On January 19, 2012 while the Regents met on the UC Riverside campus, hundreds of UC students and faculty gathered outside to protest further cuts to funding and demand a more transparent form of decision-making by the Regents. In response, they were met with police in full riot gear declaring their nonviolent gathering an "unlawful" assembly. Some of these students and faculty were eventually...
On January 19, 2012 while the Regents met on the UC Riverside campus, hundreds of UC students and faculty gathered outside to protest further cuts to funding and demand a more transparent form of decision-making by the Regents. In response, they were met with police in full riot gear declaring their nonviolent gathering an "unlawful" assembly. Some of these students and faculty were eventually shoved to the ground, dragged across the pavement, attacked with batons, and shot with plastic pellets. We are citizens of this community—students, faculty and staff—demanding answers for these troubling events.
Whose decision was it to militarize an unarmed, nonviolent protest on our campus on January 19, by calling in police in riot gear to threaten and assault a crowd of protesters who continually insisted loudly that their protest was intended to be peaceful?
Who decided that this peaceful protest was an “unlawful assembly,” as the police repeatedly announced over the PA system? On what basis was this determined?
Why did you (or whoever else was responsible) not come out to address the crowd and explain this decision? Did you hear them chanting, “Tell us why”? What makes a large crowd of dissatisfied people demanding dialogue with their representatives on their own campus an “unlawful assembly”? And don't those whose actions are unilaterally deemed “unlawful” deserve an explanation as to why?
Your Friday letter of January 20 states that the behavior of a “small number of individuals... briefly and peacefully shut down the Regents meeting... Their actions, while making a point to disrupt and while remaining nonviolent, nonetheless prevented others from listening to the discussion by denying public access to the remainder of the meeting.”
If, as you acknowledge, the actions of that small group of students were nonviolent, why and how would the actions of a handful of disruptive students cause the entire protest to be deemed “unlawful assembly” and justify the threat of force and arrest against all of the other students and faculty members gathered?
Why has nonviolent disruption, assertiveness and defiance been equated with aggression, violence and threat on our campus, when Gandhi himself called for nonviolent disobedience to be forceful and confrontational, and when, from a first amendment perspective, “disruptive” and “dangerous” are two very different things?
You said in your Friday letter that you needed to “use our police to ensure the safety of meeting participants as well as the majority of protest participants.” But is there any evidence that any of the protesters were threatening the Regents, rather than simply using disruptive—and potentially embarrassing—tactics to make their demands visible?
Even if it is still true that police presence was required, why did the police have to be armed with violent equipment, as though they were facing dangerous criminals? Could they not simply have been sent to observe and monitor the proceedings; why did they have to be armed to the hilt, and then escalate the situation with the threats and use of potentially lethal force?
Who, in this situation, was the real “threat” to our campus’ security: a group of dissatisfied but unarmed students and faculty chanting “peaceful protest!”, or a group of highly-armed police threatening to and willing to use force through batons, tear gas and rubber bullets (which have been known to kill people in other conflicts)?
Your Friday letter expresses concern about officers who “received minor injuries, as barricades were thrown at them and signs used as weapons.” But you fail entirely to acknowledge the many injuries that the officers inflicted upon your students, authorized by you. What we see in the following videos are police in full riot gear shoving unarmed students and faculty with batons, and then firing paint-filled bullets at them. Please see, among MANY others, the videos and reports of injuries to students and faculty from police violence:
What we see on the following video clips are the protesters seizing the police barricades and trying to place them between themselves and the police. We do not see anyone using the barricades to attack the police. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pT9VOYR7cMo&feature=related) Meanwhile, the following video shows a protester being hit with rubber/paint pellets. That student is clearly in a great deal of pain and saying that he is having trouble breathing. He is carried away by a handful of other students who call out for water and help: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7tB2LmsbfI&feature=related, skip to 4:30)
You can also see from the videos that the response of the protesters was to chant, “peaceful protest, peaceful protest!”
You also state in your Friday letter of January 20 that the two individuals arrested were not members of the UC community. But contrary to your assertion, one of those individuals was Ken Ehrlich, a lecturer in the Art department who has taught here for almost a decade and is a well-respected colleague, who is also loved by his students. Another was Luz Nunez, a UCR student who, along with other students, has now spoken publicly about her experience of harassment by the UCPD that day, and has filed a complaint.
How can rubber bullets and batons be considered a justifiable response to disruption and embarrassment that is not in any way physically dangerous? What evidence do we have that it was the protesters, and not the highly-armed and militarized police force, who escalated the violence?
What accounts for the tight, 1-minute so-called "comment period" provided at the Regents' meeting? Students and faculty were demanding an open forum that was NOT controlled by the Regents' own inadequate vision of what constitutes democratic dialogue and transparent decision-making. In light of this, why should their demand to be heard at such a forum be construed as a threat, justifying such escalated violence?
When fully-armed police are sent in to threaten, shove and physically assault unarmed people who are already frustrated, resentful and angry at being criminalized and having lost their voices, will this not inevitably escalate the level of violence?
We therefore demand that you take responsibility for endangering the safety of your students, faculty and staff. We also demand that you pledge publicly to never again allow such exaggerated militarization and institutionally-authorized violence in response to peaceful protest, thereby protecting the fundamental right of each of us to assemble and speak freely on our campus.
Concerned Members of the UCR Community