Students, faculty and members of the Occupy movement convened at the Bell Tower last Wednesday to protest the use of police force that occurred on campus during the UC regents meeting. The demonstration, which ended with the mass filing of complaints at the UC Police Department (UCPD) station, provided a public forum for students to recount their experiences and express their grievances with the UC Riverside administration and UCPD.The self-titled “anti-police brutality rally and march” began with speeches by faculty members from the creative writing and political science departments. Professor Goldberry Long began the event by denouncing the police response on Jan. 19 and urging students to continue their pursuit of free speech. “[Students] were told, ‘This is an unlawful assembly. This is illegal.’ I saw this and it made me into a liar because I stand up in front of my students and I tell them, ‘You have a right to speak your truth and nobody is allowed to harm you for it or make you stop,’” stated Long, who emphasized the theme of “speaking truth” throughout her speech.
Meanwhile, Professor Farah Godrej channeled the teachings of Ghandi by calling upon students to further hone their nonviolent methods. “We need to figure out how to make our troublemaking disciplined and organized and deliberate, rather than just chaotic and loud and angry,” said Godrej. “And when we do so, we can take back the identity of the nonviolent dissenter as a warrior who is motivated by truth and justice.”
Second year UC Riverside student Luz Nuñez addressed the crowd and explained how she was arrested (and later released) by police officers. “The intimidation that I felt, I felt like they were eating me with their eyes,” said Nuñez, who described her experience with UCPD as highly disturbing.
During the open microphone sessions, students used chalk to write messages on the floor surrounding the Bell Tower with messages such as, “Never forget Jan. 19.” A student from UC Berkeley who was present during the protests then recounted how she was sexually harassed by a UCPD officer. “While brandishing a [baton] and in full riot gear, he started making kissy sounds at us, blowing kisses, winking, making gestures,” stated the student. “I also no longer feel safe on UCR’s campus, on any UC campus because he was a UCLA [campus police officer] and they outsource them anywhere.”
Chancellor White was also brought up numerous times during the rally due to his Friday letter in which he expressed his disappointment with protesters. A graduate student concluded the Bell Tower portion of the rally by reading a letter addressed to Chancellor White. The letter, which was composed by faculty members in the Creative Writing Department, contained a request for a public apology and urged the chancellor to side with his students. The letter also recommended that the Chancellor hold a public forum or a town hall meeting for students and administrators to discuss the events of Jan. 19.
When asked whether the administration was currently considering such a proposal, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Jim Sandoval stated that he did not know whether that would happen. The rally, which consisted of over 50 people, then marched to the two locations on campus where conflicts had arisen during the protests. The first stop on the march occurred at the stairs between the Highlander Union Building (HUB) and Costo Hall. Students carrying a banner with the words, “UCPD is not the Regents’ private army,” stood at the top of the stairs where police in riot gear had prevented students from entering the UC Regents meeting.
Open microphone sessions continued as the crowd moved to the back of the HUB where the arrests and firing of pellets at protesters had first occurred. In an interview with the Highlander, a student who preferred to remain anonymous denounced ASUCR and Chancellor White for their lack of siding with the students. “I, from the start, have defended [Chancellor White]. But when he said that he was disappointed in our actions and was disappointed with us for speaking out, how the [expletive] you’re going to say you’re there for us and scold us like that?” asked the student.
The event concluded at the front steps of the UCPD station, where several students entered the building to file complaints while others continued with the public microphone session outside. Students were met with three UCPD officials who handed out complaint forms and answered any questions that the students had.
“The whole circumstance was unfortunate. Obviously, nobody wanted to see the use of force in any manner whatsoever. As we move forward, we can have more discussion about what happened, with [the goal of] providing more guidance to all of us on how to better manage these situations,” stated Sandoval in an interview with the Highlander. “The critical piece is the need for better communication.”