GVSU Releases Statement on Student Shooting; Protests Continue

Stop Police Violence at GVSU

After several days of near silence, Grand Valley State University (GVSU) has issued a statement in response to the shooting of an unarmed student at an off-campus apartment.

In the statement, the University expresses says that it is formally requesting more information from the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department and is calling for a thorough investigation:

“To our faculty, staff, and students:

Last week the West Michigan Drug Enforcement Team, comprised of the Michigan State Police and Ottawa County Sheriff, conducted a search at an apartment in Georgetown Township, south of Grand Valley’s main campus in Allendale. During this event, a Grand Valley student, Derek Copp of Spring Arbor, Michigan, was shot by one of the law enforcement officers.

The fact that this incident took place off-campus diminishes neither my interest nor my concern. The university’s campus security staff was not involved. Like many of you, I await a full and complete explanation from law enforcement, and I have made a formal request for such information. I want to know what brought the Enforcement Team to Derek’s apartment and why a firearm was discharged.

I want to wish Derek a complete recovery. My office has been in touch with Derek to offer any accommodation that may be needed in furtherance of his studies. As of today, Derek remains hospitalized in Grand Rapids.

Sincerely,

Thomas J. Haas

President”

The University further attempted to defend its silence on the shooting by saying that it made all of the information that it had available the night of the shooting.

Protests Continue; University Statement only First Demand

Even as GVSU issued the statement, student protests against the shooting continued, with a protest at the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department today.

A statement from the university denouncing the incident was the first demand of students. Students have further said that they want GVSU to take action against the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department and take the lead in addressing statewide discrepancies in penalties dealing with the use of recreational drugs.

Students are planning a march on Friday in downtown Grand Rapids against the shooting.

GVSU Shooting Representative of Failed Drug War

A Drug Raid Using a Militarized SWAT Team

The shooting of Derek Copp, an unarmed twenty-year-old student at Grand Valley, by an Ottawa County deputy as part of a drug investigation is absurdly tragic. Sadly, so is the War on Drugs this country has been engaged in since the 1970s.

According to an article in the Grand Rapids Press, police were raiding Copp’s apartment in search of drugs when they shot him in the chest. Police have confirmed he was unarmed. Additionally, no arrest was made. The incident begs the questions: how did it become acceptable to shoot an unarmed person in the chest while carrying out what was presumably an investigation of simple drug possession? How have we arrived at a place where someone’s personal drug use (no press reports have mentioned any allegations of dealing) in the privacy of their own home has resulted in a student’s near-death?

The answer lies in an examination of the War on Drugs, that abysmal failure to legislate morality that has resulted in countless lives scarred, ruined, and lost. Over the past seven decades, twenty million people have been arrested for marijuana-related offenses in this country; since the 1990s, the annual number of arrests (90% of which are for minor possession, not trafficking) has tripled . Though these crimes are almost entirely victimless, drug users pay an incredibly heavy toll, most notably in mass incarceration–which, in turn, has increased the use on private prisons, now a multi-billion dollar industry with significant influence on corrections legislation.

The force seen in Copp’s arrest is typical of how the drug war has been carried out. Examples abound: a 92-year-old Atlanta woman was shot dead in her home when police, looking for drugs, executed a no-knock raid. The officers had mistakenly broken down the door of the wrong house. A Denver man sleeping after completing a night shift was shot and killed by police, leaving family in the US and Mexico without support. Again, no knock. Again, wrong house. Baltimore police have been using the SWAT team to carry out drug raids–many of which have, again, turned out to be the wrong house. That the raid in Copp’s apartment was a mistake should not be ruled out–as Media Mouse has reported, he was not arrested.

In addition to its brutality, the drug war has been overtly racist. From its start under the Reagan administration, the War on Drugs has criminalized people of color, despite the fact that drug use is relatively even, proportionally, across racial lines. Marijuana is an excellent example: despite the fact that African Americans are no more likely to use drugs than whites, they are two-and-a-half times more likely to be arrested for possession. The result of this racist and unwarranted criminalization is debilitating to communities of color: mothers and fathers are taken away from their children, ex-convicts are unable to find jobs to support themselves and their families, large swaths of time that could be spent on job training or education are instead wasted behind bars.

The case of Derek Copp is a part of this long, tragic tradition. It should remind us all how senseless the War on Drugs has been from its inception–and why, in addition to continuing to demand justice for Copp, we must demand the drug war’s end now.

Students Hold Protest over Police Brutality

GVSU Students Protested the Shooting of an Unarmed Student During A Drug Investigation

The group Protest for Peace @ GVSU!!!! held a protest today on the campus free speech zone at the Transitional Link structure. It was in response to the Ottawa County police shooting an unarmed student at the Campus View apartment complexes on Wednesday night, 3/11/09.

The full details have not been released on the incident but the police department has confirmed that the student, Derek Copp, was unarmed during the entire duration of the raid. Copp is currently in critical condition at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital, he was shot in the upper right chest. The police department did have a search warrant, and apparently entered his apartment through the back sliding door. Further details are unknown.

