google-site-verification: googlea33552291e834fff.html Education: Deltopia in Review, Part 2: Party Riot or Police Occupation?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Deltopia in Review, Part 2: Party Riot or Police Occupation?

Was Deltopia a riot that required a massive police response?  The KEYT news photo on the left (7th in the slideshow) shows the largest crowd near the police that I can find.  I'll discuss what they are actually doing a bit later.

In Part 1, I analyzed the rhetorical escalation of Deltopia 2014 into a riot. I described two different narratives about the event (my titles): (1) "Police Shut-Down of UCSB Deltopia Party Sparks Some Resistance"; and (2) "UCSB Deltopia Party Becomes Riot: Student Attacks on Police Continue for Hours").  I argued that the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department had worked overtime to replace (1) with (2), the riot narrative, and that the media cooperated fully in making the riot the accepted story of what happened.

I also noted that this narrative has been operationalized as a formal request from the LEEDIR police information repository for civilian videos and photos during the "civil unrest" at Deltopia.  This request means, in effect, that the Sheriff's Department has designated Deltopia as a "large emergency event" like the Boston Marathon bombing for which LEEDIR was created.  As far as I can tell, anyone who attended Deltopia can wind up in this electronic data base, and have visual or audio recordings of them stored, scanned, analyzed, and put to use in ways that have not been explained.

What was it about Deltopia itself that could justify this extraordinary step? 

I was particularly interested in Sheriff Department Public Information Officer Kelly Hoover's Airtalk claim that "probably every sheriff's deputy I talked to that was out there was hit with something," which suggested many or even scores of police injuries. The Department information page identified six police injuries, while noting that "26 people were transported to area hospitals." This week, I asked various journalists whether they had updated information about the police injuries. Giuseppe Ricapito, author of The Bottom Line's front page articles, replied as follows:
I called SB Sheriff PIO Kelly Hoover to clarify some information regarding violence during the civil unrest. The only direct violence between a [civilian] and officer was the "powder keg" for the whole civil unrest, when (17 year old) Desmond Edwards struck the officer in the head with his backpack filled with alcohol containers. She did tell me however that another altercation had occurred earlier in the day, and the officer involved was injured and requires surgery on his arm.
Even this moment of violence--the Edwards "powder keg"--may have been exaggerated, as the Independent reports (h/t Jay) that the famous "backpack contained only one half-full Bacardi bottle, not multiple bottles like reports have stated," such that the officer's injuries may have come from falling as he grabbed for Mr. Edwards.   Mr. Edwards has pled non-guilty, and more about this unclear incident will emerge from the report.

Whatever happened there, it now seems that injuries to officers were very limited, which is of course good news, and this blog joins other outlets in wishing them a speedy recovery.  I also want to note, for the record, my awareness that policing Isla Vista during "party lockdown" is a difficult if not miserable job:  see 3:30-4:00 in this Deltopia video for an example of the unpleasant work involved in containing a certain kind of male party idiot. Many students I spoke with expressed general appreciation for the members of the Isla Vista Foot Patrol; all expressed hostility toward the party idiots.

* * *
But if we are down to two police injuries, what is the evidence that Deltopia was a riot or "civil unrest" in which a mob turned on cops, in KEYT's tag line?  Let's try the video evidence.

The main local news archive can be found on KEYT's URL "Thousands Riot in the Streets of Isla Vista".  There are six Live Shot clips at the heart of the action that run from 11:00 pm to 12:17 am. The crowd seems to come to a couple hundred at its largest. It appears to me to range from 95% to 100% male.  The sequences begin with a stop sign being uprooted, and over the course of the clips, two stop signs are waved around, a small white station wagon is shown to have been trashed (off camera),  a mattress is passed around and then lit on fire, and a few bottles are thrown in the direction of the police. KEYT got third-year UCSB student Montana MacGlachlan on the phone while she was hiding out with ten other people in a garage. She said, "most people are just trying to get home safely" (Live Shot 2, 2:00).  She didn't think I.V. residents were involved in the vandalism:  "we don't intentionally ruin where we live."

The correspondent named Derek reported that the stop signs were used to thrash the white "minivan" and that two officers were hit with objects.  He also said that "the people involved in this activity" from time to time throw something "in the direction of law enforcement and don't care where it goes." (Live Shot 4, 3:00 on).  This seems like a good description of the desultory action.

