Fallout from pepper spray use at Santa Monica College

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April 3, 2012. A student pours milk in the eyes of a co-protester who was sprayed by pepper spray.

Officers used pepper spray to break up a crowd of about 100 students who had showed up at a Santa Monica College Board of Trustees meeting yesterday afternoon to protest a new two-tiered payment structure. The payment plan allows the college to offer courses outside of the regular schedule at a higher cost.  Students say this gives an unfair advantage to those who can afford to pay more. Warren interviewed SMC president Dr. Chui Tsang about this proposal last month.

KCRW broadcasts from the SMC campus and the college holds our license; and one of our producers snapped this photo (left) of milk being poured in a student’s eyes after he was hit with pepper spray. The incident has angered many on and off campus. This photo blog  which includes a picture of a young child being treated after the incident and this YouTube video of students getting pepper sprayed have been making the rounds online.

SMC’s president issued a statement, which you can find below.  We’ll have a more in-depth discussion of the incident on tonight’s Which Way, LA? broadcast.


Santa Monica College President Dr. Chui L. Tsang released this statement today (Wednesday, April 4, 2012):

At approximately 7:15 p.m. on Tuesday, April 3, 2012, an incident occurred at Santa Monica College involving a group of approximately 100 demonstrators at a regularly scheduled SMC Board of Trustees meeting.

The college had arranged for meeting participants to first be seated in the Board Room proper and overflow participants to be seated in an adjacent room. Many participants chose not to enter the overflow room and instead congregated in a corridor outside the Board Room.

When some of these demonstrators used force to enter the Board Room proper, and had overrun the door and the personnel stationed at the door, there was one discharge of pepper spray used by a SMC police officer to preserve public and personal safety. Unfortunately, a number of bystanders, including college staff, students and other police personnel were affected.

Although a number of participants at the meeting engaged in unlawful conduct, Santa Monica College police personnel exercised restraint and made no arrests. Unlawful conduct included setting off fire alarms and attempting to disrupt the Board of Trustees meeting.

After a recess of approximately one hour, order was restored and the Board meeting resumed in the regular Board Room. At that same time, many of the demonstrators entered the overflow room and proceeded to make their public comments to the Board.

Santa Monica College regrets that a group of people chose to disrupt a public meeting in an unlawful manner. The college has launched a full investigation into the matter.

The demonstrators came to the Board meeting to protest an SMC summer session pilot program in which extra courses will be offered that will be self-funded.

The intent of the program is to immediately increase the number of total classroom seats available and provide a way for students to make progress towards their goals.

The program, approved by the Board in March, will augment 700 regularly scheduled State-subsidized classes at $46 per credit unit for California residents, an increase of 25 percent more classes than last summer. Approximately 50 extra self-funded classes in the pilot program will be offered at SMC’s actual cost, which is $180 per credit unit, or $540 for a typical 3-unit course. SMC’s cost is far below the tuition rate at the State’s other public educational systems.

The college’s action comes at a time when SMC is confronted with the greatest budget crisis ever to face higher education in California.

As California’s public post-secondary educational capacity contracts, so do the life prospects of many young Californians. A tragic number of students are currently being turned away from community colleges and CSU campuses.

SMC’s move comes in the midst of a State budget crisis that has had devastating effects on college students in California for the last four years. Since 2008-09, State funding for California’s community colleges has decreased by 23 percent, according to the Community College League of California.

In addition, California community colleges face a further 5 percent cut in State funding in 2012-13 if proposed statewide initiatives to raise taxes in November of this year fail.

SMC has kept its courses open to as many students as possible by allowing more students into classes than are funded by the State. Yet, SMC is still turning away hundreds, if not thousands, of students because budget cuts have forced the college to trim class offerings by 1,100 course sections since 2008. Statewide, it is estimated that community colleges have turned away 300,000 students because of budget cuts.

The Board’s adopted guiding principles for the program affirm that courses offered above and beyond the level of course offerings funded by the State will supplement, not supplant the regular course offerings, and that revenue from these programs will be used to increase access to the college’s regular educational programs and services.

Additionally, the college expresses its appreciation to a number of generous donors, in particular, businessman Daniel Greenberg and his wife, attorney and civic activist Susan Steinhauser, two longtime supporters of programs at the College, who have stepped up to help by creating a scholarship fund to help students defray the extra cost of the self-funded program.

The college is also committed to promoting the use of financial aid to facilitate access for continuing resident students.

On Tuesday night, participants were informed that they may submit medical bills to the Student Affairs Office.

The Santa Monica Fire Department reported that 15 to 30 people were treated and released at the scene, and three were transported to hospitals for further treatment and released.