The May 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Someone's Sister: Homeless in the East Bay

A Young Mother Dreams of a Brighter Future

Legal Rights of Homeless People

Exposing Wal-Mart Empire

HUD Pulls a Disappearing Act

Devastating Cuts to Section 8

Civil Rights Gets on the Bus

UC Students Brutalized by Police

Activism for Economic Justice

Night of Humanity and Courage

Nonviolent Vigil for San Diego's Poorest

The Faithful Fools

Medical Pot in Santa Cruz

Poor Leonard's Almanack

Poetry of the Streets


February 2005






Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Nonviolent Students Brutalized at UC Santa Cruz

by Becky Johnson

The peaceable assembly of nonviolent university students was attacked by a brutal police force using torturous pain-compliance techniques.

The police brutally assault peaceful protesters with torturous pain-compliance holds. Photo by Bob Fitch.

In the wee hours of April 19, University of California at Santa Cruz officials sent 30 cops to strangle, drag, and arrest nonviolent Tent University students for unlawful assembly. After 19 students were arrested, Elizabeth Irwin, the public relations representative for the UCSC administration, tried to explain the actions of university officials by saying: "We care about the safety of our students very much."

The arrest of 19 protesters at Tent University Santa Cruz occurred after 90 students sat down together in a tent, linked arms and refused to leave after the 8 p.m. "free speech" time had ended.

Police ripped down several tents which had been assembled, including one with two small children still inside. UCSC students were shocked by the show of force and institutionalized violence as a response to their setting up of tents.

"A very tiny percentage of our 1500-plus student body were involved," commented Liz Irwin. "So I'd hate to think that this occasion actually characterizes our campus. In fact, it is the opposite. We're accustomed to challenging debate."

Nearby Tent U students and faculty guffawed and smirked at these comments. Many organizers had been negotiating for months with the administration trying to arrange a tiny tent city at the base of the campus for four nights and five days. Every effort had been akin to speaking to a brick wall.

Irwin justified the arrests as a necessary decision. "This was a difficult situation made in consultation with faculty leaders - actually after the Student Affairs staff had spent a lot of time warning students of alternatives and of consequences," Irwin explained.

Students who organized the Tent University said their goals were a better and more humanized education, greater respect for free speech at the university, more democracy and dialogue between UCSC students and administration, and the rebuilding of humanities programs. Students demanded that the administration address the lack of diversity on campus and low wages of university workers.

Earlier in the day of April 18, with Day One of Tent University already in progress, no permission from the UCSC administration to set up camp at the base of campus, or any other place, had been made. An offer to camp in the Quarry, deep in the heart of campus, had been offered on Friday morning, only to be pulled off the table Friday afternoon, according to one of the Tent U organizers. Now students were told it was back on the table.

Students gathered together to democratically decide what they should do. Complicating matters, when Tent U organizers had made phone calls to local companies that rent portapotties, they were told they had received calls from UCSC staff stating that if any potties were delivered anywhere on the UCSC campus, they would be immediately removed. No company would rent to them.

Tent University organizers, firm believers in collective decision-making, presented five proposals about whether or not to camp, and if so, whether to do so in violation of the camping ordinance. Over 200 students broke off into circles and discussed the five proposals. Unbeknownst to the Tent U students, UC staff members joined each circle, although that all became apparent in time.

So for an hour and a half, students talked about camping and how to deal with the administration's unbending attitude against it. "I want to be talking about all the issues we came here to talk about," one young woman complained, "and all we are talking about is the camping ban!" Yet the "don't give an inch" policy of UCSC officials gave the students no choice.

At 4 p.m., Tent U delegates voted to stay the night in tents at the base of campus in violation of the University's camping ordinance. "If this is what homeless people face every night, we can do this for one night," one student declared.

"I don't want to locate in a hole in the ground," another UCSC student told the assembly. "No one will see us there." Other students emphasized the need to connect with the greater Santa Cruz community, including the wealthy and the homeless. At 9 p.m., the students set up 30 tents and prepared to bed down for the night.

Police attack peaceful gathering

Liz Irwin tried to justify how the decision was made to send in 30 cops in riot gear to arrest 19 students for sitting on the ground in a tent at night. "So the final decision was made by the senior administration and it was made with the understanding that there would be every precaution taken for safety," she said.

She blamed the students for escalating the situation, saying, "there seemed an intensive interest in accelerating on the part of the students."

Faced with rows of police in riot gear, dozens of students locked arms and sat on the ground under the "Nome," the biggest tent raised at Tent University. Police with riot helmets and blue latex gloves systematically pressed on pain compliance points, and squeezed arms and thighs in an effort to cause enough pain to cause the students to lose their grip on each other.

Nearly 90 students were locked on the ground, and adhered to the discipline of the civil rights protesters trained by Martin Luther King Jr. Committed to nonviolent resistance, no student raised a hand against any officer. None of the 19 arrested (17 UCSC students and two others, age 20 and 21) were charged with assault on a police officer, an impressive fact considering it doesn't take much for police to concoct such a charge at a protest like this.

After two non-stop hours of the police removing students one by one for arrest, only 19 had been taken into custody. Dozens more remained on the ground, arms locked, resisting removal by police. It was clear the police did not have the manpower to arrest everyone. The UCSC administration called off the police. The students had won.

