Students protesting tuition hikes pepper-sprayed by police in Santa Monica, CA

(video: Jenna Chandler, Santa Monica Patch)

Last night at Santa Monica College (about 20 blocks from the beach here in Los Angeles, CA), police pepper-sprayed some 30 students in a crowd of about 150 protesters. The students want affordable education. They gathered during a meeting of the college's board of trustees to voice opposition to planned tuition hikes that would raise the cost of bread-and-butter courses during the summer session by as much as 400%. I was close enough to the location last night to hear helicopters and sirens as it happened.

The LA Times reports that Santa Monica police are today "trying to sort out" who used pepper-spray on the peacefully assembled students. Reports I heard last night indicated that the person or persons responsible were campus police, not Santa Monica police, who were called in later to secure the site. Among the injured: a child, who looks to be about 4 or 5 years old from these photos.

One student eyewitness tweeted:

More eyewitness video plus photos of two of the victims follow, at the end of this Boing Boing post.

Student blogger zunguzungu in Berkeley, who has been covering student protests and campus police brutality throughout California, rounds up news link and posts about the incident this morning. An excerpt:

I have seen no allegation that any of the students were violent or even used civil disobedience; the main problem seems to have been — in the college president's words — that the small boardroom wasn't able to accommodate all of the students who wanted to speak: "We expected some students, but we didn't expect that big of a crowd with such enthusiasm."

When students demanded entrance to the room the meeting was being held — a tiny room, with room for only a handful of outsiders (by a great coincidence) — the police went wild.

(…) How does this happen? How does pepper spray become the act of first resort? Even the anodyne phrasing of the LA Times admits that pepper spray was used proactively ("Several were also overcome when pepper spray was released just outside the meeting room as officers tried to break up the crowd") and not in response to some kind of clear and present danger.

Or, rather, it was. A crowd must be dispersed before it does something, goes the logic of the new preemptive policing; a crowd is, itself, a clear and present danger. If you wait until the crowd actually does something, you've waited too long. And so you preempt it by striking first.

If you doubt that this is the way these people think, I'd invite you to read Jeff Young — the current assistant police chief at UCLA — writing his "operational review" of UC Berkeley's police actions against protesters from last November 9th, and note that his main takeaway was that campus police should have probably been allowed to use pepper spray. For more successful protest management, he decides, what the police need is more force options. Perhaps Tasers?

More coverage of the incident: Santa Monica Patch (who were first and best on this as it broke, notably!), KTLA, LA CBS, NBC LA, LA Times story with background on the fee hikes.

Below, photos from "Lady Libertine" on Twitter: Marioly Gomez and Jasmine Gomez, two of the students she identifies as having been pepper-sprayed and assaulted by campus police at Santa Monica College last night.