- Hussam Ayloush
executive director of the Southern California Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Officials at the University of California in Los Angeles are launching an independent investigation into campus police officers’ repeated shocking of an Iranian-American student with a Taser stun gun. The student was handcuffed the entire time. The incident was captured on video and has sparked outrage across campus and the country. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We move on to our next story today. Officials at the University of California, Los Angeles, are launching an independent investigation into campus police officers’ repeated shocking of an Iranian-American student with a Taser stun gun.
The incident took place last Tuesday evening in a UCLA library filled with students studying for their midterm exams. The student, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, a 23-year-old senior, was in the library’s computer lab. Campus police ordered him to leave after he failed to produce a student ID. Police then handcuffed Mostafa and shocked him with a Taser gun at least five times.
The entire incident was captured on video by another student, has been widely seen on local TV news and the website YouTube. In the video, Mostafa can be heard screaming, "I said I would leave," after police repeatedly shock him with the Taser gun.
POLICE OFFICER: Stand up! Stand up! Stand up!
MOSTAFA TABATABAINEJAD: Here’s your PATRIOT Act! Here’s your [bleep] abuse of power!
POLICE OFFICER: Stop fighting this!
MOSTAFA TABATABAINEJAD: I’m not fighting you! I said I would leave! I said I would leave! Yeah, I want—I want your badge numbers.
UNIDENTIFIED: I’d like your badge numbers.
MOSTAFA TABATABAINEJAD: I got tased for no reason. I was leaving this godforsaken place. You stopped me. You’re abusing your power. Here’s your—here’s your justice at work, university students.
POLICE OFFICERS: Stand up! Stand up! Stand up!
UNIDENTIFIED: You just shot him!
POLICE OFFICERS: Stand up! Stand up! Stand up, or you’ll get tased again. Stand up! Get up! Stand up!
UNIDENTIFIED: Don’t do that!
POLICE: Get up, or you’ll get tased again.
UNIDENTIFIED: Don’t do that!
POLICE OFFICERS: Stand up! Get up! Get up!
UNIDENTIFIED: So wrong!
POLICE OFFICERS: Stand up!
MOSTAFA TABATABAINEJAD: [screaming]
POLICE OFFICERS: Get up! Told you to stand up!
MOSTAFA TABATABAINEJAD: I’ll leave! I’ll leave! I said I would leave!
POLICE OFFICER: Stand up!
AMY GOODMAN: Mostafa was stunned at least five times. That video, you can see on our website at democracynow.org, for our radio listeners. Mostafa’s attorney, Stephen Yagman, said he plans to file a federal civil rights lawsuit accusing the UCLA police of a brutal excessive force, as well as false arrest. He said Mostafa initially refused to show his ID because he thought he was being singled out because of his Middle Eastern appearance. Mostafa is of Iranian descent, but a U.S. citizen by birth and a resident of Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, more than 200 UCLA students marched to the university police station Friday, calling for an independent investigation and the suspension of the officers involved. Hours later, the university announced a veteran L.A. law enforcement watchdog would head up the probe. Merrick Bobb served as staff attorney for the Christopher Commission, which was formed to examine allegations of excessive force in the Los Angeles Police Department after the Rodney King beating in the early ’90s.
Hussam Ayloush joins us now on the telephone. He’s executive director of the Southern California Council on American-Islamic Relations, which has also called for an independent investigation. Welcome to Democracy Now!
HUSSAM AYLOUSH: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what has developed from this point as of Tuesday, when the attack took place?
HUSSAM AYLOUSH: Well, we first received the report of the attack from various students on campus. You can just look at the—you know, we’re getting half the picture by listening to it today, and the same thing with your listeners. It’s only when you watch the video that you feel how—the full extent of how disturbing the imagery is. We were extremely disturbed, and we immediately called for an independent investigation, because we felt that such a disturbing incident requires an impartial review and probe.
And since then—initially, the university announced an internal review, that will be conducted by their own University of California Police Department. But I think, after the actions taken by the students on campus, led by the Muslim Student Association there, and many supporting groups, from Latino groups to African-American groups and various social justice groups there, I think the university realized how serious it is. I could say—I could say the whole community is shaken by it, not only the student body, but even the parents, the whole community, because we, as parents and the community, sends their children to the university thinking it’s a safe place. This is not a way to treat a student.
