Next Book Project Focuses on Public Safety

Photo of Zach Norris standing near window, with Defund Fear book cover superimposed onto image.
Zach Norris’ “Defund Fear: Safety Without Policing, Prisons, and Punishment” is the 2022-23 Campus Community Book Project.

The UC Davis community will come together over the course of the next academic year to examine public safety and policing through the Campus Community Book Project selection, Defund Fear: Safety Without Policing, Prisons and Punishment by Zach Norris.

The year of lectures, discussion and other events will culminate in the author speaking at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday, Feb. 16.


“Next year’s book project will showcase research, initiatives and innovations in police and criminal justice reform — from restorative justice to crisis response to data transparency and accountability — where we can share dialogue and learn collectively as a community,” said Megan Macklin, who oversees the Campus Community Book Project as associate director of campus climate and inclusion initiatives in the Office of Campus Community Relations. “Our theme and selection embolden us, in the words of Zach Norris, to institute game-changing ‘imperatives,’ because a strategy of ‘alternatives’ falls short of reimagining policing and public safety within a comprehensive and inclusive ‘culture of care.’”

Publisher Beacon Press describes the goal of the book as moving discussions on public safety toward finding ways to support and build strong communities.

“By bridging the divides and building relationships with one another, we can dedicate ourselves to strategic, smart investments — meaning resources directed toward our stability and well-being, like healthcare and housing, education and living-wage jobs,” the publisher says on its website. “This is where real safety begins.”

Norris is the former executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and co-founder of both Restore Oakland and Justice for Families. He is also activist in residence for the Abolition Democracy Fellows Program at UC Berkeley’s Black Studies Collaboratory.

Deep discussions

Defund Fear was chosen to represent the 2022-23 theme of police reform and transformative justice after months of conversations.

The book was originally published in 2020 under the title of We Keep Us Safe: Building Secure, Just and Inclusive Communities. Laci M. Gerhart, an assistant professor of teaching in the Department of Evolution and Ecology and a member of the selection committee for the Campus Community Book Project, or CCBP, said the new title sparked a lot of discussion.

“The word ‘defund’ can be polarizing, and it is important to the CCBP selection committee that we pick a book that the entire community can engage with regardless of their personal perspectives or background knowledge on the topic,” she said. “Norris’ use of ‘defund’ does relate to financial investment; however, he pushes the reader to think more broadly about how we invest in what he calls a ‘fear-based model of safety’ which underpins the policing and prison system we have today.”

She praised the book for offering both personal anecdotes and academic discussion while not being too focused on the past.

“I personally wanted to select a book that pushed us to consider what policing could or should look like in the future, a book that inspired us to ask ourselves what we think police and prisons protect us from, and what we really mean when we think of ‘safety,’” Gerhart said.

How to get involved

Macklin said she hopes discussion around the book can focus on the “centrality of community building in reforming safety and transforming justice,” and encouraged all interested students, faculty, staff and community members to participate in planning events related to the theme.

Anyone interested in joining the program planning committee is asked to sign up online. The group will hold its first meeting virtually at noon Wednesday, July 6, and will continue to meet by Zoom periodically through mid-September.

This is the 21st selection for the Campus Community Book Project, which began in the aftermath of 9/11 as a means of promoting conversation around a common subject, sharing and discussing all perspectives respectfully, in accordance with the Principles of Community.

Last year’s book was How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. A full list of past selections is available online.

2023-24 theme announced

Organizers are already looking ahead to the 2023-24 Campus Community Book Project, and this week announced the next theme: ethnonationalism/global ethnonationalism/white supremacy.

“Our 2023-24 book project theme will interrogate the rise and perpetuation of ethnocentric ideology and conflict across global and historical lines,” Macklin said. “In selecting this theme, the UC Davis Campus Council on Community and Diversity also acknowledged the present fatigue and trauma — especially among our BIPOC community at UC Davis and beyond — that continue to compound as we confront legacies of hate and violence.”

The book project selection committee is accepting nominations for the 2023-24 book through July 29. A full list of criteria is available online, and book suggestions can be sent by email. Anyone interested in helping to choose the next book can sign up to join the book selection committee.

Media Resources

Cody Kitaura is a News and Media Relations Specialist in the Office of Strategic Communications, and can be reached by email or at 530-752-1932.

Primary Category

Secondary Categories

Dateline Society, Arts & Culture