Oakland, March 23rd, 2011
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE PERALTA ADMINISTRATION REGARDING THE EVENTS OF MARCH 2nd
To Peralta Community College District Chancellor Wise E. Alan:
To Laney College President Elñora Tena Webb:
We, the undersigned organizations, are writing to express our concern over the role of the Peralta administration and campus officials in the repression of student protest on March 2nd and their ongoing role in the criminal prosecution of key activists.
We would like to begin by highlighting the responsibility of the administration of any public educational institution to militantly protect and defend academic freedom as a core institutional value. The right to dissent and protest is a cornerstone of academic freedom, in addition to being a fundamental constitutional and legal right.
In light of this responsibility, the actions the administration has taken against student protestors appear to be deeply and profoundly at odds with the political and educational values that they, as administrators, are committed to uphold.
During the March 2nd protests against budget cuts to public education, we would like to point out the ways in which a few key decisions made by the Peralta administration served to escalate, rather than deescalate the situation, and set the stage for violent police repression against protestors. In the process, we hope to present a counter-narrative at variance with the one of the administration that will document many of its inaccuracies and distortions and that will demonstrate the role of the administration in these events. We demand that the administration be held accountable for its policies towards its own student body.
The first of these were their decisions regarding the planned march on the Peralta district office. Instead of being present to meet with students, faculty, and staff who had gathered there, they chose to meet protestors with a, for unexplained reasons during a normal working day, locked building surrounded by Alameda County Sheriffs. The Sheriffs repeatedly complained that they were unable to contact or locate campus officials during this time, despite repeated calls. This decision set the stage for an escalation of the situation. Further, it drastically undermining the faith of protestors in the
administration’s good will.
What ensued was a tense confrontation between protestors expecting to meet with the Chancellor and Sheriffs charged by the administration with subduing the anger of the crowd. In the time it took for Chancellor Allen and Laney President Webb to show up, the administration left it completely up to the police to decide how to deal with the gathered Peralta students. The Sheriffs used this opportunity to physically and verbally intimidate protestors with threats of arrest not linked to any actual infractions and with attempted seizures of their banners. Also, at least one protestor was physically assaulted by a campus official.
The second was the administration’s decision, under the direct supervision of Chancellor Allen and Laney President Webb, to allow Alameda County Sheriffs to suddenly and violently tackle, arrest and detain one student, Jesse, a gender-queer student activist who had just spoken at the rally about the insensitivity of the administration to the safety concerns of trans-gendered students, on absurd charges of “inciting a riot”. This arrest was immediately followed by a police assault of another queer activist, who had been in the middle of addressing said administrators and presenting them with hundreds of petitions regarding the climate of harassment of queer students on campus and the insensitivity and inaction of the administration. All of this happened in the midst of the crowd of assembled students, faculty and staff, creating a highly dangerous and unstable situation where police aggression left many feeling panicked and unsafe.
It is important to also point out that, while still in the Peralta District building in the custody of the Alameda Sheriffs, the arrested student’s head was slammed against a wall causing their glasses to break by Deputy Sheriff J. Calegari. After this, the student had to be taken by the Sheriffs to Highland hospital because the nurse at the jail required the police to provide medical attention due to a possible fractured wrist. Chancellor Allen and President Webb were present in the building during this assault.
The Chancellor’s and the Laney College President’s presence and inaction at the time of this arrest and assault makes
them complicit in this crime. They share responsibility for the shield of impunity that allows the Alameda Sheriffs to
repress student protesters with no consequences or even investigation.
Jesse was detained at Santa Rita Jail for 3 days following the arrest, during which time they were unable to attend class. It has since become clear that both Chancellor Allen and President Webb are key figures in the criminal
prosecution of said student (once again, on the charge of “inciting a riot”!). And campus officials even aided the Sheriffs in issuing a stay-away order banning the student from entering any Peralta property to attend class, putting them at risk of academic failure. The stay-away order was finally lifted after it was determined that the allegations against the student were not consistent with eyewitness statements.
The role of the administration outlined above in criminalizing and repressing students is indefensible. The events of the last week raise serious questions about the capacity of an administration that seeks to inflict political retaliation against students to fulfill its academic and professional mandate to protect academic freedom and the rights and safety of the campus community.
We call on the administration to immediately cease all proceedings against students involved in protest actions and to drop the charges against student protestors.
Further, we call on the administration to take action to immediately investigate, make public their findings, and bring to justice the police involved in this repression. We are demanding the investigation and dismissal of Sheriff J. Calegari for the physical violence he inflicted on Jesse.
Lastly, we would like to list here again the demands of Queers Fighting Back, which were being read from hundreds of signed petitions to Chancellor Allen and President Webb at the time of the arrest. We insist that the Peralta administration take all necessary measures to ensure that these are met as soon as possible:
– Gender Neutral Bathrooms where students will be safe to pee without facing harassment regardless of their gender identity.
– The immediate development of Mandatory Training Workshops for the campus administration, faculty, and staff about the needs and realities of Queer students on campus and how to communicate with and protect
the interests of this community.
– The Restoration of the critical Student Services and Academic Programs, including health services, that the administration is cutting to generate revenue for their budgetary deficit. These programs and services are essential for education at Laney College to remain accessible for its most vulnerable communities for whom these programs are a lifeline, including the Queer community.
Laney College Student Unity & Power
Queers Fighting Back – Laney Queer College
La Voz de los Trabajadores (Liga Internacional de los Trabajadores – Cuarta Internacional)