UM Gets Physical

Another communiqué from Michael Fischl, this time regarding a message from an undergraduate here at UM.

Dear colleagues

I urge you to read the first-hand account of the “shoving” incident that appears below. In a nutshell, last night Alyssa Cundari (an undergraduate and a member of STAND, the student organization that has been leading the fight on campus for a living wage) was distributing STAND living-wage flyers at a University function taking place in the open courtyard of the Architecture school. She was uninvited, of course, and, when she was asked to leave by someone official-looking, she did so immediately.

A short distance from the function, she was confronted by UM public safety officers who asked if she was the individual who had been distributing flyers at the courtyard function, and the ensuing interaction quickly went south. They confiscated her remaining flyers, demanded her name and her I.D., and told her they were going to file a police report; in response she refused to cooperate; in response one of the officers ultimately grabbed her arm and shoved her; and then another officer accused her of battery on a police officer. (As a wise observer said during the police riot at 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention, “I’d call the police, but they’re already here.”)

As it happens, last night I was next door at a strike-related event at Eaton Residential College, and I heard this account from Alyssa first-hand; moreover, it was confirmed in every respect by two students and Nina Baliga from the SEIU, all of whom witnessed the entire event (Nina filmed some of it). Alyssa was devastated, beside herself, and very scared, and she spoke with Donna Coker (who is one of the faculty masters at Eaton), me, and three student affairs/residence halls officials for about an hour after the program. (By the way, the latter handled the incident professionally and sympathetically, promising that there would be a most forceful communication to campus security officials about the inappropriateness of the officers’ actions first thing this morning from someone far higher in the food chain than any of us.)

I am sharing this with you because I think it raises several important issues beyond the grievous injustice done to one of UM’s students: (1) tensions are very high on campus and are likely to increase, and folks need to be warned that there is reason to worry about the adequacy of the training and professionalism of the public safety officers who will no doubt be out in force (in this case, Deputy Dan is decidedly not your friend); (2) it confirms – as if further confirmation were needed – that the current capacity of University officials and staff to deal fairly and professionally with real and outspoken dissent on this campus is, well, not at all where it ought to be (a point, by the way, that President Shalala herself made in the Herald piece on STAND back in December); and (3) it also confirms that the rules are different when the word “union” is involved, because I can’t imagine that University officials would have sent public safety after a student who was passing out flyers for any other cause at a party being conducted in an open public space on campus, where the student in question had already immediately complied with a request to leave.

In sadness and disappointment more than anything else,

Michael Fischl

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: [redacted]
Date: Mar 3, 2006 4:54 AM

To Whom It May Concern (which is everyone)
Alyssa Cundari’s story:

