The forced removal of a university professor from an LA mayoral debate has intensified discussion in the wake of earlier legislation that seeks greater public involvement in CSU’s policing policies.
Police officers physically ejected Cal State LA Professor Melina Abdullah from an LA mayoral debate in the University Student Union Theater on May 1. The Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs and League of Women Voters of Greater LA sponsored the private event at a public university.
The Faculty Association called for CSU system to “take concrete, transparent, genuine actions to address its ugly systemic anti-Black racism on all 23 campuses.”
Capitol Weekly contacted both groups for a comment on Abdullah’s removal from the debate. The PBI declined to comment, instead referring a reporter to Cal State LA’s public affairs office. It did not reply to multiple requests for a comment.
Carol Eisner, a vice president and spokesperson for League of Women Voters of Greater LA, also refused to comment.
Abdullah is a co-founder of Black Lives Matter LA and a tenured professor of Pan-African Studies at CSULA. She took to Twitter after her law enforcement ejection on May 1.
“I attempted to watch the mayoral debate held on the campus where I’ve taught for 20 years,” she tweeted. “As I waited for it to start, the white @PBI director called the police on me. He and each of the candidates watched as I was brutally removed.”
Abdullah is a member of the California Faculty Association, the union that represents 29,000 members, from professors to librarians, lecturers, coaches and counselors, across the 23-campus system. Three days after the mayoral debate incident, CFA issued a statement. “Police are weaponized on our campuses and what happened at Cal State LA is another yet another example of how faculty of color, and Black faculty in particular, are targeted,” said Dr. Sharon Elise, CFA Associate Vice President of Racial & Social Justice, South, and CSU San Marcos professor.
The CFA called for the CSU system to “take concrete, transparent, genuine actions to address its ugly systemic anti-Black racism on all 23 campuses,” according to its May 4 statement.
“Furthermore, CFA strongly urges Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester to immediately take action to convene a wide and representative workgroup of diverse and inclusive stakeholders to research, offer system wide recommendations, and implement alternatives to university police. This workgroup must include CSU students, faculty, and staff who have lived campus experiences with systemic anti-Black racism.”
Gipson’s AB 1997 landed in the Assembly Appropriations on May 11.
Capitol Weekly requested CSU Interim Chancellor Koester to comment on Abdullah’s police removal from the LA mayoral debate. She, via Michael Uhlenkamp, a spokesperson in the CSU Chancellor’s office, declined. He did confirm that each of the 23 campuses reports police data, such as arrests, differently.
The five mayoral candidates at the CSULA debate during Abdullah’s police removal included City Councilman Joe Buscaino, Rep. Karen Bass, businessman Rick Caruso, City Councilman Kevin de León, and City Attorney Mike Feuer. Seven mayoral candidates did not attend the May 1 debate.
In the meantime, one state lawmaker has launched a bid to reform current policing policy on CSU campuses, with a bill that the CFA sponsors. Assemblymember Mike A. Gipson is a Democrat who represents Carson. His Assembly Bill 1997, introduced Feb. 10 and amended March 24, landed in the Assembly Appropriations Committee on May 11.
His bill aims to create a civilian-centric approach to policing. “A crisis response team should be separate and distinct from campus police departments and local law enforcement and be trained in dispute resolution and restorative justice.”
The bill, in keeping with the CFA’s demand for law enforcement transparency, creates a workgroup comprised of faculty, staff, students, campus health and safety personnel, and bargaining unit representatives, to produce a report with recommendations to change campus policing, to the Legislature, by July 1, 2023.
Meanwhile, there is an online petition that calls for the firing of Cal State LA President Covino for, allegedly, allowing the police to remove Abdullah from the May 1 mayoral debate.
“Cal State LA faculty, staff, students, and community members condemn the violent mistreatment of Dr. Melina Abdullah, Cal State LA professor of Pan-African Studies and active union leader for nearly 20 years, and several Cal State LA students by campus police at the request of Dr. Raphael Sonenshein, Executive Director of the university’s Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs, and with, at least after-the-fact, tacit approval, of the university administration at its highest levels.”
Editor’s Note: Corrects lede to remove “prompted” by legislation, and clarifies to refer to discussion, not earlier legislation. Seth Sandronsky reports regularly for Capitol Weekly. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.