated Students of UCSD (ASUCSD) has approved a resolution calling for the defunding of UCSD’s police department PD and abolishing the UCPD as a whole. However, UC President Janet Napolitano has said that the UC does not plan to defund police departments within its purview, opting to adopt the 8 Can’t Wait campaign instead. Many, including AS External Vice President Alisha Saxena, have criticized the campaign for its superficiality, saying that it still does not hold officers accountable for their actions. 

“Never in my life has my Blackness been so apparent than walking on campus sometimes,” Hamilton said. “Going to the protests and trying to educate people has been exhausting, and the administration isn’t doing anything about it. So does the university really want better for its students?”

Ella Chen is the Editor-in-Chief of The Triton. You can follow her @cinder_ellachen.