A dance party of approximately 125 people at Porter College was shut down early when three participants were arrested last Friday. Charges included carrying a weapon, assaulting an officer, resisting arrest and attempting to free someone under arrest.
The party, which began at 9:30 p.m. in the Porter Quad, ended just a half hour later when three individuals unaffiliated with the school were arrested by UC Police Department officers who had been observing the gathering.
Samm Gee*, who attended the dance party, said the response from police was abrupt and without warning.
“It was pretty unnerving seeing the police just start grabbing random folks,” Gee said. “If we’re talking strictly about dance parties, we’ve never seen a reaction like this.”
The gathering followed several similar dance parties in the last academic year, including the Jan. 28 “Life Sucks, Let’s Dance” party and Oct. 15 dance party last year during the occupation of the Humanities 2 building. Both parties were held in response to fee increases, layoffs and furloughs for staff and what occupiers called the “privatization of the UC system.”
UCSC staff members observing the party contacted UCPD after participants violated university policies, said Jim Burns, UCSC director of public information.
“The arrests occurred after police were called to the Porter Quad shortly before 10 p.m. when staff [in Porter quad] observed alcohol being distributed and consumed at an outdoor gathering,” Burns said in an e-mail. “College staff members also reported to police that they had been confronted by several of the people there, and that one unknown person in the crowd had struck a college staff member.”
While fourth-year student Bryan Brown appreciates the support from those unaffiliated with the campus, actions that result in violence are bad for the campus community, he said.
“I think it’s great that we have the support of off-campus communities for public education, but when stuff like this happens it is dangerous for the people they are fighting on behalf of,” Brown said.
Ben Chapman, fourth-year student and dance party participant, said the event was intended to be peaceful and fun and likened it to the campus annual 4/20 event.
“While the police were legally in the right for arresting people … the person standing to my right was tackled by the police,” Chapman said. “There is something wrong with any policy which would call for that and the UC should take responsibility for it. The dance and 4/20 are both unauthorized, unsanctioned events, but the police would not have just started walking up to people at 4/20 and arresting them for smoking pot.”
Gee said that the dance party was similar to those held last year but received a much different response from UCPD.
“Last year there were plenty of people with alcohol, and no one checked anyone for weapons. It’s about intimidation,” Gee said. “[Campus administration] won’t stand for this kind of disobedience this year.”
While UCPD was reportedly contacted because of the presence of alcohol, none of the participants were arrested on alcohol-related charges.
Burns refuted speculation that campus administration is taking a stricter stance on actions such as the dance party in the wake of last year’s protest. It was a natural response, he said.
“I suspect that similar behaviors last year would have elicited a similar call to police from college staff members,” Burns said in an e-mail.
For Gee the dance party was an act of civil disobedience aimed at having fun and reclaiming university space.
“Public education and public property are actually just private [because] they’re under the control of UC administration and the state,” Gee said. “This was a party, not a protest. It’s an illegal dance party, and the point was to redefine public space for common use and to take back our leisure time.”
While participants intended to have fun, their tactics, which are loud and disruptive, can be counter-productive, Brown said.
“Rules can be broken in protests and civil disobedience — that’s a part of it, but the tactics annoy too many people across the campus and it’s detrimental,” Brown said. “It’s terrible that this sort of thing would happen at something that really is for a good cause: supporting public education.”
Despite some students’ concerns about dance party tactics and the police response, it is important to continue activism on campus, Gee said.
“We pay so much money to go here and we are continuously asked to give up more and more,” Gee said, “yet when we try to have fun and relax, we are shut down. We shouldn’t stop organizing though, just because the [campus administrators] feel they’re right and have the authority.”
*Names have been changed.