I don’t know how many of you have already heard this story. It came out a while back, and I had prepared a post, but never got around to pubishing it. There have been a few developments since the original incident. Here is the story:
The campus police at UCLA apparently, asked a student named Mostafa Tabatabainejad to leave the campus library because he didn’t have an ID card. When Tabatabainejad, did not leave at the pace the officers wanted, they approached him and grabbed his arm. When the student objected to being grabbed, they apparently tased him. Here’s a quote from the UCLA Daily Bruin:
Neither the video footage nor eyewitness accounts of the events confirmed that Tabatabainejad encouraged resistance, and he repeatedly told the officers he was not fighting and would leave.
Tabatabainejad was walking with his backpack toward the door when he was approached by two UCPD officers, one of whom grabbed the student’s arm. In response, Tabatabainejad yelled at the officers to “get off me.” Following this demand, Tabatabainejad was stunned with a Taser.
UCPD and the UCLA administration would not comment on the specifics of the incident as it is still under investigation.
In a statement released Wednesday, Interim Chancellor Norman Abrams said investigators were reviewing the situation and the officers’ actions.
“I can assure you that these reviews will be thorough, vigorous and fair,” Abrams said.
The incident, which Zaragoza described as an example of “police brutality,” left many students disturbed.
“I realize when looking at these kind of arrest tapes that they don’t always show the full picture. … But that six minutes that we can watch just seems like it’s a ridiculous amount of force for someone being escorted because they forgot their BruinCard,” said Ali Ghandour, a fourth-year anthropology student.
“It certainly makes you wonder if something as small as forgetting your BruinCard can eventually lead to getting Tased several times in front of the library,” he added.
Edouard Tchertchian, a third-year mathematics student, said he was concerned that the student was not offered any other means of showing that he was a UCLA student.
I first saw the video on Keth Olbermann about 6 weeks ago. You can watch it in its entirety here. It’s pretty scary, but I do have to say that I am somewhat impressed with the students reaction to the police. They questioned the police, and the video itself was recorded on a camera phone.
Since the original incident the student has sued the University and the officers. According to the LA Times:
The UCLA student who was stunned with a Taser gun by campus police when he refused to show his identification filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday alleging that his civil rights were violated and that police acted in a brutal fashion.
In the 16-page suit, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, 23, sued the university, campus police and half a dozen officers, claiming they used excessive force and violated the Americans With Disabilities Act in the Nov. 14 incident in Powell Library. The suit states that Tabatabainejad has bipolar disorder.
In earlier reports, the student said that he felt he was singled out because of his Middle Eastern appearance, and since that time I haven’t heard anything else about the racial/ethnic aspects of the case.
While I think the police reation was excessive and the ethno-racial aspects of the case are troubling, my initial reaction was surprise at the University policy.
As an academic, I find the police behaviour unacceptable, and I am not only disappointed by the police behavior, but I am also concerned about the “random” checks for student IDs in the UCLA library. I have spent time in the libraries of Universities: Northwestern University (albeit about 16 year ago), University of Detroit Mercy, Shawnee State University, Bowling Green State University, the University of Connecticut, and Long Island University, and I have never been subjected to a random check. The only times I remember any libraries being vigilant about checking people is the bag check that many of them conduct when you leave. I guess they are worried about people running off with books. Moreover, any public university should have an open access policy to their libraries. I understand if they do not want everyone to be able to check out books, but given that much of their funding is from tax payer dollars they should allow community members into the library to look at books, maps, magazines, journals, and other materials. Most of the university libraries I have been to allow the general public to enter the library, and I don’t see why this school should be different. Of course, with the particular student in question this is a moot point since he was a student anyways, but I worry about many of the new restrictions imposed on libraries in the past few years. I don’t think the state needs to know what books I check out of the library, and I don’t think they need to act a gatekeepers at the library door. (Gee, I feel like I’m stuck in a Ray Bradbury novel– Farenheit 451, anyone?)
What do you think? What policies are appropriate for University libraries?