“By now, the pepper-spray incident is almost a bit cliché: students protested, the University sent in riot police, and then the police brutalized us with pepper spray,” he said in his speech Wednesday. “But I urge people interested in this case to think about the pepper-spray incident more complexly. The reason we were protesting was that the University had proposed unfair and unreasonable tuition hikes.”
He argued that the university was, in essence, enforcing its tuition hikes through the pepper spraying of students.
“The days that followed November 18th, I suffered major panic attacks. And so, to me, the pepper-spray incident told me that I had no right to speak out against the University’s unreasonable tuition hikes,” he said. “In fact, for weeks following the incident, I was afraid to protest at all. The University silenced me. The University squashed my First Amendment Rights, and hopefully this lawsuit tells them that students should not have to be afraid to speak out or to dissent.”
Nevertheless, speaking to the Vanguard later on Wednesday in a phone interview, he said that he was reasonably pleased with the settlement.
“But,” he said, “we still have to continue fighting privatization of the university, increasing tuition costs and, of course, make sure that events like November 18 never happen again.”
Mr. Lee told the Vanguard that he felt that the lawsuit could have gone on for years, with uncertainty of the outcome.
“I think that the settlement is a step in the right direction,” he said.
Ian Lee learned some cynical lessons from this episode.
“It seems to me that the university values its property more than the health and well-being of its own students,” Mr. Lee said. “I think through the Kroll and Reynoso reports we’ve really been shown that.”
He pointed out that in response to the student protests, the university sent in “riot cops.”
Through the Kroll and Reynoso reports, the university has been shown to be dysfunctional in terms of its operations, he added.
“I got a really interesting first year of college,” he said and noted that he hopes he can look back on this and see that through the protests that students were able to stop rising tuitions and privatization of the university.
The settlement, as we have discussed, has multiple parts to it. There is the million-dollar settlement, there is the letter of apology, and there is, as the ACLU attorney indicated in our previous article, the fact that they will be allowed to shape policy, which is a huge victory that they obtained.
The ACLU will get to review progress after two years.
The Vanguard asked Ian Lee his view of what the most important part of the settlement was for him.
“All parts of the settlement had significant weight,” he said. “I’m going to spend of all the money that I’m going to receive in this settlement on future tuition.”
“I know that even if it’s disingenuous, that a lot of people will enjoy and be satisfied with the apology from Katehi,” he said. “I know ACLU is working really hard with the university to try to change campus policies with regards to the police.”
Mr. Lee added, “I don’t think we as students should be satisfied until the police are entirely accountable to the students.”
As the Vanguard previously reported, the university and police are denying wrongdoing and claiming they acted in good faith.
“Defendants have denied and continue to deny each and all of the claims alleged by Plaintiffs in the Litigation. Defendants contend that they acted reasonably and in good faith to address legitimate health and safety risks associated with an unpermitted encampment on the Quad, and not out of any intent to suppress debate and protest, or to deprive Plaintiffs of their civil rights,” the settlement read.
But Ian Lee overall seemed satisfied with the findings that Kroll and Reynoso brought to light.
“It’s very clear, especially the Kroll and Reynoso reports, that the university is and was at fault – that they’re entirely at fault,” he said adding, “So I am a little bit disappointed about that.”
Ian Lee was one of those pepper sprayed by the university. He described in his speech that, in “the days that followed November 18th, I suffered major panic attacks.”
He told the Vanguard that since the incident, he is very anxious around police officers.
“Now I’ve learned that the police are not accountable to the students and students cannot trust police to solve any problems I might face,” he said.
As a freshman at the time of the incident, Mr. Lee still has several years left at the university, but he said he’s not sure that the university will ever be able to rebuild that trust.
“Practically, I’m not sure the university can ever rebuild that trust,” he said, though he suggested that giving the students some measure of control over the police and police policies, in addition to the university stopping its movement toward privatization and stopping attempts to supplement its shortfalls with tuition hikes, “then I suppose I can begin trusting the university.”
But he said it is hard for him to conceive of those things happening.
“I think that the current developments are steps in the right direction but I won’t be completely satisfied until police are entirely accountable to the students and I’m not satisfied until the message of our protests against the privatization of the university and the austerity measures that the university’s imposing – I won’t be satisfied until all of that gets addressed,” Ian Lee added.
As for the money, as he noted in his speech, “To the repeated question ‘what are you doing with the money?,’ the University of California is going to take it all back as tuition/fees. And then it’ll take some more.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting