Op-Ed: An Account of the Last CSU Trustees Meeting

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On Wednesday, November 16th, I was a part of the California State University anti-austerity protest at Long Beach. The police present beat students and facilitated the passing of the CSU Trustees’ anti-democratic, extortive, and unnecessary fee hike. I was arrested for four violent felonies stemming loosely from the breaking of a door; despite the fact that video evidence has surfaced which clearly exonerates me from breaking the door, and despite the fact that the District Attorney has explicitly rejected these and other charges, the CSU Trustees and their police have been adamant about pinning whatever they can on me, and the Long Beach City Prosecutor has finally caved to their demands. I am facing ridiculous but serious charges—and I need your help to get them dropped.

Around 30 UCLA students—including me—bussed over to CSU LB that morning to join CSU students from across the state in solidarity, to protest their Trustees’ proposed 9% fee hike. The Trustees are a completely undemocratic body—they are unelected financiers who rule with impunity over their school system, and have been actively raising student fees (a code-word for tuition, since—according to the California Mater Plan—tuition at public universities is illegal). There is no effective or substantive mode of student input, and so no way for us to air our discontent with these unnecessary and extortive policies except through protest. Some of us protested outside, while others—including me—sat in on the meeting, listening to these plutocrats discuss policies that deeply affect their students for three hours. Only then were we allowed to speak—for a grand total of 20 minutes. They restricted student access to the meeting, blocking protesters from entering while filtering suits in unhindered, and finally shut off our one microphone (each of them had their own) and ordered their security to forcibly shove us all out of the meeting, in direct violation of the Bagley-Keene Public Voting Act, which mandates that officials of public institutions must vote on all policies in meetings open to the public. They passed their extremely unpopular 9% CSU-wide fee hike behind closed-doors because even the little input we took and were given was too unfavorable for them to continue in the face of.

The police pushed us into the protest outside with intimidation and force. There were around 200 of us, and we peacefully chanted and assembled outside the door to the building behind which the Trustees were illegally passing their extortive bill. The police wanted to close the door to help the Trustees, so they began to shove us—first with fists, then with batons. They shoved us with increasing force, and waved batons at us incredibly violently, and emptied multiple canisters of pepper spray on us indiscriminately. They threw a few hurt students to the concrete and dragged them inside, to arrest them for various trumped up charges, including “inciting riot”; one of these students was temporarily blinded by the pepper spray—caught between a line of protesters who had linked their arms to de-escalate, and a line of police officers, unable to escape. The police were then able to pull the glass doors closed and lock them with zip-ties and batons in the handles; these were very precarious improvised locks, and so the police got into a tug of war with a few students to keep the doors closed. This placed extreme pressure on the glass, which caused it to shatter. One police officer got a light cut on his arm.

We marched away at this point to protest a nearby bank, and an hour later police closed in and arrested me. The charges varied several times while I was being booked, but eventually coalesced into four felonies: $32,000 vandalism, assault and battery on an officer with a deadly weapon (the door), and resisting arrest/obstructing justice. Bail was set at $30,000. Video evidence surfaced soon after I was bailed out (thus constituting a de facto one night jail sentence and $3,000 fine already, sans trial or conviction), aired by Univision, showing the door breaking—and me not even touching it, around 5 or 10 feet away from it. The DA explicitly rejected all my charges, and no one else who was arrested there has had any charges filed against them—basically, an admission that the arrests were nothing but another form of intimidation, deterrence, brutality, and spin on the side of the Trustees and their police.

But the Trustees are still coming after us, sending a clear, repressive message to students: don’t speak up, don’t stand up, let yourselves continue be robbed blind. SDSU came after Ashley Wardle—the student arrested after she was blinded by pepper spray—with obscene student conduct charges, including a 2 year suspension from all extra-curricular activities (including her job, as a TA), despite the fact that no criminal charges were ever filed against her, and that video evidence likewise exonerated her of all wrongdoing. Luckily, students across the state came to her aid, calling and emailing her chancellor and her dean en masse, demanding amnesty for her; her charges have been significantly reduced as a result, and may disappear altogether.