Liz Irwin explained, "We care about the safety of our students very much; we did not want anything untoward to happen to them. We thought it was better to just wait for awhile and see if the situation got less tense. The students became more expressive and seemed to be more interested in the kinds of behaviors that, actually, we didn't want to see continue. And so rather than engage in further confrontation, it was better to just step back, wait, hope for the better as the evening wears on." She broadly smiled as she praised the restraint shown by the police, all in the service of student safety.

Why was UCSC so unbending?

Meanwhile, the police tactics touched off a firestorm of controversy among students and faculty, who called the pain compliance holds akin to torture and charged that police had resorted to needless brutality and excessive force in making arrests.

Why had UCSC been so unbending about a Tent University on campus? Rutgers University had cooperated with their Tent University. UCSC has enough land for camping. It's the largest UC campus in California.

UC Code 57 on campus is a carbon copy of the City of Santa Cruz camping ordinance, which is directed against homeless people. Both outlaw the act of sleeping between 11 p.m. and 8:30 a.m. and the use of blankets. Setting up a campsite is illegal 24 hours a day. But at UC, it is also illegal to sleep in your vehicle from dusk to dawn and the cost of a ticket is $162.

With 3000 homeless people in Santa Cruz County and only 40 emergency shelter spaces, enforcing the camping ordinance is unethical given the human suffering this causes. The Tent University students intuitively understood this economic injustice. But for the UCSC administration, it only heightened their fears.

Irwin said: "There was a wide advertisement for a 'Y'all Come! It's gonna be a real occasion!' As I was down at Tent University earlier, even when there was productive discourse, there were a number of members of the wider community whose agendas are unlikely to be those that are necessarily in sync with that of our own campus community."

The idea of the students intermingling with people who were not under the control of the administration certainly was unpopular. But the idea that homeless people might come up and set up a tent on UC property was unthinkable!

An unknown percentage of UCSC's student population are homeless. "I'm a woodsie," one girl told HUFF. "That's a student who lives in the woods." She had her backpack nearby and said she camps in a different spot every night.

With tuition costs rising each year, fewer students from poor backgrounds are even able to enroll. Diversity enrollment is at an all-time low since the founding of UCSC in 1965. Tent University addressed all of these issues, as well as low wages for university workers compared to the cushy salaries of the administration. Surely Chancellor Denice Denton did not want these issues aired at the base of her campus.

Double-speak and police brutality

In Orwellian double-speak, Irwin lamented, "Our hope was this was to be a productive conversation and a real opportunity for students, faculty, and members of the community to come together in a productive way and discuss issues that people care about. But it seems that there appears to be an interest in other kinds of approaches, ones that are not acceptable."

That dialogue was what Tent University had been advertising for weeks that they wanted to build, and they were right in the middle of those productive conversations when Chancellor Denton's riot cops arrived. From 9:45 p.m. until after midnight, the cops painfully and slowly extracted student after student until they had arrested and physically carried all 19 to waiting police vans.

Students said they were kept from a bathroom for seven hours. "And they made this big deal about our lack of sanitation!" one of the students arrested said.

Students understood clearly that their peaceable assembly was met by sheer police brute force. Some students were shoved or poked with batons. One student, Sasha, was clubbed just above his left eye. Many of those arrested claimed the police had used a forbidden carotid artery pressure technique.

UC Police Chief Mickey Aluffi assured Tent U students at a meeting set up on the campus on April 21 that pressure points are an approved arrest technique. Chief Aluffi explained, "What you saw here the other night, while it has the appearance of violence, it wasn't violence. What we do is controlled force."

It was a huge education for the students to see brute police force in practice. "I've never seen anyone get arrested before. I had no idea how dangerous it is," commented a UCSC student named Cathy.

Students speculated that the police and UCSC officials couldn't stand to see something happening that they didn't control. The administration wanted the students on campus and behind guarded gates where non-students are not allowed. They wanted only teachers and staff they had previously hand-picked, and could still control with a paycheck, to have contact with students. Others speculated that Mayor Rotkin, a supporter of the camping ban, is a lecturer at UCSC.

Chief Aluffi said he sent 30 riot cops to rip down tents and arrest people because there were some "who we knew wanted to be arrested." He did admit that despite the riot cops, "this was not a riot."

It is true. The police did use some restraint. They did not club all the students. They did not use pepper spray or tasers. They did not spray fire hoses, though at one point Monday night a ripple went through the crowd, and a rumor spread that the nearby fire engines were going to be used to fire water cannons at the 300-plus crowd. That never happened.

The fire trucks, continuously running their engines, did provide large lighting systems and loudspeakers. Those sounds mixed with the sounds of students screaming from the pain compliance tactics of the robot-like police, dark, shielded, and under orders not to speak with anyone.

The sounds of students singing "Amazing Grace" and "We Shall Not Be Moved" blended with the sounds of unison chanting from other protesters: "Shame! Shame! Shame!" and "We're peaceful. You're violent. We're peaceful. You're violent."

Liz Irwin explained why UCSC officials were so unbending about using the free speech zone at the base of campus for Tent University Santa Cruz. "It was just a variety of concerns," she said. "This was not the place. There are other places. If there is genuinely an interest for reasonable discourse and an opportunity to get together and share the experience, and make an improvement for what we hope has elements of interest for all of us, then why does it have to be here? Couldn't it be somewhere else where everyone could have a more safe environment? That's where we are today."

The students arrested and brutalized by police called on campus to attack them by UCSC administrators may have a hard time believing Irwin's call for "reasonable discourse" and a "safe environment."

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