Students Arrested at Powell Speech Protest Accuse Police of Racial Profiling

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Police arrested eight people Friday night at the San Francisco Bay Area’s De Anza College while protesting against a visit by Colin Powell. Six of the eight arrested were Muslims. Students are accusing police of using racial profiling and excessive force while arresting activists during the demonstrations. [includes rush transcript]

Last week, former Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke at De Anza College in Cupertino, California. Anti-war protestors came out in force disrupting Powell’s speech at the Flint Center auditorium and protesting outside the building as well. Confrontations occurred with the police and arrests were made. While the majority of those who engaged in confrontation were white, most of the people arrested were people of color.

  • Aman Mehrzai, student at De Anza College.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Joining us on the telephone today, Aman Mehrzai. He is a student at De Anza, a journalism student, and he was at the protest. We welcome to you Democracy Now!, Aman.

AMAN MEHRZAI: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us exactly what happened? When did the former Secretary of State come to speak at your school?

AMAN MEHRZAI: He started speaking last Wednesday. And the protests started with Cindy Sheehan’s appearance, and it started in the daytime, but he didn’t appear until 8:00 p.m. that night. And the protests started right outside the Flint Center, where he was speaking, carried on to Thursday and Friday.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe what took place? Can you describe the level of protest outside and inside?

AMAN MEHRZAI: The first two days of protests were relatively quiet until Friday. On Thursday, I actually got to go inside and see Colin Powell speak. And inside on Wednesday and Thursday, there were disruptions of protesters who were carried out, and I believe some were arrested. Friday, things got out of control. Friday, there were other groups from different parts of San Francisco who came, including anarchist groups and other ones who joined the protest, and things got violent. Property was destroyed. From my understanding, the college campus couldn’t take the security, so they called in the Santa Clara Sheriff’s Department, and they at one point lost control, as well, and they called in the San Jose City Police, from what I’m being told by the Chief of Police.

AMY GOODMAN: And then what happened?

AMAN MEHRZAI: When they came in, there was a heavy show of troops in riot gear. And these guys apparently were armed. We definitely saw people with guns. However, most of them, from what I’m being told by the police, were carrying tear gas launchers, and they were starting to make formations around the crowd. And the barriers that were put up in front of the Flint Center were taken down by protesters, and direct conflict with the police occurred, in which many times the protesters tried to actually go inside and disrupt by going inside the Flint Center.

Eventually, the police were trying to surround the area and protect many of the people who were going to see the event. In the inside, many times the protesters breached the line of the police and banged on the doors and, from what I understand, it did cause a disruption inside. They held many of the people inside for their safety and wouldn’t let them out. Towards the end of the night, right when things were starting to die down, the police closed in a formation and just swept across and pretty much pushed everybody out, out of the way. And this is where most of the arrests occurred, at the end of the night when things were actually dying down.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about the differential treatment that you saw, Aman?

AMAN MEHRZAI: Well, most of the — in front of plain view, most of the people who were causing the disruptions, as far as physical violence, were — amongst many groups, it was pretty much apparent to everyone that they were Caucasians, Caucasians and whites, and many of them even admit to it that this included throwing stuff at the police and causing a lot of the destruction, including breaking police car windows.

But there were many Middle Eastern people amongst the protesters, and they were dressed in Middle Eastern garb, and a lot of observers noticed that the confrontation between the Middle Easterners and the police were mainly verbal, and apparently what they are claiming — the police are claiming — that there were spotters who saw the Middle Easterners throwing things. But most of what everybody that I know saw, the actual confrontation was verbal, and out of all of the people who were apparently spotted, seven out of the — six out of the seven who were arrested on the outside were Muslim. And many of them were part of the MSA, and many of them were dressed in their Middle Eastern garb.

So, one protester inside — there was only one Caucasian protester who was arrested, and he was on the inside of the Flint Center. He was held — he was arrested but only held in handcuffs for a few hours, and then he was released without being taken in to facilities. And the rest of them were treated very harshly. Many of them were beaten and abused. Many of them were hospitalized after they were released. Some refused to see the doctors from within the prison, and there were others who were refused actually by the prison. There was one gentleman, by Adonis Grabes sic?], who asked to receive medical treatment, and he was refused.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Aman Mehrzai, as you reflect on this weekend’s protests through, from last week, what lessons have you learned as a journalism student, as a person who was outside at the protests?

AMAN MEHRZAI: The biggest thing that I did learn is that profiling does happen. Before, I did hear about it many times, but this time I was an eyewitness to it myself. There was a point where towards the end, as I said, where things got violent. The police just pushed everyone out of the way, and apparently they were supposed to give a warning, but many reporters who were there didn’t hear a warning at all. I, myself, was hit by an officer with his baton in my ribs, and I was pushed through the bushes, and they pushed us across the street on the other side of the street, and I met up with my wife over there, and we thought that everything was over, but they crossed the street and they were — it looked like storm troopers crossing the street. They actually chased us down the block, and we felt like we were just running for protection at that point. At one point I did encounter the police in the end, and they asked me if we were all right, and I told them, yeah, I needed an escort, and they said they will get me a police escort. But I told them, “No, the police is what I need the escort from.”

AMY GOODMAN: Aman Mehrzai, I want to thank you very much for being with us, journalism student at De Anza College, where major protests broke out after the former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, spoke.

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