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The Trouble at Isla Vista

To the Editors:

Beginning June 6 a curfew of dubious legality was imposed on the community of Isla Vista in the wake of disorders originating with the burning of the Bank of America in February, 1970. On the evening of June 10 we, the undersigned U.C. Santa Barbara faculty, assembled peacefully, together with hundreds of students and residents, to protest what can only be described as a police reign of terror over the entire community. Without proper cause, numerous apartments had been broken into, property destroyed, students studying for exams savagely beaten and jailed on preposterous charges. We had hoped to use the peaceful assembly as a way of avoiding another violent confrontation between the police and the citizens of Isla Vista—a vain hope, since, as we were assured by deputies time and again, there was no commanding officer at the Bank of America command post. Arrests were then made on charges ranging from violation of curfew to assault with intent to kill. Once arrested we discovered that the war in Isla Vista also prevailed within the walls of the Santa Barbara County Jail.

What seemed to be in effect was a deliberate policy of retribution, in no way attributable to the crowded conditions of an emergency situation. Prisoners were detained up to two days, often denied even one of the requisite two phone calls, and in many cases kept imprisoned more than fifteen hours after bail had been posted. Without provocation, they were cursed, maced, beaten, and put into solitary confinement. Some were dragged by the hair, some handcuffed so tightly that their hands turned blue, some beaten severely about the ribs, stomach, and groin, some thrown against the bars of their cells, some forced to stand naked and submit to degrading and perverse comment, some denied necessary medicine, some forced to stand for long periods of time with their noses pressed to the wall. All were denied sleep and adequate food, and subjected to the lowest kind of verbal abuse. They were punished, in other words, before they were tried. In the eyes of many of the guards, they were “communist pukes” and deserved no less than they got. But the main crime for which they were punished was the crime of having been arrested….

Our experience convinces us that significant change will only come with more effective local control over police power. This would entail, at a minimum, the establishment of civilian review boards. Such boards must not only be empowered but obliged to initiate investigations into all instances of alleged police malfeasance, and must have the authority to reach decisions binding on the police hierarchy. The police cannot be allowed to wage war on the community they are supposed to serve. They must be a part of that community whether it be a university or a ghetto.

H. Porter Abbott

Department of English

University of California

Santa Barbara

[This letter was signed by a list of twenty-two people.]

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