The Wheels of Justice . . .

…are apparently square, given how long it has taken for UCLA’s independent investigation to conclude that the use of a Taser on a passively resisting student in the UCLA library was excessive force (from the Chron, subscription required; coverage also available from the LA Times.). Frankly that seemed pretty obvious to anyone who viewed the YouTube footage within hours of the event. The UCLA police have concluded the officers acted within guidelines and would not be disciplined, though it looks as if they will finally bring their guidelines into alignment with most police organizations that limit Taser use to subjects who are violent. The civil trial of the student against UCLA will not begin until early next year.

When we commented on this incident back in 2006 we were reluctant to draw conclusions based solely on a video clip without hearing from the officials involved. But they never spoke up (and, indeed, the report that cleared the officers of misconduct remains secret). Others were surprised and upset that the library didn’t issue any kind of public statement (perhaps ordered by university counsel to keep mum given the ripe-for-litigation nature of the event.) The ALA did respond (as reported by Library Juice), as did the Progressive Librarians Guild.) But that was about it, other than individuals talking about it online.

It remains disturbing to me that a student who simply refused to produce his ID and thus violated a library rule but was not violent could be treated this way in a library and that it would take an institution of higher learning this long to say “huh, that shouldn’t have happened.”

Web 2.0 is celebrated for its ability to “crowdsource” news. News organizations, from CNN to the BBC, solicit reports from the ground these days. Over the past two days I’ve been thinking about this while watching the coverage of the tragic 35W bridge collapse near the University of Minnesota. Seeing news anchors fumble the facts again and again while covering an event hours after it occurred has made me more than ever aware that news is the rough draft of history – and very rough draft indeed. (The New York Times, famous for its voluminous corrections, has been correcting their mistakes on the fly in The Lede.) But having driven that bridge countless times, I wanted to know what they knew, even though the ability of major news organizations to gather news on the fly only as accurate than the observations of witnesses (and, at times, significantly less accurate).

So when I read this report has finally been issued, it made me think: should it really take this long for a university to respond to such a disturbing incident? Should a library, however implicated in a lawsuit, provide no information to the public at all? Couldn’t a lawyer have vetted a statement to the effect that “we’re concerned, though it’s too soon to draw conclusions” at least? No doubt, the report finally made public is more thorough, complete and thoughtful than a quick response would be. But shouldn’t there have been some response? Or is a student being repeatedly Tasered for noncompliance with a library regulation just not a big deal?

Author: Barbara Fister

I'm an academic librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Like all librarians at our small, liberal arts institution I am involved in reference, collection development, and shared management of the library. My area of specialization is instruction, with research interests also in media literacy, popular literacy, publishing, and assessment.

One thought on “The Wheels of Justice . . .”

  1. indeed.

    i really like your juxtaposition of ucla’s extended silence and the conversational mode that were were supposed to inherit in our web 2.0 world.

    shame on ucla, my undergraduate alma mater, for having such slow and silent wheels.

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