I mean, I’ll tell you how—what I heard from parents. People are saying, yes, maybe Mostafa was a little bit obnoxious. Maybe he wasn’t too compliant. We don’t have the whole picture, actually, but based on what we’ve heard from news reports, it seems, yeah, maybe initially he was asked for an ID and he didn’t show the ID. But he never, never showed any violence. He was never threatening to any of the officers or anybody else. So, if the goal was to detain him, to hold him, there were enough officers at that time to hold him and handcuff him. But there was no need to use the Taser on him.
AMY GOODMAN: Looking at an article that—from ABC News, quoting the University of California Police Department Assistant Chief Jeff Young telling the ABC News affiliate KABC-TV, "I think we need to focus on the actions of the person, not just what you’re hearing on the tape as far as the words. He’s refused—he refused to identify himself. He had refused to leave the library. And he also, when he was escorted by the officers at first, he went limp, which is a form of resistance," Young said. Hussam Ayloush, your response?
HUSSAM AYLOUSH: Well, I mean, again, we only have the images from the video to determine what really happened, plus the eyewitnesses’ account. And it’s too early to make a judgment, a final complete conclusion on what happened. That’s why we demand the investigation. But just by—just judging by what we see, we see someone who’s resisting, but according to law enforcement, because I do work with law enforcement people, and all of them said this seems to be—because there’s a differentiation between resistance. There’s something called passive resistance, which is going limp, like what Mostafa was doing, and there is active resistance, where you start pushing around and trying to harm somebody else.
You know, according to the policy of all police departments that I work with, including the sheriff’s departments also, a Taser should not be used when the person is involved in passive resistance. What they say, the policy is, Tasers should be used against persons who are actively resisting or to prevent those individuals from harming themselves or others. In this case, it’s very, very clear, at least from the video itself, Mostafa was involved in neither. He wasn’t actively resisting; he was passively resisting. And he was never threatening anybody, nor seemed to be threatening anybody.
So, now, according to them, it seems like the policy—I mean, that’s what the gentlemen have been saying in media, is that the policy for the UC Police Department actually is more flexible than the rest of the police departments in the area. And that is, it allows them to use the Tasers technique, basically, pain-inducing weapons against students or against individuals, even if there’s—even if it’s not active resistance, which is extremely concerning because that means they’re allowed to use brutality against students on campus at a time when the laws of police departments dealing with real criminals outside has more restrictive policies. So, if that is true, if that is the case, then there’s certainly a need and a demand to change that policy.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Hussam Ayloush, executive director of Southern California CAIR. That’s Council on American-Islamic Relations. Four of UCLA’s nearly 60 full-time police officers recently won Taser awards given by the manufacturers of the electronic shock device to law enforcement officers, quote, "who save a life in the line of duty through extraordinary use of the Taser," this according to the Los Angeles Times. When we come back, I want to ask one more question on this issue, then talk to you about CNN’s Glenn Beck’s comments when he was interviewing the first Muslim member of Congress. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking about the tasering of Mostafa Tabatabainejad, an Iranian-American student at UCLA, last Tuesday. And we’re talking with the head of the Southern California Council on [American]-Islamic Relations, executive director, Hussam Ayloush. According to a study published in The Lancet medical journal in 2001, a charge of three to five seconds of a Taser gun can result in immobilization for five to 15 minutes, which would mean that Mostafa could have been physically unable to stand when the officers demanded that he do so. The incident follows the recent announcement that four of the campus police won the so-called Taser awards, as I said before break, from the manufacturer. This is the last question on this issue before we turn to Glenn Beck, Hussam. But have you talked to Mostafa?
HUSSAM AYLOUSH: Not personally, I haven’t done so. But I know people on the campus have done so, people we’ve worked with from the Muslim student associations and others. And I know currently he’s not personally making any comments anymore, since he has hired an attorney. What I want to add is, on the issue of the Taser itself, very quickly, I think there was a recent study by the ACLU that shows that, since 1999, 148 people have died as a result of the use of Taser. So that really brings us to the really larger picture in the whole issue, and that is the use of such brutal tactics in the attempt to arrest people.
