November student protests examined

DT File Photo

The California State University’s Public Affairs office released an independent review of the incidents that occurred Nov. 16, 2011, resulting from protests at the CSU Chancellor’s Office in Long Beach.

The review — released April 24 — critiques the planning, procedure and actions taken by CSU police and associates.

“The purpose of the report was to have an external review of the student protests and CSU response and to make recommendations,” said Claudia Keith, assistant vice chancellor of public affairs in an email.

Recent tuition increases for CSU students prompted a large number of protesters — identified in the review as being from the Occupy movement, the ReFund California Coalition and the California State University Employees Union (CSUEU), among others — to take their grievances directly to the CSU Board of Trustees meeting last November.

Following heated speeches and outbursts from the crowd, CSU officers escorted the audience out of the room and the location of the meeting was changed without notice. Outside, protesters clashed with police as the protesters tried to reenter the building. The incident resulted in several arrests and the breaking of a glass door. The meeting ended and the board announced an additional 9 percent increase in tuition.

These events, alongside the infamous pepper spray incident at the University of California, Davis Nov. 18, 2011, led the California Legislature to hold a joint hearing between UC and CSU representatives, according to the review.

Both systems were requested to conduct a review by an external party. The CSU’s 35-page report was conducted by Ronald M. McCarthy, a retired law enforcement officer who served with the Los Angeles Police Department.

“The reviewer attempted to contact the students who were arrested, as well as those who were present at the protest,” Keith said.

In total, two individuals from the Long Beach Police Department, three CSU police officers and seven individuals identified as “Citizens” gave input to the report. One of those “Citizens” was current CSUEU president, Pat Gantt.

“The trustees recessed, (and) There was confusion when no public announcement to clear the room was made, and uniformed officers seemed to start pushing students out of the room,” said Gantt in an email, recalling the events of the day. “There should have been officers outside the building to deal with the crowd rather than playing tug-of-war with a glass door.”

Accounts like this helped McCarthy develop a list of 15 separate recommendations for law enforcement and CSU personnel to help mediate and improve reactionary actions during future contentious situations.

Teven Laxer, senior labor relations representative of CSUEU, was actually present at the November 15-16 CSU Board of Trustees meeting and also provided input to the CSU review.

Of the 15 recommendations, the four that Laxer felt were “most significant and could prevent future problems” included the Board of Trustees chair adjusting time constraints on public speakers, meetings with CSU and demonstrators prior to demonstrations to facilitate a better understanding of “each party’s responsibility and goals,” increased contact between police and

CSU unions and more clear instructions given by the CSU chair or police (preferably over loudspeaker) to demonstrators.

According to the report, the damage done at the demonstration cost an estimated $35,000 and several people suffered injuries, including a Cal Poly Pomona officer.

This led to a response by police who used pepper spray. Ultimately, the incident resulted in four arrests and prompted the McCarthy report to include an entire section on establishing safety zones during demonstrations and, more specifically, the failure to do so.

“There were two squads of Long Beach police less than a block away,” Gantt said. “They only came after the glass door was broken.”

There is some contention as to whose actions led to the, with Laxer suggesting in a statement at the legislative hearing that — from footage of the event — an officer was responsible, while McCarthy’s report states there was no doubt that the protesters were directly responsible.

Despite some disagreements on the events that transpired, and what Gantt called events that “seem to be sanitized some,” both he and Laxer were in relative agreeance with the McCarthy report’s assessment; particularly the recommendations made to CSU law enforcement.

“I am in general agreement with many of the recommendations suggested by McCarthy,” said Laxer in an email.

A full version of the McCarthy report can be read at CalState.edu/risk_management.

“The final recommendations make sense,” Gantt said. “Let’s see if they use them.”

About Ricardo Gonzalez

Ricardo Gonzalez is a print journalism major in his final semester at CSUF. He is both proud and extremely humbled to be working as the Daily Titan’s Opinion Editor this semester. He loves to write, hopes to get payed to do so someday, but oftentimes finds himself far too distracted by his Internet obsession to get as much work done as he’d like. Besides (failing to find time for) writing, his great loves include video games, film and professional wrestling. To him, all are art forms.