by Eric Lee
Special to the Vanguard –
BART actions to inhibit free speech activity isn’t new to University of California students who earlier this year uncovered internal documents showing officials have conspired to monitor and control constitutionally-protected fee hike protests at UC Davis.
Students and community members are particularly disturbed in light of similar Bay Area Rapid Transit police transgressions on the freedom to communicate.
“We feel threatened that public institutions like UC Davis and BART are actively pursuing policies that treat students and passengers respectively like criminals,” said Eric Lee, a 21- year-old recent graduate of UC Davis who has been active in student anti-austerity protests for the past three years.
“In the throes of the current economic meltdown, it is perhaps more valid to question the criminality of dishonest actions taken against those who are trying to fight for a better life. It is a telling sign that decision makers in these institutions feel the need to incriminate others in order to avoid public pressure for their own, sometimes violent, actions,” he said.
The documents, obtained through the state public records act, reveal high-ranking administrators, staff members, and leaders of the campus police department formed a network called the “Activism Response Team” to keep close tabs on student activists, including monitoring student Facebook activity, infiltrating protests and attempting to obtain information about “anticipated student actions,” and individuals involved in the protests.
In one case, an undercover campus police officer marched with students in plain clothes and refused to identify herself as a member of the UCD police department. UCD has apologized, calling it a “mistake.”
Students, faculty, staff, and the Sacramento and Yolo Chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union are extremely concerned about the deepening abuse of police power in publicly used spaces-both public transit terminals and college campuses.
Students take offense at these incursions in light of the political merit of campus protests against tuition hikes: undergraduate tuition at the University of California has increased by more than 40 percent since 2009 and 300 percent since 2001 as essential services have been cut, class sizes reduced, and lower proportions of in-state students admitted.
“Students worry about the precedent that is being set by a law enforcement apparatus that is using the pulpit of ‘security’ to restrict our rights as citizens of the United States and as human beings. Time and time again history has shown that the false cry of ‘security’ can only be used to roll back the hard-fought advances of a democratic society,” Lee said.
“If we wish to learn from history, we must not sit idly as the pillars of democracy begin to erode and tremble in the wake of a polarizing and precarious reality.
“People, including students at a major university and commuters using public transportation, have the right to dissent without being “monitored” by a secret team of administrators and undercover police or having their right to communication impinged upon.
“If police or administrators wish to observe in a public fashion protests then that is their right. But it ought not to be done in manner more befitting a totalitarian regime than an open public university,” he concluded.