by Augie Palm
Ruling political machines continued to struggle with representative democracy in the wake of decades of popular apathy Tuesday, as California police pepper sprayed as many as 30 people trying to enter a public meeting of the board of trustees of Santa Monica College, including a 4-year-old child.
Five people were reportedly hospitalized and dozens more were manhandled by police when they tried to enter a public meeting room that was too small for the overflow crowd. The turnout was prompted by unrest about skyrocketing summer course fees, which include per-credit charge hikes for high-demand classes that raise the cost from $46 to $180 – more than tripling the price for a typical three-credit course.
The scrap occurred when campus police tried to prevent about 100 students chanting "let us in, let us in" and "no cuts, no fees, education should be free" from entering the meeting room during a public comment period.
Priscillia Omon, 21, told NBC Los Angeles that a police officer fired the spray into the mouths and eyes of people standing arm's length away. She said a family, including a 4-year-old child, also was present. The child was hit.
"They were trying to silence our voices by not allowing students access to this supposedly open forum," Omon said.
The lead video shows that the discharge was made by a police sergeant who appears to be in charge of the small detachment at the room entrance. It also clearly shows him briefly choking a young woman and pushing her down after she berated him for its use. The sergeant, who has already secured his education and income, seems indifferent to the abuse of fellow Americans simply seeking right to do the same – people's sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters.
The mother of the 4-year-old, who declined to give her name, was interviewed by a Santa Monica College student-newspaper called The Corsair.
“It’s a shame this happened at a public meeting with our children in sight,” she said. “The cops brutalized students for fighting for their rights.”
The incident is the latest in a string of violent overreactions by police in California. More than a dozen nonviolent protesters were cavalierly doused with pepper spray on Nov. 18 by college police at the University of California, Davis (above left). Police in Oakland, Calif., critically wounded Marine veteran Scott Olsen when they shot him in the face with a canister of tear gas Oct. 25 (below right).
Firemen responding to Tuesday's incident in Santa Monica aided those peppered by hosing their faces down.
The meeting was briefly recessed after the fracas, according to The Corsair, but resumed later that evening in the same room, despite calls for a larger venue.
SMC President Chui Tsang said the small boardroom wasn't able to accommodate the crowd of students and an adjacent room had been provided for the overflow. Such small spaces are a rarity at public universities in the U.S., which routinely crowd hundreds of students into a single lecture hall to trim costs by having them taught by a single professor.
"We expected some students, but we didn't expect that big of a crowd with such enthusiasm," Tsang told the Los Angeles Times.
Tsang has not responded to a request from The Cynical Times for his anual salary at the public college, which has a diverse student body of 30,000.
Protesters moved to the steps of the college library after being peppered and a large crowd of supporters formed in the streets nearby, where they were shadowed by three police helicopters.
No arrests were made.
The use of pepper spray by police is under review.
Richard Dawson, a communications professor at SMC, indicated that some students were already crying in frustration Tuesday night before the forceful police response.
“When students feel they don’t have a voice, it’s likely to lead to conflict," Dawson told The Corsair. "There needs to be a feeling of shared governance.”
The recent tuition hikes in California, which reportedly lifted minimum per-credit fees at all state colleges to $48 from $36 were made without meaningful input by students. The tactic echoes the lifting of bridge and tunnel fees in the New York City-area to $12 from $8 by political elites in 2011.
By raising fees in lieu of taxes, the 1% has been able able to insulate itself from the financial impact of the worst economic climate for the middle class since The Great Depression.
A 1% increase in state income taxes would cost someone making $20 million a year $200,000. By contrast, they pay exactly the same as someone making $20,000 a year when fees are lifted instead. The difference is pocket lint to them.