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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Deltopia in Review, Part 1: Party Riot or Police Occupation?

Ten days after the Deltopia: Party Riot trailers and pirated clips hit the Internet, my effort to watch 100% of the clips and read 100% of the accounts has led me to this conclusion: this was not the student-run production that I was told to expect. My expectations were fueled by media coverage that depicted students and other student-age partiers turning sour and attacking the police. "Deltopia Leads to 100 Arrests, 44 Hospitalizations," screamed the early Huffpo headline about the Saturday April 5th event. The local ABC affiliate announced, "Mob Turns on Cops. A second clip from this station, KEYT, featured both a stabbing of one visitor by another (suspect apprehended) and the arrest of a UCSB student for dancing on his friend's car. The weekly alternative student newspaper,The Bottom Line, furnished full-tilt riot coverage. When I saw that this student eyewitness account lined up with that of our local retiree-oriented TV station, I thought there must have been a serious student / partier offensive against beleagured law enforcement.

I went looking for images of and eyewitness testimony about this specific claim -- "mob turns on cops."  I devoted part of a  lecture on The Grapes of Wrath to a discussion of Deltopia with the 180 students in my "Noir California" course, discussed the event with a 17-student honors section,  contacted various Isla Vista residents about their experiences, talked at some length to about fifteen individual students, walked I.V. to speak with people there, and repeatedly asked various groups for eyewitness accounts and video evidence.

I wanted precise detail in order to distinguish between two distinct narratives of the event, summarized by these sample headlines:

1. Police Shut-Down of UCSB Deltopia Party Sparks Some Resistance: Officer Was Injured During Arrest

2. UCSB Deltopia Party Becomes Riot: Student Attacks on Police Continue for Hours

Obviously the riot story attracts eyeballs, while an isolated case of resisting arrest and later dumpster-dragging does not.  The riot story is also far more damaging to the reputation of UCSB and its students.  If the media is going to drag UCSB through the "drunken party school" mud again, there had better be some decent evidence that the student body was not only drunk that night, but picking fights with police.

I was not pleased when I tuned into KPCC's Airtalk on April 8th and heard its host, Larry Mantle, describe UCSB as "better known for its hard drinkers than for its academics or community service." The station nailed down this stereotype by conducting a poll on the question, "UCSB Spring Break Riot: Will Deltopia violence spur a change in party school mentality?" My immediate thought was, "screw you Larry (though I know you care about public universities): UCSB is great, and so are our students."  My second thought was, OK, he has the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's public information officer Kelly Hoover on the show; let me listen to her evidence.

Deputy Hoover said that they were prepared for a large crowd, and then described the incident (starting at 1:45).
What happened was, around 9:30 at night, there was a UCSB police officer that was breaking up a fight. He was hit in the head with a backpack that contained large bottles of alcohol. This was a significant injury that required twenty stitches to his head.  We had an officer down. We had law enforcement that were running to assist him. And with all of that commotion it drew a large crowd. And then it just turned.   It just turned into an us-versus-them kind of a mob mentality of people starting to throw rocks, and bricks, and bottles, and full beer cans at law enforcement. It spread over a couple-of-blocks radius, and you know it just kept snowballing on from there, and just getting worse and worse. It took us several hours to be able to get true order over the situation. We called in mutual aid. We had more than a hundred resources come in from both Santa Barbara Count and Ventura County to help us. (my transcription here and below)
Deputy Hoover put the Airtalk audience squarely into the Story 2 riot zone.  The first section of her statement, about the injury to the officer and call for assistance, is similar to the official account that Sheriff Bill Brown delivered to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors the Monday following the incident.   Sheriff Brown didn't continue with claims about widespread student attacks. The backpack slinger was identified as a 17-year-old boy from Los Angeles. He was later arrested and charged as an adult.

Mr. Mantle then invited Deputy Hoover to dogwhistle the popular theme of taxpayer resentment about subsidizing spoiled brats during their college years (the high cost of policing party riots and of funding the University of California itself, with one listener demanding that all state funding be cut so the university would depend on tuition 100%). When an Isla Vista caller suggested to Mr. Mantle that the prior police clampdown had made things worse, Deputy Hoover called the listener's comments "hurtful" (8:08).
It would be ridiculous to have law enforcement back off any more than they are.   Any time we step in it's to . . . . [pause] Of all the hospital transports that we had, the majority of them were for alcohol poisoning. People that were so drunk that they had overdosed on alcohol. People were jumping on top of cars. People were vandalizing.  Is he [the caller] OK with that? Is he OK with women being sexually assaulted?
Larry Mantle interrupted Deputy Hoover to clarify: "it sounds like Ed is saying for the police to say out and let that students handle it. That's what I understood him saying."  ("Ed" was actually saying that police conduct was a more destructive form of governance than student self-policing--more on this theme in the next installment.)  Deputy Hoover continued:
There's just no way. There's just too much criminal activity. It's too dangerous. You have people that have been drinking alcohol from morning till night, that are not able to make good decisions, that can get hurt. Like last year, we had a woman fall of the cliffs and die. We had a balcony collapse; that injured several people. We've had recently women sexually assaulted by multiple suspects. We have had a stabbing earlier in the night. We had a robbery, an armed robbery.  If anything we need to have more crackdown on law enforcement [sic], not less.
Deputy Hoover was folding all these separate incidents into Deltopia, which became their master source.   When Mr. Mantle asked how the injuried deputies were doing, she replied,
I do want to clarify, we had four that were transported to the hospital; they all had significant injuries.  I am not talking about just getting hit in the head. I'm talking about twenty stitches for one, eight stitches for the other, a hand injury for one that's going to require surgery. These are significant injuries. And also, probably every sheriff's deputy I talked to that was out there was hit with something. They may have not been transported to the hospital, but they have bruises, one was hit in the eye with a bottle, with shrapnel from a bottle. And it's just not OK. It's just absolutely ridiculous. It's uncalled for. Out-of-towners yes, they're coming in and they are causing problems. But we really don't agree with students encouraging Deltopia and opening their doors to people from out of the area who may cause trouble. We do have people arrested who are UCSB students and who are City College students as well. . . 
By the time she had finished, the Sheriff Department's information officer had firmly established Story 2, Party Riot, complete with widespread criminality, arrested students, and a mob turning on cops on a scale large enough to have injured virtually all of 160 (or 200?) officers who were there from multiple agencies that evening.

