School of Hard Knocks Part Deux
By Alex Distefano
During the 2001 to 2002 academic years, the average cost of tuition for a University of California student was around $3,500. For 2010 to 2011, the average cost was $13,000, and the trend is only looking upward, unfortunately.
Just last month, when the UC Board of Regents met at the UC Riverside campus, it was almost inevitable that a protest would ensue. But, this particular protest was more than just angry students. It also included faculty and staff members from all over the state, which encompasses 10 University of California and 23 California State University campuses.
Due to the number of clashes between demonstrators and police (who used non-lethal projectiles in some cases—but, hey, projectiles, lethal or not, are still projectiles, right?) many protestors were able to capture footage of the skirmishes with riot-geared police and upload them on YouTube.
In this second installment of the Weekly’s two-part look at how the UCR protest went down, we are providing another first-hand account from a witness who was there from the beginning . . . to the bitter end.
UCR creative writing/labor studies student Gabriela Vazquez says the protest was not a single monolithic group, but a coalition of independent organizations that had united to bring forth a set of demands to the Board of Regents meeting.
Vazquez says that it was tough to estimate exactly how many protestors were present since the event was scattered across campus and numbers fluctuated throughout the day. During the morning hours, she says demonstrators numbered at around 100.
“Around noon, there were at least 500 people,” Vazquez tells the Weekly. “Around 3 or 4 in the afternoon . . . there were around 1,000 people—and everyone was shocked to see so much police presence on campus.”
Among the set of demands that the coalition set forth to the Regents prior to the closed meeting: a proposed state ballot initiative to tax millionaires, the imposition of an oil extraction fee and reform of Proposition 13, a measure enacted in 1978 that affected homeowners’ property taxes, but also created a loophole that critics say allows commercial property to avoid reassessment (read: corporate landowners and big companies can avoid paying property taxes). Such demands were just one of several proposals organizers have offered up as alternative means to fund higher education and stave off tuition spikes, fee increases, layoffs, etc.
According to a Jan. 16 press release sent out to all students, staff, faculty, Board of Regents members, administrators and media outlets: “We call on the UC Regents to advocate actively for these alternatives . . . We demand that they freeze or cut unnecessary administrative positions with salaries over $125,000/year; re-hire laid-off lecturers, faculty and staff; restore classes; and refund library hours and other critical programs that have been cut at UCR and around the system. Finally, we demand that the Regents rescind administrative pay increases approved at their last meeting on Nov. 28, 2011, restoring that money to instruction.”
“These people, or Regents, that our government appointed are not educators,” Vazquez says. “People should do the research to find out who the Regents are . . . We’ve now realized [that] we’re the majority. These people are not helping us in any way, and it’s time we stand up to them.”
There was a time slot set for public comments, but for some that was hardly enough time.
“Eighty people signed up for public comment, but only 40 got let in,” Vazquez says. “They were telling a person outside it was full to capacity, but I was inside and it was not full to capacity at any time.”
The actual Regents meeting was delayed by about an hour, as a group of nonviolent protestors held a sit-in and locked arms before the meeting would start. Eventually, these protesters were cleared.
Outside, things got more aggressive. According to reports from The Press-Enterprise, only campus police were involved in the confrontations between law enforcement and demonstrators. But witnesses and Vazquez to an extent, say it appeared that members of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and the Riverside Police Department in riot gear were also on the scene.
“It was hard to tell, but they did have at least 100 campus police officers, as well as senior commanding officers from some of the other schools . . . They all had riot gear and we saw no badges so we didn’t know if they were from our campus or not.”
The euphemistic “non-lethal” projectiles were also used on demonstrators.
“They used these cannon guns [to fire projectiles] which looked similar to paint balls, and instead of paint they were full of pepper spray, and when they hit you, it explodes all over,” Vazquez says. “They shot a consecutive twelve shots into the crowd. I heard screaming . . . Many people got hit by the pepper balls. I heard people calling for the medics.”