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CSUN Gets Second Day of Protests

Prop. 209: Students gather again, this time to condemn campus leaders and outsiders for Wednesday's violence at Duke-Hicks debate.

September 27, 1996|SANDY BANKS and ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

NORTHRIDGE — It was a lesson in free speech all right, but not exactly what the student leaders at Cal State Northridge had in mind.

They had wielded the banner of free speech to defend their controversial decision to invite ex-Klansman David Duke to speak on campus, then watched as the Wednesday debate was overshadowed by a melee between police and demonstrators outside the debate hall.

Then, on Thursday, they heard themselves condemned in a noisy campus protest as supporters of racism. They accepted it, on the grounds that just as they extended free speech to an avowed racist such as Duke, they had to extend it to his left-wing opponents as well.

"It feels like I have somebody standing on my front lawn screaming at me, and I can't make them leave," lamented student senator Phillip Leonard, who had helped organize the controversial debate on affirmative action.

This time, the campus protest stopped short of violence. Instead, CSUN students shouted down visitors from a Bay Area student group called Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action by Any Means Necessary. The Northern California group had spent two weeks on the CSUN campus trying to derail the debate, and returned Thursday to berate the Northridge students for letting Duke have his say.

Many CSUN students blamed the Bay Area group for inciting much of the violence that led to six arrests and several minor injuries in the post-debate melee. And in Thursday's emotional confrontation, it was important to them to salvage the campus' reputation, which they said had been sullied the night before by rock-throwing demonstrators.

"A lot of people--even people who didn't want David Duke here--worked very hard to make sure the debate went off without trouble," said CSUN film student Jeremy Padow. "Then they show up and disrupt everything . . . make it into a big circus.

"Today, we can't afford to let them get the best of us."

The students, on the whole, commended themselves and the police for acting appropriately, and squarely laid the blame for the violence on the Bay Area activists and other outsiders.

Only one Cal State Northridge student was among the six arrested Wednesday.

Members of the Bay Area group, which includes students from UC Berkeley and San Francisco State, as well as junior college students and community activists, condemned the police for brutality Thursday. "The police were supporting the [Ku Klux] Klan with their presence, and beating people for standing up against racism," said Hoku Jeffrey, 19, a Diablo Valley College student.

The LAPD will conduct an internal review of the police response to the student demonstration.

But Los Angeles Police Chief Willie L. Williams said Thursday there have been no formal complaints of police overreaction, and he defended the police conduct, saying it reflected solid training and sound tactics.

"Yesterday, at Cal State Northridge, you saw the LAPD at its best," the chief told about 200 well-wishers gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony for the Los Angeles Police History and Community Education Center in Highland Park.

"I am extremely pleased with our response," Williams said in a brief interview prior to the ceremony. The situation "could have gotten much worse than it did. . . . There were agitators from the outside, from the American Communist Party. There was a plan to stop the debate from going on."

In fact, members of the Bay Area group had promised at CSUN Student Senate meetings in the weeks leading to the debate to "get David Duke" and "shut the event down."

Many students on campus Thursday said they supported the police crackdown.

The demonstrators "ought to go to jail for what they did," said Peter San Antonio, a 20-year-old freshman. "Protesting was OK, but they got students totally riled up, totally angry until it got out of hand."

On Wednesday, the LAPD was summoned from its command post near campus about an hour into the debate, after demonstrators surrounded the debate hall and began pounding on windows.

About 40 officers from the department's Metro squad arrived first, and when the large unruly crowd refused to back away from the auditorium, another 20 officers on horseback and 33 on motorcycles were called, police said.

The LAPD officers fired six rounds of rubber bullets and one bean-bag round, the department said. The campus police had sprayed Mace into the crowd before LAPD officers arrived.

Six of the demonstrators were arrested. Five of them face felony charges of assaulting officers with rocks and bottles, police said.

They are: Eric Wilson, 29, of Los Angeles; Able Correa, 20, Los Angeles; Michael McDougall, 24, San Fernando; Sergio Gutierrez, 22, Lake View Terrace; and Edward Vasquez, 20, Berkeley. They will be arraigned Friday in Van Nuys. A 17-year-old also was arrested for assaulting a police horse, a misdemeanor.

Only Wilson is a CSUN student, said LAPD Lt. Anthony Alba.

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