The Airtalk webpage had a number of comments, many of which disputed the riot story or at least the drunken UCSB student stereotype.  The arrest statistics show that 0.65% of the crowd was arrested (130 of 20,000), and that of these 16 were from UCSB and 10 from SBCC. 17 of the 130 arrests involved the nighttime disturbance, with an unknown subset--perhaps just the original one--arrested for a violent felony. Although these numbers don't suggest a massive blowout, the riot stereotype had now been confirmed by an official law enforcement source, and was strengthened by the UCSB administration's hangdog statement on the same webpage.

Deputy Hoover's description of Deltopia is inflammatory--unless it is literally correct (160 injured deputies, a "mob" acting in concert to attack police).  The Sheriff Department has doubled down on it, having launched an ongoing effort to identify people "involved in criminal behavior activity during Deltopia."   The investigation includes interviews with I.V. residents and calls to landlords of property that may have been involved in the launching of objects at officers.  The Sheriff's Department is reviewing audio and video from the surveillance cameras that the UCSB administration paid to have installed at key intersections in Isla Vista (they were removed April 14th).

The Bottom Line's Giuseppe Ricapito reported that the Santa Barbara Sheriff's Department has extended the dragnet to LEEDIR, the Large Emergency Event Digital Information Repository. LEEDIR is an "eyewitness platform," designed to accept and process digital information about emergency events from civilian witnesses.  It is operated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department with technical support provided by Citizen Global and Amazon Web Services.  Its information page says it was set up in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, where attendee photos proved helpful in identifying the two main suspects.  LEEDIR's splash page now has an "immediate request for eyewitness photos and videos" for only one event -- "civil unrest at Deltopia in Isla Vista, CA."

This means that Story 2 has not only established Deltopia as a violent riot, UCSB students as drunk, and I.V. residents as incapable of running their own affairs, but has now fed the sheriff's investigation into an electronic repository in which images of partygoers may remain in law enforcement databases indefinitely. LEEDIR defines Deltopia as an "large emergency event," and will store images of people who jumped on cars or threw trash or simply milled around in Isla Vista on the night of April 5th alongside those of the Boston Marathon bombers. 

So Story 2 had better be true.  But in my next post, I'll argue that there is no evidence for it, and then move on to discuss the term "police occupation" in my title.


Anonymous said...

This is collective punishment of the whole community for the crimes of a few. Is that so surprising? Isn't that the way of the world… take the actions of a small fringe and use them to paint the actions of an entire community or people? What has always been surprising about IV is that the community in this case are young, affluent, privileged americans.

Phil Horlacher Jr. said...

Well written article. Though the discourse of Deltopia seems to be dying down a bit here at UCSB, most of us would still like to talk more about it. It is almost as if everyone has stated their theory of what went wrong and now no one really knows where to go from here. I think that part of the reason why the conversation has been put on hold, despite everyone owning some strong theory, is that there is a ton of ambiguity as to what really happened, who was responsible for what, and what the real impact of this event was.

Maybe some of these questions and tensions will be resolved as time passes or through administrative action and student activism; however, I think it likely that this event will remain a controversial chapter in IV history. Dystopia just left too many missing pieces and mixed emotions and it seems as though few people are willing to back away from their personal biases in order to objectively evaluate what happened.

This article does do a good job at attempting to examine some of the possible realities and misconceptions of what transpired, as well as what the impact of "the official story" has been. I look forward to reading part two, and I hope that the Deltopia discourse continues to have a life in the SB community and beyond.

Chris Newfield said...

Anon- I agree it's common, but I think that's all the more reason to oppose it. The middle class has never been cut much slack when it seems nonconformist, and the I.V. crew has always been cast as that

Chris Newfield said...

thanks Phil. It is seeming less ambiguous to me now than it did last week--more on this tomorrow. But I think you're right that this has made people hesitant to respond.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:11pm here… seems like a careful reconstruction of the events of April 5 from the various sources… police radio traffic, sound & camera data from the surveillance units put throughout DP, and also from all the youtube posts, would be worthwhile. Without that we have inflated allegation and the conglomeration of other incidents into April 5. One pertinent read is `Subversives' by Seth Rosenfeld. The People's Park incident of May 15, 1969 has certain similarities. At the end of the whole process, some students and other bystanders won considerable civil judgements from Alameda County, although on the surface law enforcement maintained a line that they were totally in the right.

sbclimbs said...

Mr. Newfield,

Do you mind if I print and share your article with a group of folks I'm talking about Deltopia with?

Chris Newfield said...

please feel free

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