Police Pepper Spray 30 Santa Monica College Students

Student loan protesters
Police pepper-sprayed as many as 30 students at Santa Monica College after demonstrators who gathered in protest over high-priced courses tried to push their way into a trustees meeting.

Students at the community college were angry because most of them were barred from sitting in on the meeting due to the size limitation of the venue. After their request to have the meeting moved to a larger facility was denied, they began to enter the small venue by force.

“Let us in, let us in,” shouted protesters in a video posted online, according to The Associated Press. “No cuts, no fees, education should be free.”

That’s when two officers who were reportedly backed up against a wall reached for their pepper spray canisters.

“People were gasping and choking,” explained environmental advocate David Steinman to the AP.

One demonstrator named Marioly Gomez was standing in the hallway outside of the meeting before she claims she was attacked by police. “I got pepper-sprayed without warning,” she told the AP.

Another student revealed that the demonstrators may have been trying to incite the police to use force. “We won, we won,” he shouted on a cell phone video given to the AP. “They pepper-sprayed us.”

But Santa Monica College spokesman Bruce Smith defended the police officers’ actions, saying, “It was the judgment of police that the crowd was getting out of hand and it was a safety issue.” He added that he believed this incident was the first time pepper spray had been used by police on the campus

Reuters reported that three people were hospitalized as a result of the clash between demonstrators and officers.

The plan that the demonstrators gathered to protest involves the creation of a non-profit entity that would be permitted to offer courses costing $200 per unit. When most courses consist of three units, that amounts to nearly $600 a class—roughly four times the amount of existing courses.

These increases are occurring at a time when many experts believe the increasing student loan debt may be forming the next financial bubble.

The college argues that the non-profit entity would provide alternatives for student loan borrowers who are unable to get into popular courses that fill up quickly.

Corey Velderrain, a 21-year-old Santa Monica College student, said he would pay for more expensive courses if they get approved. “It is so hard to get classes so if they open more up, they have to pay for it somehow,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

Such sentiments reveal that student loan debt may not be a concern for some.

Other students, however, feel the large gap in price would only help to create a tiered population consisting of the rich or those willing to borrow student loans, and the poor or those who declined student loans.

Community colleges across California have lost $809 million in state funding over the last three years, reported the AP. Due to this lack of funding, colleges have been forced to turn away around 200,000 students from admission. Others have increased fees, forcing some college-goers to take out more expensive student loans.