KEYT anchor C.J. Ward try to drum up interest by saying,

I've seen old film of the riots from the 70s when they burned down the bank, but I've never seen anything like this . . where you seen them literally shut down Isla Vista and have to call in the SWAT team and the dogs. This is just crazy to see what is going on right now " (6:00 . . .)
But there was more action in the commentary and reminiscing that in the video.  The video is lousy--an unchanging shot from well to the rear of the action--and it shows the crowd shrinking steadily over the course of the hour. By midnight there may only be two dozen people left, some obviously drunk and most appeared to qualify as what I.V. residents call "randoms."

After midnight (Live Shot 6, 8:20), things perk up when KEYT's Derek says, "We're getting shot at right now."  But he means getting shot at by the police.  "I'm getting shot at by pepper balls and by rubber bullets. The police have really come in full force and I'm definitely not in a safe space by now."  He leaves, and the video image disappears in a cloud of tear gas.  The story there is a lack of safety caused by a police offensive.  But KEYT ignores this and starts replaying earlier footage of the crowd not long after 11 pm.

Quite a bit of amateur video wound up on You Tube, most of it apparently shot by I.V. residents. The Daily Nexus coverage included a typical example that runs nearly 7 minutes. The video shows one or two dozen police around a police truck facing off against the same number of young men out in front of a larger crowd spilling over from a party into the street.  As the video begins, a couple of men are pushing a dumpster into the street--probably Del Playa--and a few others are getting plastic trash bins. One gets thrown towards the cops.  Two blue plastic bins are pushed on their side blocking the street, and then a third is pushed in to join the others. At around 1:20 the police order the street group to disperse, but most people aren't involved in the bin pushing and may not feel like the police are talking to them. Three minutes in there are a half-dozen bins and two or three dumpsters in the street, creating a no-man's land between the police line and the dozen or so people who've been involved in creating this semi-blockade. Around 5:05 the police fire tear gas. Thirty seconds later the street is empty.  The gas drifts up to the balcony where the video is being filmed, and amidst various exclamations the video ends. Another, longer video shows what may be a separate incident or the same incident shot from further down the block, in which the crowd is larger, and parts of it at various points shout "fuck the police." Although a larger number of people are involved, they are keeping their distance.  There is no physical contact or even proximity between the police and the crowd. 

Loudlabs does a little better with audio and visual effects. There are students coughing on teargas and decent shots of the police doing their best to maintain ever-popular visuals of red and lavender emergency lights illuminating drifting clouds of tear gas.  I lean in when a "fuck-the-police" chant starts at 6:10. I lean back when it dies out at 6:18.  People are just standing around, apparently enjoying talking to each other and perhaps not wanting to miss whatever happens.  But nothing does. The same goes with another shorter clip--no conflicts with police. There's a longer video from within the crowd itself: a sheriff line is visible.  At 5:36 some UCSB police ride in from behind the crowd on bikes, and they are cheered.  At 7:45 the sheriffs declare an unlawful assembly. The cameraholder retreats, and the rest of the video is shot from behind. There's no sign of conflict or of fighting with the cops.  A helicopter flies by like a slow-moving meteor. There are fireworks for a minute.  Cars try to park or drive down the street. 

* * *
By far the best witnessing came from UCSB students who wrote columns and editorials about their experiences--or who in some cases wrote to me. Senior Alexa Shapiro spoke for many when she described a not particularly fun ordeal trying to get back to her apartment.  She encountered, block by block, "more tear gas, more running crowds, and more impassable streets"; their progress was interrupted repeatedly.  The implication was that the police pressure on crowds to clear the streets actually made the streets more congested, at least for a time, and stirred up unpleasant confusion and fear. 

