UC Merced students and members of the Merced community called Monday for the City Council to set up citizen review boards, pay for bias training and made other demands in response to the Hookah Lounge incident from earlier this month.
Before the meeting, protesters held signs outside City Hall with slogans like “No justice, no peace. No racist police."
The protest was in response to an incident on July 9 when Merced police entered Chandelier’s Hookah Lounge & Smoke Shop on Main Street and arrested five college students, including at least one from UC Merced.
Selasia De-Souza, a biological science major, described the scene for the council, saying it was a gathering for college students to have fun and dance. “That night I and each of the students in that event left traumatized and fearing for our lives,” the 21-year-old said.
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The first thing to solving any problem is to first admit there is one.
Anley Tefara, a Ph.D. student
Part of the incident was captured on a cellphone video that since has gone viral on the Internet. The video shows several police officers with stun weapons pointed at people, several club patrons being placed in handcuffs, and shouting between officers and the crowd. The clip also shows Officer Joseph Opinski turn and fire a non-lethal round at one man from an anti-riot weapon, which police have described as a “sage weapon.”
Speakers at Monday’s meeting said police reacted too harshly to a peaceful gathering, saying police relations with African-Americans has been historically contentious across the nation.
Members of the community also spoke in favor of ways to mend the relations between police and UC Merced students. Necola Adams, a businesswoman and Merced native, said she would support a “race relations” group in the city.
“Merced comes from a long, long history of racism,” she said. “Merced was a very segregated town when I was born into it.”
We still have an undercurrent of racism in our city, whether it’s the police force, whether it is the bank, whether it is a restaurant, it still happens.
Necola Adams, a businesswoman and Merced native
“We still have an undercurrent of racism in our city, whether it’s the police force, whether it is the bank, whether it is a restaurant, it still happens,” she continued. “And, now that it is happening with UC (Merced) students it is really coming to light.”
Accounts have differed, with police saying they reacted with force after meeting an aggressive crowd while several students have said they witnessed an officer throw the first punch, striking a student in the face.
Anley Tefara, a Ph.D. student, said Merced officers should have calmed the situation before any violence occurred. “They should possess the skill, and most importantly the desire, to diffuse stressful situations like this,” he said.
“The first thing to solving any problem is to first admit there is one,” he said.
This story will be updated.