As I was walking towards Eaton Res. College at around 6:40, I noticed some balloons and music coming from the courtyard in the middle of the architecture buildings. It looked like a bunch of donors and alumnis so I thought it would be a good idea to inform them of the issues here on campus. But I continued on to a meeting to discuss crowd control for the march tomorrow. After we discussed the pressing concerns about the march, Johweyeh, Beni, Nina and Courtney (2 SEIU workers) and I headed to the new architecture building to hand out living wage pamphlets to the people at the little party. No one stopped us or even noticed us when we walked in; there was a dancing/singing act that was performing at the same moment. As I walked around the back of the tables as to not disturb anyone’s view of the music, I placed the pamphlets on the tables where people were sitting, and a few times handed people the material, but I never talked to anyone there. When approached with one pamphlet left, I was asked to leave by a women in a shiny, profesional nametag. Immediately I left to where Johweyeh, Beni, Nina, and Courtney were talking with the Dean of the Architecture School. A cop was talking on his radio next to us and asked me if I was the one passing out pamphlets throughout the party. I admitted I was, and when asked if I had any more materials I obediantly handed over my last pamphlet. I thought that would be the end of it, but then I heard someone over his radio say they needed my name. I started to worry then, for I knew I hadn’t disturbed the program and thought I should be ok to leave. A moment later the officer asked me my name, and not sure of my rights and afraid of getting in trouble for something I didn’t do, I refused to give my name and told him that I was reserving my right to stay silent. He told me I had to tell him my name, and I said I wouldn’t. I told him I did not do anything wrong, and asked him why he would possibly need my name, and he told me he would have to fill out a police report. He also asked me for my cane card, and when I told him that I did not have it on me, he accused me of breaking a university rule that required me to have my cane card on me at all times. Then I became extremely worried and scared. Everyone around me was listening to me and trying to support me, they were telling the cop to not yell at me and asking what I did to break the law. I did the same, saying I didn’t break any laws, and that I was a student on this campus and I was allowed to be anywhere I wanted to be. My phone was in my pocket, so I called Jake Coker-Dukowitz, and told him two cops were harassing me for my name by the architecture building and that he should come soon to help me. You must understand that I had two men badgering and towering over me…and I already had had a very, very emotional day that included losing a couple of friends because I realized they had no compassion for others and being discriminated against for the first time for being a women. So the one cop was asking me why I was making such a big deal about it and that I needed to comply. Beni then put her arms around me and I started to tear becuase I didn’t know why I was getting in trouble and what would happen if I did. At that time I asked if I could just wallk away, but he wouldn’t let me because he said he had to fill out an incident report. This main cop also started asking me to go to a remote area of the pathway so I could give them my name, but I told them I didn’t want to leave my friends and that I felt uncomfortable moving from the spot I was at. I kept claiming that I did nothing wrong, and that they (the 2 cops) knew what I was doing was right. Then two more cops came up to us, and one of them, the older, heavier one with gray hair grabbed my left forearm with both hands and shoved me in the direction the other cops had been directing me to. In retaliation, not even thinking, my arm flew up in the air and I flew back. I raised my voice and yelled “DON’T TOUCH ME!!!”, and threatened to make a scene if I was touched again. I started to hyperventilate and cry because of the shock I was in, and this is when Nina started recording with her camera. The cop that harassed me walked away right away, but since my arm might have brazed his chest when it naturally tried to escape from someone’s forceful grip, the original cop told me that what I just did was battery because I hit a cop (which I clearly did not do). He also insisted that I could also be charged with hiding my identity because I would not reveal my name. My friends asked the cop to let me have some time to collect myself, and i reached down to my feet for a while to try and clear my head. Then the cop that shoved me came back and said I had broken the solicitation rules on campus, and I said I didn’t see any policy hanging up on paper around the event, so how was I to know? He came back at me that I was required to know the policies of UM because I was a student and that it was my responsibility to know them. I asked him where all of this info was located, and he told me the Rules Handbook or something of that matter. All four were badgering me for my name, and telling my friends to give them thier names or go away; “this wasn’t a public matter”. I was so upset and afraid of the two charges they were waving in my face that I finally complied to go sit down at a chair about 15 feet away and give them my name. As I was walking there, Liana, Jake and about 10 other students ran towards me, asking the officers what this was about. The remaining three cops made my friends disperse, and I decided to call my Residential Assistant Jemilia to let someone higher than me know what was going on. She didn’t answer, but I left a message. The cop accused me of saying that they were harassing me after I hung up the phone, and all I said was that what was happening to me was bullshit. After I told them and spelled out my name, they asked me for my birthday and I gave it to them. The cop behind me said that that was all they needed and they all fleed closer to the party.

I am appauled at the fact that I was harassed on my own campus, by UM police officers when I did nothing criminally wrong. I was extremely polite to the officers, the only exception is when I raised my voice after the one shoved me. The tone they used with me was completely obsured and rude, and I did not appreciate them hounding me and yelling at me in my face. I tried to be as brave as possible, and I know I was difficult but that does not explain or justify the actions that were taken upon me. Not only did I not deserve this treatment, but I am utterly disappointed that the police here on campus are not trained to deal with student activism; how they are trained to use violence against students is ridiculous. I was not a threat or a danger to anyone Thursday night, and I am outraged that I was taken advantage of and treated like a criminal.

Please help me spread the word of how ugly this campus becoming.

In struggle,
Alyssa Cundari
[phone number redacted]

PS- I was too overwelmed to get the names of the officers, but Nina has them written down and I will send them to you all tomorrow when I get them.

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One Response to UM Gets Physical

  1. Bill says:

    I’m incouraged by one thing, there’s still a spark of life left in the student body. The students of today are the leaders of tomorrow. That seems to have gotten lost in “education leads to a high paying job.” Well, president seems to be a high payer alright. Now take Nixon for example. He entered the white house broke and left “mad” with an estate valued a 33 million dollars. Not bad for savings from a one hundred thousand a year job over a 5-6 year period.

    Here’s something the students need to get their teeth into.

    The world is waiting to find out if the students of today can read.

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