Similarly, senior Jay Grafft, who shared Ms. Shapiro's (and many many UCSB students' ) dislike for Deltopia overall, reported from his frontline position on Del Playa:  

That night, S.W.A.T. patrol vehicles were racing up and down right in front of my driveway, while behind my backyard glass bottles and flashbangs were being flung through the air. Whenever I stepped outside, I would either immediately start choking on tear gas, or be [asked] to return to my house by an armed paramilitary officer. I realized that, by that point, the cops really didn�t have a clue as to who was part of the riot or not, meaning that anyone could present a potential danger . . . 
Del Playa resident Sean Carroll also assigned a disruptive role to the police:
From my perspective, those walking up and down the street didn�t seem that out of control; I�ve seen the same sketchy fuckfaces our community loathes on normal weekend nights acting way more disrespectful. I didn�t see a single fight during Deltopia. I don�t doubt there were a few, but as someone who goes out three or more nights a week I�m fairly used to drunken aggressive idiots getting into it. So it seemed pretty unusual to walk from party to party during the day and early evening and not come across any�during Deltopia, no less.  
The point being that, leading up to the riot, the crowd on DP was not some mob causing problems. The daytime tens-of-thousands had thinned out, and the amount was pretty normal sized for a Saturday night. Why were there officers dressed in riot gear and armored vehicles in I.V. all day? What did the police think would happen when they decided to charge down DP at 10 p.m., clashing with people who had been drinking all day?  
If you search �Deltopia 2014� on YouTube, my three-minute video documenting the riot is one of the first to pop up. And you know what it shows? The riot started AFTER the cops lined up with shields and an armored vehicle. It shows a select few individuals (read: fucking dipshits) throwing bottles, yelling �Fuck the police� and inciting more to join. And above all it shows that with tear gas and fear, the cops chose to abruptly stop Deltopia exactly when they wanted to do so. By blockading DP right where the 66 and 67 blocks meet, police ensured that anyone and everyone walking in that direction would have run into it. It was only a matter of time before some sketchy fools would react. 
In my discussions with students, I heard variations of this same story.  In most cases, they assign the police a leading role in the escalation.

I received another eyewitness account that focused on the "riot" as a police-knucklehead co-production.

I wasn't there for the beginning of the civil unrest (which occurred at around 9:30), but I went out to Del Playa and Camino Pescadero a little before 11, after DP had been shut down by the officers. In terms of "real contact" between the students and officers, I saw none in the beginning. The officers were enforcing the "no man's land" between them and the students- anyone who attempted to bridge the gap and advance toward the officers were usually turned away by rubber bullets. The closest I saw to a student getting near the officers was when some people pushed out a large trash bin into the no man's land (as it rolled through the crowd they almost ran over a seemingly really drunk girl who had been knocked down to the ground by it). It was an effective barricade for a while, but they fled after some tear gas. After most of the mayhem had ended, around 1:30, there was a police vehicle, with 4 armed mounted officers on back in riot gear, slowly rolling down Pescadero (presumably to flank the few remaining students), and after a few bottles were thrown at the truck they fired a bunch of shots then turned to drive fast down Trigo. . . . 
In terms of rioting directed at the officers- I think its impossible to quantify exactly what the rioters were there for, what they were opposing (if they were opposing anything at all) or why many of them chose to stay in the area and engage the officers, from a distance, with their presence. At the peak of the unrest, from where I was in the crowd, some people were yelling for a charge, others were trying to cool everyone down, some were laughing and continuing to party in the streets, and others were just destroying things. And, not to mention, that a lot of the people there were sort of apathetic bystanders watching everything play out. At the time I thought it was an incredibly free moment. The officers were so concerned with vacating the crowd that they weren't policing anything occurring within and around it. I also talked to a few AS Execs about how closing down DP forced students into the riot zone (some were immediately pushed out, in droves, to the edge, and others congregated there because they couldn't  access their homes in the blocked off areas), but they disagreed that the students were completely restricted.  
Several students thought the police used excessive force.  Here's a description of one from a female resident of Del Playa.
I live in the middle of the 66 block and witnessed the entire event.  I�m sure you know that police officers were assaulted (which I never think is right).  However, I wanted to let you know that I watched the police exercise brutality on civilians as well.  After the tear gas had cleared the crowd off of the street, I watched officers shoot at my neighbor�s balcony (in which they hit students inside of their own home and broke windows).  I also watched a couple, who hid in my yard when the tear gas hit, try to walk home but instead, they were confronted by three cops each who in turn severely beat their legs down with sticks, held then to the ground, and insisted on arresting them.
I wrote back to her to ask whether she meant that she had herself seen police officers being assaulted.  No, she answered:
I watched the whole scene outside for about two hours and I never once saw any students or visitors attack the police. Although I live a little further down from where the �riot� began on the 67 block, I did not see any civilian attack a police officer or throw anything their way.  All I saw were kids being scattered from the tear gas, kids hiding in my front yard (and in my neighbor�s), kids being arrested if they happened to be seen on the street, and my neighbors, who had all been at home on their second story balcony, being shot at with rubber bullets.  (I also had at least one police officer--who was unprovoked--point a gun up at my second story balcony the entire two hours).
This student concluded,
it was in no way a riot but instead, one single action (the kid who swung the bottles at a police officer on the 67 block), a fury of excitement from the crowd (who ripped out stop signs etc), and then really aggressive behavior by law enforcers. 
By early this week, there were at least as many reports of police brutality against bystanders as of verified injuries to police officers.
*  *  *
The narrative that now makes the most sense to me is as follows.  Prior to the Edwards Incident, Deltopia 2014 had seen one act of serious violence--a stabbing in which the suspect was immediately captured by police--but for an event with 20,000 participants was otherwise going pretty well.  Then the 17-year-old Mr. Edwards, involved in some kind of scuffle, hurt an officer with his backpack.  A call went out of officer down.  This made the crowd seem more hostile to at least some of the police, which increased an "us-against-them" mentality (h/t Phil). The initial police surge to help their fellow officer created anxiety and confusion in the crowd. Officers from outside agencies arrived, so there were not only out-of-towners among the partiers but out-of-towners among the cops. The police settled on an "unlawful assembly" strategy that committed them to clearing the streets.  They did not try to stop specific acts of vandalism like the stop sign uprooting or the attack on the white car. They decided instead to get rid of the crowd as a whole: hence the flashbangs and tear gas, the shooting of rubber bullets at people not in the main crowd, and the rousting, arresting, and allegations of the isolated beating of people well away from the action and of rubber bullets fired into apartment windows.  The police were not in fact attacked, though they were sometimes engaged--apparently always at a distance--by individuals.