In the UC system, activists have been likewise targeted, brutalized, and persecuted as part of a mass campaign to stifle dissent. The memories of the atrocious brutalities at Berkeley and Davis haven’t begun yet to fade or lose their sting, while news breaks on behind-the-scenes outrages perpetuated by Katehi and Birgeneau (from privatizing Greek Universities to explicitly ordering the use of force against students and actively covering it up). Meanwhile, down South, activists have been targeted in less overt, but equally insidious ways: for misdemeanor failure to disperse—we blocked the hugely trafficked intersection of Wilshire and Westwood for a record three and a half hours—which is normally a catch-and-release citation, 11 of us, including myself, were taken through intentionally convoluted booking sequences that ended in Van Nuys jail 24 hours later, with $5,000 bail apiece (10% of which is non-refundable). A week later, our encampment was raided at 4:30 AM by 60+ riot police, who arrested 14 of us. Out of these 25, 24 were given manipulative “re-education” programs instead of trials, while 1—conveniently, the vice president of our campus’ Students for Justice in Palestine, and a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against LAPD for the May Day beat-down in 2007—may face somewhat serious charges. There is a systematic effort on the part of campus and city officials to punish us with kangaroo court student conduct charges, criminal litigation, and even overt violence—all merely for our politics, the politics of sustainability, egalitarianism, and rationality. Mine is only one case of this, but it is a case that I believe accurately represents all the facets of this corrupt, manipulative, power-hungry, insidious, tyrannical and cruel machine; hopefully, it can be used as a jumping-off point both for the masses to understand this conflict as it truly is—a blatant class war conducted largely across a generational gap to help the ruling class further solidify its foothold on power now and when we age—and as a jumping-off point for us to pursue action against them—the regents, the cops, the media, the courts, the city council, and more—for pursuing unfounded and unfair excessive action against us, to better allow and enable students to protest the deepening crisis in education, and live with the freedoms and rights we deserve.

Since the DA refused to accept their trumped-up, bogus charges against me, the Trustees have gone to the City Prosecutor, and—after several other likewise rejected charges—have gotten him to pursue misdemeanor vandalism and failure to disperse charges against me. The failure to disperse charge is completely illogical—there was never any official order to disperse given to us, and I was arrested away from the scene of the “crime” without fleeing, so I clearly did disperse. The more troubling charge is the vandalism—this crosses over into felony territory when it is for more than $400, but this is for $32,000. It is only being treated as a misdemeanor because felonies are the purview of the DA, who had the sense not to press charges for something I didn’t do—but I would still have to pay full restitution, on top of punitive fines and court orders, if convicted of the misdemeanor. I do not have $32,000, since I am a student struggling to pay for school, and it should strike us all as deeply offensive that a school in the midst of a supposed budget crisis, that raises its illegal tuition another 9%, spends $32,000 on a glass door, to an administrative building, which is rarely used, and meant to be open to the public. It should strike us all as similarly offensive that they are attempting to waste taxpayer dollars that could be going to education on pursuing false charges against me in court to cover their backs, so they can spin this protest as “violent” (as a result of us rather than their hired-out police), and deter students in the future from protesting their unjust policies and procedures.

I cannot afford a lawyer, and will not accept money that could be going to protest-related actions to fund one—this is a case that should never see court, and so should have none of our money further wasted on it. I may get a decent public defender, but I may not, and I need us to make sure this case never makes it to court for moral and financial reasons. Additionally, I worry that my school will use any trial as an excuse to set me up for severe disciplinary action, in order to send this repressive message and show of power to UC activists as well. There are videos attached that show what happened—they show the police shoving and pepper-spraying and arresting us indiscriminately, and they show us not committing the crimes we are charged with. I need you to call in with complaints to the CSU Trustees, to the CSU-LB PD, and to the LB City Prosecutor, demanding that all charges against me be completely dropped immediately. I need you to call in as many times as you can to ensure that justice is done, to show these plutocrats that wealth cannot buy the people’s law, and to make sure that political action is protected to ensure our voices can be heard and our education can be continued—in and out of the classroom. My arraignment is on March 6th, at 8:30 AM, in the Long Beach Superior Court Building, and I need you all to call in before then to send them a clear message: we will not back down.

I am very much indebted to all of you. We beat back their crackdown on Ashley Wardle, and I am confident we will beat this back as well, on behalf of all student voices brutalized and broken, oppressed and repressed, persecuted and prosecuted, but never silenced.

Seth Newmeyer

Tell Them to Drop the Charges:

CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed: (562) 951-4700

CSU Long Beach President F. King Alexander: (562) 985-4121

CSU Long Beach Police Department: (562) 985-4101

Long Beach City Prosecutor Douglas Haubert: (562) 570-5600

Long Beach Chief of Police Jim McDonnell: (562) 570-7301

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