Santa Monica College must investigate pepper spraying, ACLU says
Santa Monica College must thoroughly investigate the pepper spraying incident at an unruly Board of Trustees meeting, the executive director of the ACLU of Southern California said Wednesday afternoon.
A police officer released the pepper spray during Tuesday's chaotic meeting after a large crowd of students tried to force their way into the room where the board was convened. Three people were taken to the hospital and as many as 30 others were treated at the scene.
"The college must respect the right of students to make their voices heard, especially when they are expressing profound concern about college policies that will impact them and their studies," the ACLU's Hector Villagra said.
"Free speech means being able to speak freely without being doused with pepper spray, which has excruciating effects that can last for days," he said. "When campus police respond with excessive force, it makes students afraid to speak out, and that undermines the very purpose of a college campus: a community of ideas where students are encouraged to express their opinions and engage in robust debate."
The incident sparked immediate outrage from students, who accused campus police of excessive force.
Kayleigh Wade, 19, said police began using the pepper spray without warning.
"There is no way to justify this behavior by police officers," she said.
College officials pledged to investigate the matter, but President Chui L. Tsang issued a statement Wednesday saying that the pepper spray was necessary to maintain safety at the meeting. He noted in the statement that police officers exercised restraint in dealing with the students, who were acting in an unlawful manner by setting off fire alarms and attempting to disrupt the meeting.
"Santa Monica College regrets that a group of people chose to disrupt a public meeting in an unlawful manner," Tsang said.
-- Carla Rivera and Kimi Yoshino
Photo: Santa Monica College student Kayleigh Wade, 19, wears a T-shirt explaining Tuesday night's pepper spray incident. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times