As many as 30 demonstrators were pepper-sprayed by campus police at Santa Monica College yesterday, as they attempted to enter a trustees meeting to protest the rising cost of college courses.
In particular, students attended the trustees meeting to protest the school’s plan to implement a two-tiered tuition system that will offer some core courses at a higher cost. The room where the meeting was held, according to school officials, was too small to accommodate the protesters. When the trustees refused to relocate to a larger meeting space, protesters began chanting: "No cuts, no fees, education should be free."
A spokesman for the college justified the use of pepper-spray, saying "the crowd was getting out of hand and it was a safety issue. Five protesters were taken to the hospital following the spraying and a 4-year-old girl was also hit with the pepper-spray, according to numerous reports.
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Up to 30 people were pepper-sprayed by police after students tried to storm a Santa Monica College trustee board meeting in protest over proposed higher course fees.
A handful of protesters suffered minor injuries as campus police tried to prevent dozens of students chanting, "Let us in, let us in" and "No cuts, no fees, education should be free," from disrupting the meeting during a public comment period, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Capt. Judah Mitchell of the Santa Monica Fire Department told NBC News that up to 30 people had been sprayed, five of whom sought treatment for the effects of the spray and were transported to nearby hospitals.
Priscillia Omon, 21, claimed a police officer fired the spray into the mouths and eyes of people standing arm's length away, NBC Los Angeles reported. She said a family, including a 4 year old, were in the crowd when the officer used the pepper spray.
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Associated Press: Santa Monica: Students angry over pricey courses pepper-sprayed
Police at a California college pepper-sprayed as many as 30 demonstrators after students angry over a plan to offer high-priced courses tried to push their way into a trustees meeting, authorities said.
"Let us in, let us in," protesters shouted on video posted online Tuesday. "No cuts, no fees, education should be free."
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Santa Monica College students were angry because only a handful were allowed into the meeting and, when their request to move the meeting to a larger venue was denied, they began to enter the room, said David Steinman, an environmental advocate.
Two officers were apparently backed up against a wall, and began using force to keep the students out of the room. Steinman said both officers used pepper spray. "People were gasping and choking," he said.
Marioly Gomez said she was standing in a hallway outside the meeting with several hundred other students who wanted to get into the meeting. "I got pepper-sprayed without warning," she said.
"It was the judgment of police that the crowd was getting out of hand and it was a safety issue," college spokesman Bruce Smith said. He said he believed it was the first time pepper spray had been used to subdue students on campus.
The new plan involves the formation of a nonprofit foundation that would offer core courses for about $600 each, or about $200 per unit -- about four times the current price. The courses at the higher rate would allow students
to enroll into the regular, in-demand classes that filled up quickly.
The program is designed to cope with rising student demand as state funds dwindle. The move has raised questions about whether it would create two tiers of students in a system designed to make education accessible to everyone.
Lawyers for the college researched the issue and concluded that it passed legal muster, school officials say.
Trustee Louise Jaffe said during the meeting that she doesn't believe the students want to listen. "We spoke for four hours and we weren't understood," she said.
Trustee David Finkel called on campus officials to look into Tuesday evening's events. "I think it gave the college a black eye, which I know it didn't deserve and certainly didn't need," he said.
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