UCLA student comments on taser incident
On Nov. 14, a 23-year-old student attending the University of California, Los Angeles named Mostafa Tabatabainejad was hit with a Taser gun five times by police officers in one of the school’s libraries. He was hit after refusing to leave when he failed to present his student identification card during a routine check.
What has made this incident so notorious across the country, though, is the fact that it was captured on video. The footage of Tabatabainejad being overtaken by police officers, available on Web sites such as YouTube, has caused outrage and debate at campuses around the nation.
The grainy video taken on a camera phone shows a confrontation between the student and some officers. As the footage progresses, the student begins to shout loudly, cursing at the officers and protesting against the interrogation. Eventually, Tabatabainejad collapses to the ground to avoid what he called ‘racial profiling.’ Shortly after this, officers use the Taser gun on him repeatedly for failing to leave the library.
Danny Reed, a freshman student at UCLA, was in the Powell Library when the incident occurred and had a first-hand look at what transpired.
‘My friend and I moved to the bottom floor computer lab because the upper floor closed earlier,’ he said. ‘The first thing that happened was the community service officers announced they would be checking Bruin Cards. Everyone got their cards out, including me and my friend. They never came up to me to check for my card, but they started at the other side of the room and stopped at (Tabatabainejad), which is probably why they never got to the rest of the room.’
Reed said the next thing he saw were some of the community service officers who were checking the cards leave the room, and then some police officers arrived. That’s when the trouble escalated, as the police officers questioned Tabatabainejad about his lack of an ID card, he said.
‘The first indication that something was happening was initially he started screaming ‘Don’t touch me, don’t touch me!’ over and over again,’ he said. ‘I think this is when the officers assumed he was not a student because he had no identification and he was shouting at them. He eventually established himself as a threat with his shouting, so two officers grabbed him, one on the left arm, and one on the right.’
Reed said this is when Tabatabainejad collapsed to the ground in protest of what was happening. At one point on the ground, Reed said Tabatabainejad yelled out, ‘Passive resistance! This is what Gandhi taught us!’
Reed described the tone of Tabatabainejad voice as ‘psychotic’ as he continued to shout on the ground, and shortly after, he was Tasered for the first time.
‘After that, he yelled, ‘Here’s your Patriot Act! Here’s your f—ing abuse of power!” Reed said. ‘The officers then gave him a ton of opportunities to get up from the ground, and he still didn’t comply, so they Tasered him again and again. It was a frightening scene, and when it was over, a mob formed to yell at the officers.’
It appeared Tabatabainejad was given multiple opportunities to save himself from further police action, but he resisted each time, resulting in further punishment, Reed said. Even though the officers did nothing illegal in this case, people argue that they inflicted unnecessary violence when the situation was under control, while others claim they had to do what was necessary to resolve the situation.
‘One of the things that I have read is that the policy at UCLA says that a Taser can be used to move a passive resistant person,’ said Tony Callisto, SU Public Safety interim chief. ‘And in fact, when watching the video, the student was indeed a passive resistor.’
Although the policy at UCLA approves of the use of Tasers in this kind of situation, Callisto said SU’s policy is very different, and that Tasers are not used by law enforcers here.
‘When it comes to passive resistance, our general policy around that is we’re going to try to negotiate and talk with people,’ he said. ‘And if we have to remove a passive resistor, if we have to use some force to move somebody out of the way, by policy, they’d be escorted.’
Because the incident is still in the early stages of the investigation process, there is a wide range of opinion on the matter.
‘Certainly, in viewing the video and reading about this, it seems to me that it was unnecessary and beyond what I would think is appropriate,’ Callisto said. ‘It just doesn’t make sense to me to use the kind of force that was used out there.’
Bill McMillan, a freshman English education major at SU, agrees with Callisto.
‘I would definitely say that the officers went too far,’ he said. ‘If someone is not posing a threat – there’s no imminent threat – then I would say that they went too far.’
Reed, who saw the whole thing unravel, takes a different stance.
‘It would be hard to say what my final opinion is, because I think that initially, and this is (Tabatabainejad’s) claim in his federal lawsuit, is that their initial reaction was that they profiled him and they never should have touched him to begin with,’ he said. ‘It’s my opinion that it was the right action to take, because hindsight is 20/20. All these people who outraged over it, claiming he was just a student, weren’t there, when initially nobody knew he was a student. If you are resisting, then the police are allowed to use that kind of force.’
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