Photograph by Marjan Sadoughi
Arrest Warranted? Police drag a demonstrator to the car in an arrest following the protest at De Anza on Nov. 11. Critics of the police response say the arrests focused on Muslims and African Americans despite the fact that witnesses say the night's most visible violent acts were committed by white anarchists.
Riot Place, Wrong Time
Ugliness at De Anza protests leads to charges of racial profiling
By Najeeb Hasan
IT WAS the night of Nov. 11, and Anthony Choice was running late for the protest of Colin Powell's appearance at De Anza College. Once he arrived, the 30-year-old De Anza student and activist immediately noticed that the mood of the demonstration was far different from what he had imagined when he helped organize it. Choice had planned to build up slowly to civil disobedience, but other demonstrators had their own agenda.
"They were ready to protest; they weren't ready to hear speeches," Choice says. As several black-and-red anarchist flags fluttered in the breeze, activists handed out fliers to attendees arriving to see Powell. Several arguments broke out between attendees and demonstrators; meanwhile, roving agitators walked up and down the activist lines with bullhorns; and at least two fire alarms were pulled during Powell's speech.
Though most of the demonstrators were Caucasianand indeed, it was a Caucasian protester associated with a local anarchist collective who disrupted Powell's speech and was arrestedChoice says he did notice an odd air of suspicion around the small contingent of Muslim demonstrators who turned out.
"They came in their [robes] and scarves, and it seemed they were getting crazy eyes from the cops from the beginning," says Choice.
Even so, nothing he saw during the protest could have prepared him for what two of the speakers he brought that night saw afterward. As they headed away from De Anza after the protest, Oakland-based Muslim activist Amir Abdul Malik Ali and 85-year-old Japanese-American civil rights activist Yuri Kochiyama paused at a traffic light, glanced back at the campus and caught a glimpse of something that compelled Ali and his driver to get out of their car in the middle of traffic for a closer look.
"We saw a Muslim running across [the campus' access road]," relates Ali's driver, a slight, Indian-born 27-year-old with a full beard and glasses, who requested that he only be identified by his middle name, Hassan. "One cop was chasing him on a dirt bike and another was running behind him on foot. One of the cops took [the Muslim] down and his friend starts yelling at the cops that they didn't do anything wrong. Another cop comes from behind and takes him down."
That Friday was the last of Powell's three nights of appearances at De Anza's Flint Center. The protest drew Santa Clara County sheriff deputies, backed up by Foothill-De Anza police and the San Jose Police Department; sheriff's deputies made a total of eight arrests in the course of the night, including the one inside the building.
But witnesses say those arrests targeted Muslims and African Americans, and their charges of racial profiling in the incident have sparked outrage among activists locally.
Though an estimated two dozen or so out of 200 to 300 protesters were Muslim, six of the seven arrestees outside the Flint Center were Muslim; the seventh was a bearded African American who was not Muslim. Two of the six Muslims arrested were also African American, while the remaining four were of Arab heritage. Most of the Muslims arrested were wearing some form of traditional clothing, whether full-length robes or Palestinian-style checkered scarves, or kaffiyehs. What's more, two of the Muslims arrested were not even attendees at the demonstration. Aiman Eltilib and Shakir El-Jurf, both De Anza students, had been at a class sponsored by the AlMaghrib Institute, a Houston-based Islamic educational organization, that was being held at De Anza the same night as Powell's speech.
Both are friends of Abdul Kareem Al-Hayiek, who happens to be the Muslim whom Ali and his driver saw being chased and taken down by police. Al-Hayiek would later require medical attention, but when Eltilib, a Sudanese-American, protested about his friend's treatment, he was sprayed with pepper spray and grabbed by his Adam's apple.
"Aiman approached the officer and told the officer to get off Kareem, that he didn't do anything wrong," recalls El-Jurf. "Aiman was then taken down harshly; they choked him and put the mace stuff in his face. Then I said, 'This guy didn't do anything!' Then they grabbed my left arm and twisted it behind my back, and any questions that I had, I got no answers for."
Witnesses agree that the sheriff's deputies specifically targeted Muslims.
"There's no question about it," says Rich Wood, a De Anza sociology professor who attended the protest as an adviser for Students for Justice, when asked if he believed Muslims were specifically targeted. "There's no other explanation. Police observed white kids engaging in behavior that was just as confrontational as the other kids. Anybody who was out there would know that white people were the vast majority of protesters and also the vast majority of people who were confronting the police."
Hell Breaks Loose
There's little debate that the protest got out of control. It began earlyaround 7:30pm, protesters rushed a line of sheriff's deputies who were keeping the pathway to the building clear with their bodies and batons, catching the deputies off guard and backing them almost to the entrance of the Flint Center; Powell's audience found itself shoulder-to-shoulder with the demonstrators in the process. The sheriff's deputies, showing restraint, responded by simply directing the audience to different entryways to the Flint Center. A game of cat and mouse ensued, as the protesters followed the deputies, going door-to-door and pounding on the doors when they got close enough. Brian Helmle, a Sunnyvale-based union organizer who was arrested inside the Flint Center for disrupting Powell's speech, says Powell's audience became noticeably nervous as they heard the doors of the Flint Center being pounded.
Eggs were later brought to the protest and thrown (one protester who was arrested admitted to lobbing some), and sheriff's deputies also accuse the protesters of throwing rocks, a charge backed up by at least one witness.
However, the most violent act of the night hands-down came from one protester who wasn't arrested, when he went after a police car, smashing its lights and windows.
"He was trying to dent everything he could," says Andrew Foss, a 40-year-old engineer and San Jose resident who witnessed the event. "He was dressed in all black with a black backpack; he certainly wasn't one of the guys who was arrested. Half a dozen to a dozen officers in riot gear were all around him, but they didn't react at all. My interpretation was that they were too busy trying to flush out the protesters."
Instead, police went after Elgrie Hurd, a 23-year-old African American sociology graduate student at San Jose State University. Though activists and witnesses interviewed for this article all said Hurd did nothing confrontational during the protest, he was the first protester arrested outside the Flint Center, shortly after 10pm. He is not Muslim, but spent most of the night talking to Muslims representing Ali. Ironically, when Hurd spoke at the rally that night, he had advised the demonstrators to tone down their civil disobedience.
"There were people who had different political views than I did at the rally," Hurd told Metro. "I believe you can't have a true revolution until you have a revolution of the mind. Most people that I disagreed with happened to have black bandanas wrapped around their faces. Maybe it's part of me coming out of a black working-class neighborhood, but you don't do things like smash the windshield of a police car or throw eggs at officers. My reality is not to have the privilege of doing something like that and not fear any severe consequences."
Sheriff's Department officials could not be reached for comment by presstime. However, one person privy to high-level discussions with Sheriff Laurie Smith says the Sheriff's Department defended itself by pointing out that at the time the arrests took place, most of the protesters had left, and mostly Muslims were left.
Meanwhile, Brian Murphy, the president of De Anza College, has scheduled a meeting with Smith to discuss the nature of the arrests.
"I am obviously concerned that a disproportionate number of persons arrested were nonwhite and of a particular ethnic and religious group," says Murphy. "[However], we felt strongly that the college, the sheriff and other security did a good job at protecting the right of speech at the college, but at the same time, the endgame of the demonstrationboth the violence and the police responseclearly resulted in some folks getting arrested and others not getting arrested, and I'm going to be talking to the Sheriff's Department to better understand how that pattern developed."
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