Since time immemorial, Stanford student activists have styled themselves as champions of the powerless. This past March saw workers’ rights as the chosen cause. Stanford Students for Workers’ Rights successfully pressured Stanford to guarantee salaries and benefits to its contracted workers through June 15 after the University had initially announced it would reduce both.
But apparently, the cause of workers’ rights extends only so far. June ushered in a new and contradictory era of activism, as activists have circulated a petition with a new directive: fire Stanford workers! More specifically, fire Stanford law enforcement. “Defund the Police” has come to the Farm.
The petition, addressed to President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, demands that Stanford “defund and divert” the money the University spends on law enforcement. Implementing these demands would mean laying off every worker at the Department of Public Safety. The same students who championed Stanford employees and prevented a significant salary reduction have now decided that other Stanford employees must lose their jobs.
The petition treats Stanford’s Department of Public Safety as if it had a long history of abuse and racial discrimination. Activists feel that they get away with making the serious allegation that Stanford deputies bring “violence into [Stanford’s] communities” because the fervency surrounding the topic makes dissent impossible. It baselessly accuses Stanford deputies of posing a “real and present danger” and "routinely intimidat[ing] and harass[ing]'' minority students. There is no evidence for these claims and the petition makes no effort to provide any. Even the petition’s demands reveal that its authors were motivated by ideology, not genuine fears of abuse: one of its key demands is that Stanford deputies be de-armed, a practice which is already the norm.
If Stanford deputies are overly violent and show racial prejudice, serious reforms should be enacted to reduce police abuse. But the only example in recent memory of a violent encounter between students and law enforcement on campus involved a student attacking and injuring a deputy. Smartphones and social media have given the average Stanford student the power to instantly report wrongdoing by law enforcement; the lack of any complaints of Stanford deputies using excessive force is evidence that the Stanford Department of Public Safety uses best practices that make it a model in community policing law.
But ultimately, the most troubling element of this petition is not the demand for police abolition, but that two-thousand of our classmates have endorsed such vitriol. Radical activists can no longer be dismissed as merely a vocal minority. Students who push dogma such as “defund the police” to force Stanford to rewrite campus policies display a lack of the critical thinking that Stanford was founded to teach. The signers of this petition, the future leaders of D.C., Wall Street, and Silicon Valley, would rather be wrong, factually and morally, than speak out against the narrative or to stand up for the innocent.
This petition is not just an affront to Stanford deputies, who are, after all, fellow members of our Stanford community. It serves as a window into the future of campus (and national) politics. The first unsubstantiated petitions may have attempted to eliminate the Department of Public Safety, but without active pushback from the Stanford administration and student body, we invite future petitions that will call for the baseless ousting of professors, staff, and even students who happen to be the target of the latest activist cause.
Conservatives enjoy deriding student activists as “social justice warriors.” But I fear the label lends activists too much credit. For where is the justice in attacking the blameless?