Police Brutality: Violation of 1st Amendment Rights!
Fatima Sbeih was riding her bike after afternoon prayer, when she came across
a large crowd of demonstrators, onlookers, and campus police in riot gear
gathered on the quad at University of California, Davis. She joined them,
sitting down on the quad to show that she was demonstrating nonviolently. Seated
near her was David Buscho, a mechanical engineering student, participating in
demonstrations for the first time. Like so many other Americans
from U.C. Davis to Wall Street, Fatima and David were exercising their First
to free speech and peaceful assembly.
In a now infamous
incident, U.C. Davis police walked up and down the line of seated protesters —
including Fatima and David, dousing them with military-grade pepper spray in the
face at close range.
The results of the university's investigation into how things went so wrong
at the November 18 demonstration had been scheduled to be released today, after
already being postponed. The Federated University Police Officers Association
requested, and was granted, a court order to further
delay the release of the information. The ACLU of Northern California is intervening in this case because the
public has a right to this information.
international relations major, had previously been a volunteer paramedic and
afterwards helped tend to other demonstrators who were in pain. She had been
tear-gassed at demonstrations in the Middle East but never imagined that
something like that would happen here.
"The university needs to respect students' rights to make our voices heard,
especially when we're protesting university policies that impact our studies,
Fatima has said.
David was in searing pain after being spray directly in the face, and had
trouble breathing because the pepper spray had gotten into his lungs. He has
said that he knows that there are good people working in law enforcement — his
stepfather is a police officer.
"So many of my friends can barely make ends meet and then another tuition
hike was proposed. We had no idea there would be police in riot gear or that we
would be pepper-sprayed because we were making our voices heard," says
Sarena Grossjan is studying Native-American studies and art. She is a
photographer and had worked for the campus paper. She was also pepper-sprayed,
and the effects lasted for weeks. Sarena had been demonstrating because
additional tuition or fee hikes will mean that she mostly likely will not be
able to afford to continue her studies. As it is, she can barely make ends meet.
Her financial aid only covers tuition and books. She is taking five courses
this semester, and sleeps on friends' couches because she cannot afford
The ACLU of Northern California is representing Fatima, David and Sarena,
along with 14 other students and two alumni, in a lawsuit
against U.C. Davis and individual police officers. That lawsuit seeks to
determine why the university violated the demonstrators' state and federal
constitutional rights and seeks better policies that will prevent repetition of
such response to nonviolent protest. The lawsuit charges that university
administration officials and the campus police department failed to properly
train and supervise officers, resulting in series of constitutional violations
against the demonstrators.
The United States was founded on a strong tradition of protest, protected by
the First Amendment. Two hundred and thirty-five years later, that tradition is
alive and well. Check out our Know
Your Rights: Demonstrations and Protests guide for more information about
your rights. Afterall, as Michael Risher, a staff attorney at ACLU-NC said,
"When the cost of speech is a shot of blinding, burning pepper spray in the
face, speech is not free."
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