Tuesday, November 21, 2006

An Open Letter to the UCLA Chancellor

Interim Chancellor Norman Abrams
University of California at Los Angeles

Dear Chancellor Abrams:

I am writing in regard to the incident that occurred last week on the UCLA campus, in which one of your students was Tasered by UCLA’s 2001 Officer of the Year, Terrence Duren.

It may not be necessary for me to summarize this incident for you, but certain public comments you have recently made cause me to suspect you might have missed a relevant detail or two ...

The student, 23-year-old Mostafa Tabatabainejad, committed no act that a reasonable person would construe as a threat to public safety. He simply refused to show his ID. As a result, Tabatabainejad was told to leave the library. Which he did, or attempted to do. On his way out of the building, he was accosted by Officer of the Year Terrence Duren who began to Taser him.

Duren did not Taser the student just once, he did so repeatedly. Yes, it is true that, after each Tasering, the student was advised by Duren (or one of the other officers present) that he could avoid further Tasering if he would only cooperate by standing up and walking out of the building on his own. However, with each Tasering, Tabatabaineja became progressively more weakened, therefore was unable to follow the suggestion.

Eventually, the officers decided that the most efficient way to remove Tabatabainejad's paralyzed body from the building would be to carry it out. As this was being done, Officer of the Year Duren Tasered the young man once more, this time in the buttocks. Great police work.

It should also be mentioned that, while all this was going on, Tabatabainejad’s fellow students raised loud objections and demanded names and badge numbers from the officers. The officers responded by threatening these students with the same treatment. Again, great police work.

But I am drifting from my original point. Here it is …

The Los Angeles Times reported today that Officer of the Year Duren has on several occasions committed other acts of violence that have needlessly endangered lives on the UCLA campus.

On one such occasion, he used his nightstick to choke a man who had been seen “hanging around” a UCLA fraternity house. This led, not only to a lawsuit, but to UCLA officials deciding it might be a good idea to dismiss Duren. Later, inexplicably, the dismissal was reversed.

It is unfortunate that Duren was not dismissed, because in 2003 he shot and wounded a mentally ill homeless man, Willie Davis Frazier. According to Frazier’s public defender, John Raphling, there was no provocation for the shooting; the man was simply running in fear from Duren. I wonder why. (LINK)

As I say, the University of California’s failure to dismiss Duren is inexplicable. Even more inexplicable is the fact that he was hired in the first place.

In 2004, Officer of the Year Duren testified under oath that he had previously worked for the Long Beach Police Department, but was fired for his “poor report-writing skills and geographical knowledge.”

Doesn't it bother you to have a man on your police force who can neither write intelligibly nor tell the difference between the city of Japan and the continent of Chicago? It would bother me. In fact, I would expect that only trouble could come from hiring such a man.

Which is exactly what happened: trouble. And each time there was trouble--each time Duren committed some act of violence--UCLA looked the other way. Even worse, in 2001, he was named Officer of the Year.

All this might be forgiven. However, what cannot be forgiven is that, following the most recent incident--the public torturing of a student with a Taser gun by an illiterate cop with a documented history of violence, witnessed on video by the entire world--you have allowed Duren to remain on active duty while the "independent" investigation is conducted.

What is wrong with you? What kind of university are you running out there in California?

Yours sincerely,
Mack White