Tasers in the library

November 18, 2006

On November 14, a student who refused to show his ID at one of UCLA’s libraries was tasered by LA’s finest.  The story has been covered in the media quite a bit, thanks to YouTube. Here’s one link from ABC http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=2662158&page=1. The video is extremely disturbing to me.

In my opinion, this is wrong on so many levels. As a librarian I have to ask, where is the librarian outrage? I may have missed some articles quoting the librarians at the library but all I’ve found are opinions in the blogosphere arguing both sides. Librarians usually fill the blogosphere with all manner of issues (Library 2.0, Patriot Act, the good and bad aspects of ALA) ad nauseum, at times.

Of course, there are always two sides. The student should have had his BruinID. He should have obeyed the rules. Students forget IDs. We give our students the benefit of the doubt on so many levels but, then again, we’re not in Los Angeles. Isn’t the university a place for us (librarians, professors, administrators) to show our students how to live in this world? Perhapsgoing back to showing them how to conduct an organized protest and sit-in should be part of library instruction? I must admit, I have great admiration for the students who had the guts to videotape (I knew my Cingular phone with the video would be handy for something) and post to YouTube this shameful act of totalitarian authority. Students today…. I have hope when I realize there is outrage and action on their part. The youth of today, their idealism, bodes well for the future of us all.

Admittedly, a library open 24/7, which it appears this one is, probably isn’t staffed by a professional librarian that late (the incident occured around 11:30 p.m.). Would a librarian have stopped this? Could a librarian staff member have stopped this? I assume the staff called security who then called the LAPD.

However, there is something that is inherently wrong in this type of police force. Ok, so, there are people that think that our police force have had to resort to these tactics to control the unruly masses. Some can argue that back in the day (before tasers) that batons were use.  And firehoses. Yeah, I remember that. I’ve seen southern policeman use their authority in abusive ways. I’ve also seen policeman give students and adults a break on the “rules” they enforce.

What disturbs me personally is that it happened in a library. Yeah, I know the arguments. Bad things happen everywhere. Our libraries are not sacrosanct places that people naturally speak quietly, and use respectfully. Libraries now are like any other place that has a commodity. We use them to access the Internet, eat, drink, and anything else one can think of. Academic libraries have their own set of “issues” with what students do in them. I understand that and accept it.

I don’t accept that force used in a place that is, in the most abstract, a place of sanctuary. This type of violence violates the collective idea of library as a place of learning, of knowledge, of openness, reflection, discovery and freedom.

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