I use the term "police occupation" to describe this situation in which the police decided not just to contain and arrest the disorderly and the violent individuals, but to purge everybody and retake the streets.   A problem with this strategy is always that it implies--indeed creates--collective guilt.  It also commits the police to the use of at least limited force against bystanders and not just against the small number of actually disorderly or violent people. The introduction of large numbers of police with helmets, weapons, and armored vehicles into the streets means "riot," even if there is zero resistance--or isolated and half-hearted resistance as in this case.  When the action is over, to help people ignore the active police role in co-creating the "riot" itself, and to marginalize the video of street clearing and occupation and the reports of brutality that surface later, police spokespersons committed themselves to a riot narrative that is still working to justify any use of force--or retroactive surveillance--as thrust upon police by a mob.

The Sheriff's Department embedded the collective guilt of UCSB-IV in the media coverage, as I discussed in Part 1.  They continue to lump major violent crimes together with minor incidents. In one (misdated) press release, they created a line-up of three Deltopia arrestees.  The first, a non-student, is accused of the attempted murder of a Rhode Island man who was visiting his brother in Isla Vista.  The second, UCSB student Otis Washington, is charged with "vehicle tampering and resisting arrest." The third, UCSB student Tomas Delaveau, is charged with "battery on a peace officer" for allegedly spitting on one.  This incongruous group is made even stranger by what we do know about Mr Washington's case: he is on film explaining to KEYT news (at 2:00) that he had jumped on his friend's car to dance, his friends then said "let's go let's go we gotta get out of here," so he started running: "I guess that initiated some type of response in the police so they all tackled me from different angles."  Why did the sheriff's office present the the car dancer and the spitter along with the knife assailant? It only makes sense as part of a campaign to present everyone at Deltopia as part of a dangerous riot spinning out of control.

This description, however, isn't supported by the evidence. We should reject the Sheriff Department's and the media's storyline that, in my terms, "UCSB Deltopia Party Becomes Riot: Student Attacks on Police Continue for Hours." That's not what happened.  The more accurate headline for this event is the other one I proposed: "Police Shut-Down of UCSB Deltopia Party Sparks Some Resistance: Officer Was Injured During Arrest."  This second narrative also has the benefit of avoiding the collective slander of IV-UCSB. It might also prompt an independent review of police conduct and policy in Isla Vista, which I now believe is necessary.

In Part 3, I'll look into Deltopia's background and some related undergraduate educational issues.

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