I think it also leads to the underlying issue, and that is the culture of violence that is sweeping our country and the world today, where we, as individuals, become so desensitized to the pain and the suffering of other people. And we witness this maybe in the arrest of individuals, but also we see it in what happens in the Abu Ghraibs, in the Guantanamo Bay prisons, in the way—the police brutality cases we hear, whether it’s against Iraqi prisoners, against Afghani prisoners, or even against our own American detainees. And I think this should maybe be a wake-up call for us. And we need to change this culture of violence that is taking over.
AMY GOODMAN: Hussam Ayloush, I wanted to turn to a second issue that sparked controversy earlier this month. On a November 14th edition of the CNN Headline News program, host Glenn Beck interviewed Keith Ellison, the Minneapolis congressmember who will become the first Muslim ever elected to Congress. He was elected, of course, November 7th. And this is an excerpt of the interview that Glenn Beck did with him.
GLENN BECK: I will tell you. May I? May we have five minutes here where we’re just politically incorrect, and I play the cards face up on the table?
REP. KEITH ELLISON: Go there.
GLENN BECK: OK. No offense, and I know Muslims, I like Muslims, I’ve been to mosques. I really don’t believe that Islam is a religion of evil. I—you know, I think it’s being hijacked, quite frankly. Let me—with that being said, you are a Democrat. You are saying, "Let’s cut and run." And I have to tell you, I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, "Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies." And I don’t—and I know you’re not. I’m not accusing you of being an enemy, but that’s the way I feel, and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way.
REP. KEITH ELLISON: Well, let me tell you, the people of the 5th Congressional District know that I have a deep love and affection for my country. There’s no one who is more patriotic than I am. And so, you know, I don’t need to—need to prove my patriotic stripes.
GLENN BECK: I understand that. And I’m not—
AMY GOODMAN: That was the newly elected congressmember from Minneapolis, Keith Ellison, first Muslim to be elected to Congress in the United States, being interviewed by CNN’s Glenn Beck. Hussam Ayloush, your response?
HUSSAM AYLOUSH: Well, I will say, that’s why he won election for Congress, because he’s a diplomat. Probably, he could hold his temper. If it was me, I would have said, "I am extremely offended." What Mr. Beck did is nothing short of total bigotry. To question the patriotism of an American citizen, who happens to be Muslim, because he’s questioning the issues of Iraq, the failed, immoral policies of this administration, is nothing short of pure racism and bigotry. And if this was tried on a Jewish person or a black person or any other person, he would not have to continue his show after that.
Unfortunately, we live at a time where it is the only acceptable bigotry today, open bigotry, is the one against Muslims. No one has the right to question the patriotism of American Muslims, someone who is born and raised in this country, such as a patriot, a true patriot, such as Keith Ellison. And it’s a shameful thing, because if it’s ignorance from the part of Beck, then that is shameful, but if it’s something that is intentional, it’s even more painful to us. And it seems this is something that has gone on for a while. This is not the first time Mr. Beck makes anti-Muslim comments. It seems that Mr. Beck is CNN’s response to losing the bigoted segment of its viewers to Fox, and they’re trying to win it back, and the way to do it is by bringing people like him to come and make—to use scare tactics, Islamophobic scare tactics.
AMY GOODMAN: Will CAIR be issuing a letter of protest to CNN?
HUSSAM AYLOUSH: Actually, we’re looking into it, not only from this comment. This was on our mailing. This was sent to our members when it happened. But also we’re looking at a long, long list of anti-Muslim comments made almost on a daily basis on his show. Mr. Beck seems to enjoy focusing on the fringe elements in the—within the Muslim extremist segment, forgetting about the existence of extremists in all religions and all groups, focusing on some—the media shock or the image, the shocking image of extremists, in a way to create the scare and fear of Muslims in America.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Hussam Ayloush, I want to thank you for being with us, executive director of the Southern Californian Council on American-Islamic Relations.