Occupiers protest SMC pepper spraying
On Saturday, April 7, several occupy activists assembled in Santa Monica to protest the recent pepper spraying of Santa Monica College students by campus police.
The pepper-spraying incident, which occurred on April 3, happened during a student demonstration over proposed tuition hikes.
Members of Occupy LA, Occupy the Hood, Occupy San Fernando Valley and Occupy Venice met at the Third Street Promenade, a downtown shopping and dining hub, in an effort to draw attention to the SMC event and fee increases to passersby.
SMC is currently under criticism for considering implementing a plan that would offer some courses at a higher price beginning this summer session. Under the plan, tuition for English and math classes could jump from $36 to $200 a unit.
“It’s creating a two-tiered system of wealthier students who can afford classes and struggling working-class and low-income students competing for the scraps of what’s left; it’s definitely a move in the wrong direction,” said student government President Harrison Wills to the Los Angeles Times.
To express their outrage against the plan, 100 protesters tried to make their way into a Board of Trustees meeting. Police officers used pepper spray on the crowd. According to the LA Times, three people were taken to the hospital and as many as 30 people were treated at the scene, including a four-year-old girl.
While many of the demonstrators at the April 7 protest are not students at SMC, they were acting in solidarity to support the students and their protest against tuition hikes. Occupy LA protester Callie Little was one of them. She was present at the campus protest as well.
“People realize that if this two-tiered system passes at Santa Monica College, then it is going to go to the entire community college system,” she said. “These policies only help the rich and it’s a community college, so it is very difficult if it starts going down that route.”
Little explains that the SMC demonstration was meant to be peaceful and was “not a radical thing at all.” However, when the student protesters were told that the Board of Trustees meeting could only hold 20 of the 100 students, and that the remaining protesters would have to go to an overflow room, the protesters were angered that they were not in a larger room where everyone could be heard.
“We felt like it was unfair, like it was almost like they had deliberately chosen a venue that was too small so that the public could not speak,” she said.
Occupy protester Allan Eaton, who attended the demonstration at the Promenade, was angered by the police’s actions to use pepper spray on the student protesters.
“It’s something that should not be happening when students are protesting against tuition hikes or for any reason at all,” he said. “Pepper spraying on college students is something that we should not be having to deal with.”
Steven Loux had attended the SMC demonstration. He mirrored the anger felt after the board’s decision to limit attendance at their hearing.
“We wanted to be heard,” he said. “We wanted the board to see the people whose decision it would be affecting.”
Loux did not anticipate the protest would escalate into “chaos.”
“I thought it was family-friendly event,” he said. “I thought it was just a bunch of students and we were going to make sure that they got their voices heard.”
Since the April 3 student protest, SMC has decided to hold off on its plan. According to the LA Times, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to postpone the plan and instead obtain further input from students, faculty and staff on ways to increase access to classes.
Although many SMC students are relieved that the plan is no longer being pursued, the Occupy protest at the Third Street Promenade represents the anger that many people feel toward campus police.
“It’s a cold comfort, but why did it have to come to pepper spray for these students to have agency in their lives?” said Loux.