SANTA MONICA (CBS) — Santa Monica College students and the school’s president spoke out Wednesday regarding an incident involving campus police pepper spraying student protesters the day before.
About 100 students had gathered outside a Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday night, chanting “Shame on you”, as board members discussed a plan to increase fees.
A campus police officer tried to subdue the crowd with pepper spray, which filled the hallway with vapor and caused students to flee. A video posted on Santa Monica Patch showed the incident in vivid detail (see video below).
The board canceled their meeting and about 30 students were treated by paramedics for the pepper spray and other injuries.
College President Chui Tsang said that he was launching an investigation into the incident.
The following day students gathered outside the college and continued their protests.
Student Samaria Gomez was on campus Wednesday after she, her sister and friends were among those pepper sprayed the night before.
“Numbers of us were pepper sprayed. My sister went to the hospital — she had a hard time breathing,” said student Samaria Gomez. “My sister shouldn’t have to come to campus, the next day, and see that same police officer, who attacked her and who attacked especially female girls, who were choked. Another girl is in an arm brace.”
Gomez’s sister was among three students transported to the hospital that night for injuries related to the episode.
Some students argued that the campus police officers were just defending themselves.
“Pinning the officer against the door — what was he to do, honestly? I mean, he does carry a firearm. With that many people around you and not able to control the crowd, who’s to say someone couldn’t grab that firearm and set that off,” said Ernie Sevilla, a student at the college.
Tsang released a statement that said that, although students broke the law by setting off fire alarms and disrupting a public meeting, there were no arrests. The president also said the school would cover the protesters’ medical expenses incurred that night.
“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 College’s action comes at a time when SMC is confronted with the greatest budget crisis ever to face higher education in California,” Tsang said in the statement.
The students said they were demanding to have a say in a new course program that could begin as early as this summer.
The program, which would be funded privately, would offer core courses at prices that would be three times the cost of state-funded courses.
School officials argue that it would offset major cuts in state funding.
The students, with the exception of a few student delegates, were not allowed inside the room where the meeting was held.
“It was a mixed crowd. There were elderly members, there were students, and there were children as well,” according to a student at the protest.
[NOTE: Clip used in video above is from the Santa Monica Patch, not YouTube]