On April 3, Santa Monica College students and other protesters attempted to get into the school Board of Trustees meeting. Some Santa Monica police officers used pepper spray on the crowd of demonstrators as they worked to deter them.
The students were present to protest the school’s decision to offer some high-demand classes, such as core English and math courses, at an increased cost of $180 to $200 per unit, up from $36 per unit normally and $46 per unit beginning in summer 2012. This “two tier” system of courses has incited fears that it will lead to a slippery slope where more classes will be segregated in this manner.
CBS News reported that the police allege that protesters backed two officers against a wall and when one officer lost his balance, that was when some of them made the decision to begin using greater force and pepper spray to break up the crowd.
Santa Monica College spokesman Bruce Smith said that to his knowledge, it was the first time pepper spray was used by police against students on their campus. “It was the judgment of police that the crowd was getting out of hand and it was a safety issue,” he said.
Maribel Gomez, 21, told reporters that she was waiting outside the meeting with other protesters when police came out. “I got pepper-sprayed without warning,” she said.
Video of the incident reached social media and traditional news outlets, such as the L.A. Times.
“Santa Monica College student pepper sprayed” by YouTube user TheDigitalfolklore
The spraying sparked comment on whether or not the police were justified, and greater political debates about the costs of education. It is similar to the UC Davis incident in November, but the dynamic is different due to pepper spray being used on a group of protesters attempting to get inside a meeting, rather than idle demonstrators sitting in silence.
“The news video I saw showed the two security guards being physically attacked,” commenter John Napier said on the Los Angeles Times article. “Considering they were outnumbered about 50 to 1, I’d say pepper spray was called for.”
“What many conservatives fail to realize is that you can’t run a nation like a company, in that you can’t “fire” citizens,” Evan Parker commented on the same article. “You’re going to be paying for them one way or another – you can either fund their education, allowing them to create value for themselves, the firms they work for, and the government (through higher taxes due to their better jobs), or you can pay for more police and more welfare.”
Santa Monica Patch reported that the trustees intend to move forward with the plan to introduce the two-tier system. “We don’t want to be bullied,” trustee Louise Jaffe said.
On Wednesday, the L.A. Times reported that Jack Scott, the chancellor of the California community college system, called Santa Monica College President Chui L. Tsang to request that the school suspend its plans to implement the two-tier classes. He said that the plan is possibly in violation of state education codes, and asked California Attorney General Kamala Harris to assess the situation. Harris’ office is expected to respond within a week.
On April 6, Tsang called for an emergency Board of Trustees meeting, where they voted unanimously to delay the two-tier system indefinitely pending more review, discussion, and community input.