It's bigger than hip-hop: the truth about the Evergreen uprising

by Julie Chang Schulman, 206 Zulu/Hip Hop Congress NW

On Valentine’s Day 2008, the Evergreen State College chapter of Hip Hop Congress, with the support of over 40 student and community organizations, put on the most successful student-organized hip hop event in the history of Student Activities at the school. The concert was the premier event for the Hip Hop Congress since the Evergreen chapter was founded in the spring of 2007. Headlining Dead Prez, and featuring Alpha, P, Sista Hailstorm, and DJ B-Girl, the show brought approximately 800 people, packing the large-capacity recreation center at Evergreen. Student organizers worked hard to ensure the highest possible level of community collaboration and campus preparedness- according to the policies, procedures, and training provided and outlined by Student Activities at Evergreen State College.

Following the event, an uprising broke out involving hundreds of concert-goers and various law enforcement agencies who were called on the scene after what began as a peaceful protest. This video we are releasing is the result of our own independent investigation on what happened that night.

The gala and concert itself ran smoothly, with the exception of one fight that broke out near the back of the venue sometime during the last few songs. According to those involved and other eyewitnesses, this confrontation later resumed outside of the REC, and eventually led to the questionable arrest of one black male in front of dozens of vocal eyewitnesses. This arrest was made by Officer April Meyers of campus police services, who went into the venue, placed handcuffs on the accused, and proceeded to escort him back outside to the police vehicle.

Many eyewitnesses of the scuffle we interviewed, as well as eyewitness accounts gathered by others claim that Officer Meyers had detained the wrong guy. Although she wasn’t present during the incident, Officer Meyer’s own account of the events that followed supports that of most of these eyewitnesses. She reported that on her way back to the vehicle, she was met by a group of about 12 people contesting the information she was provided before the arrest. Her original call for backup was administrative, to appease these witnesses, meaning she called Thurston County Sheriff’s Department onto the scene to collect statements from those who claimed the arrest was wrongful. After backup arrived on the scene, Officer Meyers intended to head back to police services to interview the accused. Instead, her car was surrounded by the growing crowd who had begun chanting “Let him go!” According to Officer Meyers, a Thurston County Deputy then knocked on her window, and suggested that due to the growing public safety concern, she should identify and release the accused on the scene.

It is at this point that the official police reports appear to diverge from the eyewitness accounts. This footage shows Officer Meyers in blue, identifying the suspect on the scene, and the Thurston County Sheriffs in black attempting to diffuse the still growing crowd. It is when the second wave of back up-Olympia Police Department, arrive, pushing through the crowd, and using pepper spray, that the protest turns violent. Why Officer Meyers omitted Olympia Police Department’s role in this escalation in her statement is unclear. However, it is apparent that the efforts of the three present police agencies at that time were not coordinated, a fact which certainly contributed to the confusion that incited the uprising.

Another contributing factor was the timing of OPD’s use of force. At that moment, the concert had just ended, and hundreds of people pouring out of Evergreen’s recreation center were met with a front row view of blue uniforms throwing blows with their fists and batons, and spraying pepper spray at what appeared to be a peaceful group of protestors. If you look closely at this video, we see the suspect being released, but in the confusion and outrage created by OPD’s aggressive actions, it is hardly noticed by the agitated crowd. The following interview with a Thurston County Deputy caught on the scene shows a shared concern about how the situation was handled by OPD.

Despite the overwhelming evidence on film that OPD had a decisive role in escalating the situation to a violent confrontation that night, there are striking inconsistencies between eyewitness accounts of the event, and accounts being offered by police agencies.

Footage we collected confirms that by the time the riot police arrived Friday morning, the crowd was largely dispersed, aside from a few documentarians and the student clean-up crew. When eyewitnesses were shown the news reels that Kiro7, Komo4, and King5 aired and when they read the accounts the Olympian printed in the paper, they snicker, under murmurs that riot police came and posed with the overturned patrol car hours after the actual incident.

What has been consistent and widely acknowledged by everyone we spoke to- students, police services, and administration at Evergreen, is the preexisting and unresolved tensions between the Olympia Police Department and the Evergreen community. Of the 61 people arrested in the militarization resistance at the Port of Olympia, November 2007, over a quarter of those were Evergreen students, and many more reported experiencing excessive force and brutality from the city’s police department during that time. Three of the four protesters who filed $10.4 million dollars of brutality claims against Olympia’s police department earlier in Feb 2008 were from Evergreen State College.

It is within these circumstances and this historical context that the uprising after the Valentine’s Day concert took place, and it would be a shame to allow the turn of events that Friday morning to overshadow the ultimate success, positivity, power, and promise this show presented for the Evergreen community. We offer the results of our inquiry not only as community media producers and advocates of Hip Hop culture, but also as supporters of the movement towards universal restorative justice and proactive restitution.

Julie Chang Schulman is Northwest Regional Coordinator for Hip Hop Congress, Assistant Chapter Head of 206 Zulu, and codirector of Reclaim the Media. This article is the script for the video segment linked above.

article originally published at .

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey