Thursday, March 4, 2010, 5:59 p.m.
University of California, Santa Cruz

UCSC student protesters put in harm’s way, injured, by reckless drivers

Some news outlets have unfortunately reported narrowly about a single incident of a car window being broken early this morning at UCSC. Worse, some news articles or radio programs have quoted EVC David Kliger at length about the incident without any consideration or perspective of student witnesses who were there.

The facts: A single, rear car window–not a front windshield–was broken at 7:40 a.m. when a car recklessly attempted to force its way through the picket line of peaceful student demonstrators. Contrary to some media reports, a female student did not jump onto the hood of the car in any pretense of attack, rather she said “there was nowhere else for me to go,” as the car failed to stop advancing towards her. A second student’s foot was run over. Students on the scene put bandages around it. Also contrary to one-sided reporting, which implied that all medical professionals were blocked from going to work, it was actually UCSC Health Center employees arriving for work that morning who picked up this injured student and drove him to the campus clinic for further care! Finally, we have an unconfirmed report of another student’s leg being broken.

Contrary to how EVC Kliger has characterized this event, it was the students on the picket line who were put in harm’s way, not the driver of the car with a broken window. It is very unfortunate that Kliger would criticize only those who turned out in support of the protest, when in fact they were reacting to the dangerous acts of this driver. For anyone concerned about the safety of people at the site of mass protests such as ours, please consider it is oftentimes the activists who are put in danger by rogue individuals resorting to belligerent acts of political one-upmanship. This is not why the students have gathered at UCSC today. We wish these individuals would heed police and campus cautions and stay home. Any reporter or campus official who takes the time to speak with the students knows the focus and purpose of this event has been to send a strong message to Sacramento and UC admins that we will defend public education. EVC Kliger has a history of issuing charged and hyperbolic statements to the campus community and press about student activists. We hold him responsible for making public statements that in effect demonize the overwhelmingly peaceful crowd of student protesters. His words have the potential to embolden those who harbor animosity towards democratic assemblies of students and occasions of free speech to take matters into their own hands by recklessly forcing a car through the crowd. Of course we expect and understand that news outlets will quote Kliger, but surely we can expect our Campus Provost to issue statements that are balanced and show concern for all members of the UCSC community.

Even the Santa Cruz police chief, Steve Clark, was quoted this morning as saying, “The morning has gone fairly smooth for us.” This website article continues its coverage of the event with the following:

“At 7:40 a.m. a Volvo sedan driver on High Street got into an altercation with students. A student jumped on the hood of the car while another smashed the rear window of the sedan as two UCSC police officers stood nearby. No one was detained though the driver pulled over and was talking to the officer. He was attempting to drive through the line to go downhill from High Street onto Western.”

Why would students randomly and unprovoked get into an ‘altercation’ with a single car, despite the presence of hundreds of drivers in the area throughout the day? Why was no one arrested? Why would the driver have to park the car and get out to talk to the police if he was attacked by students whose actions descended to ‘violence’ as Kliger claimed? The facts simply do not lend themselves to a simplistic, one-sided perspective that the driver was in danger or that students were violent. Students, however, were indeed put in danger by the car driver, and at least one was injured, while another one was forced onto the hood of the car to avoid injury.

The protests at UCSC have been overwhelmingly peaceful and one of the largest in the state today. Everyone who shares concerns about the fragile state of public education in California should be proud of this huge gathering of activists at UCSC all day today—and it continues to this very moment! CNN anchorman Wolf Blitzer had extensive positive coverage of the day’s events across California, and his guest David Gergen, a current professor at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and former adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton was quoted as saying, “California students have every right to be protesting.” If we can get this kind of balanced analysis from a former adviser to Republican and Democratic presidents, surely we can expect the same from Professor Kliger.

In light of all this, it is fair to say the Provost’s message to the campus community and press was an untrue characterization of the students’ activities and overall atmosphere of today’s event. His messages are ostensibly a tactic with no purpose other than to divide a campus  highly anxious about the cuts to public education. It is true that some of our colleagues do not support our choice to gather at the campus entrances today, but we should not let the Provost’s political messages masked as official missives undermine our capacity to organize to address the crisis at UCSC. We admonish him for reducing this incredible day of action to a single incident at 7:40 a.m.–his statement is a classic case of failing to see the forest for the trees. The Provost’s judgment seems clouded by the fact that he is personally the object of much criticism and scorn–completely justified–for the damage he has done to the UCSC community through his uncompromising demands for cuts to the core mission of UC–a high-quality, well-rounded education equally accessible to all students.