By Trevor Christian
Stony Brook student activists have a broad definition of police brutality — last week they protested every angle of it, from physical violence to the prison industrial complex, in a series of events held on campus.
Two university clubs, the Social Justice Alliance (SJA) and the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance (FMLA), and the less official Occupy Stony Brook teamed up to host the five events.
For Lauren Haugli, a senior and Occupy Stony Brook regular who was involved in planning some of the events, the reasons to protest were both broad and personal.
“Police brutality has already increased because of the [world-wide] occupy movement,” she said. Throughout the week, Haugli spoke out for both her fellow protesters and groups she does not belong to who suffer from police abuse, such as sex workers and illegal immigrants.
The events included a die-in and candlelight vigil in the Student Activities Center Plaza, both of which were on Wednesday, and an information session on how to handle encounters to the police hosted by the FMLA.
The groups also held two discussions in Harriman Hall, one on the prison industrial complex and one featuring students discussing the effects of police brutality that featured a representative from Copwatch.
In all of these events activists relied largely on both statistics and horror stories to demonstrate both the racism and violence law enforcement officers were capable of. For the information, they turned to the National Police Misconduct Statistical Report and INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, among other sources.
As much as the groups focused on others who were affected by police brutality, at times during their events and discussions they focused on their own experiences with the police and fears of being harmed or arrested for protesting. Stony Brook students explained throughout the week that most of the run-ins with police took place at a protest in New York City.
“Occupy Wall Street is a big part of it,” said Nicole Zinerco, the president of the FMLA.
Mason Maggio, who hosted the event, provided anyone who attended the Monday night workshop with informational pamphlets. According to him, many Stony Brook students who attended Occupy Wall Street have experienced police brutality.
Part of the conversation focused on how not to get arrested at protest, and alsoincluded a lesson on how to handle being detained.
“If at any point, if you’re not sure if you’re being detained, you can just ask and they’ll have to tell you,” FMLA emphasized throughout the meeting. Running away or fighting back after being detained could lead to an actual arrest.
But temporary detainment wasn’t the only thing discussed. One member of the SJA even worried that her stances again the United Nations and the military could get her jailed because of her indefinitely under the Patriot Act if she planned a protest on site.
The events, including the Know Your Rights event, were not designed to focus on protests, but eventually went in that direction. References to crowd control and “the pepper spray cop” were made throughout the week.
Videos and stories of police behaving questionably or violently have received many views on blogs and YouTube and have been featured in the news. Though the videos are not always put in context and questions have been raised about whether they contain any edits, they have generated controversy nonetheless.
Vasiliy Safan, who was arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge, used the candlelight vigil to describe something not caught on tape: detained protesters with blue, numbing hands because of the tight plastic ties on their wrists, were left in their cell for more than an hour before the cuffs were taken off.
“It’s a way to discourage people from protesting,” he said.
Michelle Okma, a journalism major, didn’t speculate that violence was being used to scare away protesters like herself, but that detainment and the legal system is.
“They’re trying to deter people from going back to Occupy,” she said of the plea bargain she took on her violation charges, which stated that the charges would disappear from her record if she did not get in any more trouble for the next few months.
Though the tone of the events was certainly anti-police, the activists made sure to throw in a few disclaimers. “Not all police are bad,” Okma and Haugli said several times during the die-in. “Plenty of them aren’t.”
Stony Brook University Police, who according to policy have to supervise all protests, stood at a distance while watching. They are also not allowed to comment on the content of the protests, but one said looking after them had been “no problem.”
The activists mostly discussed New York, and federal law enforcement was mentioned along with other officers who had committed violent acts.
Even though the events were all held on Stony Brook’s campus, the local and university police were barely mentioned. One girl at the FMLA event said a campus police officer had called her a “pretty little thing” while questioning her for trespassing. She was not charged.
Aside from that, there were no other complaints about the University Police Department from some of the most frequent protesters on campus.
Student activists dominated most of the events. People who are not regulars to campus protests or members of the groups putting on the events, were in attendance throughout the week, but sparingly.
During the die-in on Wednesday, Okma asked the small crowd that had gathered nearby to take part.
“If the facts that we are telling you are pissing you off, we invite you to join us and lay down,” she said.
Two students immediately did while others snapped pictures of the event on their cellphone. At one point, Wolfie pitched in by pumping his fist as he walked by.
Scott Johnson, a book buyer who works with the university, decided to have lunch sitting near the protesters. He said he was drawn to the protest by the Trayvon Martin case, even though it wasn’t a police officer who did the shooting.
“I’m so happy to see young people stepping up and taking it to the streets,” said Johnson. “It seems to take bodies like this for stuff to resonate.”