People began assembling around 10:30 at the Transitional Link structure. The angry students shouted and chanted “why” and “non-lethal force, the only way of course!” as their pupils passed by during the breaks between classes. A total of four faculty members joined the protesters in chanting or speaking on the megaphone.

By 12:00, protest music was blaring from a nearby truck and roughly 40 students were there passing out information, carrying signs, and chanting. Some signs there read “Marijuana is deadly: it gets you shot” and “Ottawa County Police Department: Shoot first, ask questions after.”

The Ottawa County Police Department has not released information if drugs were found at the scene of the shooting.

The reaction from passing by students was mostly neutral, they would take the information or read the signs and keep walking. There were a couple of instances of students stopping and joining the protesters, and also a few negative reactions. A common criticism of the protest was that all the information on the shooting was not yet available. That it’s possible that the shooting was justified, and that a protest should be reserved for once this is known or not.

It is known however that Copp was unarmed at the time, and that the officers outnumbered him five to one. The group has made a list of demands, which were given to the administration during the protest. The demands include:

  • A statement on behalf of the university, renouncing the incident
  • The university takes proper steps against the Ottawa County Sheriff Department
  • The university take a leading position in addressing the state-wide discrepancies in policies dealing with the use of recreational drugs

There’s no news on the university’s stand on the incident. Only a short news story on the GVNow website.

Unarmed GVSU Student Shot During Drug Investigation

An Unarmed GVSU Student was Shot During a Drug Investigation

On Wednesday evening, an unarmed Grand Valley State University (GVSU) student was shot by Ottawa County police during the execution of a search warrant at the Campus View Apartments in Allendale.

The warrant was part of an ongoing drug investigation being conducted by the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department and the West Michigan Enforcement Team (WMET).

Reaon for Shooting Unclear: Student was Unarmed and No Confrontation Ensued

Various media reports citing police spokespeople say that the student–Derek Copp–was shot by an Ottawa County deputy. Initial reports indicate that Copp was shot through an open sliding door as police entered the apartment. The student was unarmed according to state police. Moreover, they say that their initial investigation shows “there was no confrontation as they were coming in. Preliminary investigation shows the subject was not armed and that is all we know at this time.”

No arrests were made.

Following the shooting, Copp was transported to Spectrum Health in downtown Grand Rapids. He is in “serious condition” with potentially life-threatening injuries.” Copp was struck in the chest.

According to Copp’s parents, he did not know what was happening at the time he was shot.

The deputy who fired the shot is currently on paid administrative leave pending the results of the investigation. The deputy is reportedly a 12-year veteran and has been a part of the West Michigan Enforcement Team for two years.

Reports from residents at neighboring apartments also have not cited any sounds of a struggle or confrontation.

GVSU Students Mobilize to Oppose Shooting

Word of the shooting has spread rapidly, with students creating a Facebook group called “Protest for Peace @ GVSU!!!! – In Response to the Shooting of Derek.” Out of that group grew a protest which took place earlier this afternoon on Allendale’s campus.

According to news reports, around forty students gathered on GVSU’s Allendale campus to protest the shooting. Students held signs such as “We Want The Truth,” “Shooting? Why?,” and “Why Was My Friend Shot?.”

GVSU Administration Largely Silent on the Shooting

The Grand Valley State University (GVSU) administration has been silent on the shooting, saying only in statement that a student was injured during the execution of a search warrant.

University of Michigan one of 21 schools to cut Russell contract over labor violations

University of Michigan Recently Cut Its Contract With Russell Over Labor Violations

In response to the closing of a garment factory in Honduras employing over 1800 workers after the plant unionized, the University of Michigan has cut its contract with the Russell Athletic Corporation. The cut is one of 21 contracts Russell has lost in the last two months.

The campaign, spearheaded by Students Organized for Labor and Economic Equality, was the twelfth such termination and received coverage in the New York Times. United Students Against Sweatshops, a national student/labor group, launched its campaign against Russell last year. Since February, multiple cuts have been reported every week at universities including Harvard, Minnesota, Purdue, Cornell, Wisconsin, Georgetown, and Rutgers, and fourteen other schools.

Russell closed one of its Honduran plants, Jerzees de Honduras, after 750 workers decided to join a union. Management and workers were embattled over workers’ contracts, including access to clean drinking water, living wages, and an end to verbal abuse. In a statement to the New York Times, Russell admitted that “management mistakes were made that led to a failure to adhere” to “standards on freedom of association,” but the company has tried to salvage its public image through the use of a website, ReinInRussell.com, designed to fool people looking for USAS’ Rein In Russell site. It may be some time, however, before their public relations division can rebuild the company’s reputation, as the whole incident has been a PR debacle for the company.

West Michigan USAS affiliates have a history of contract fights over companies’ poor labor records, some of which have been successful. Grand Valley State University‘s USAS chapter pressured their school to terminate its contract with Taco Bell after tomato pickers in Florida, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, demanded the first increase in their wages since the 1970s. While GVSU did not cut their contract, the students’ pressure against Taco Bell and its owner Yum! Brands was significant, and the CIW eventually won the campaign and have led successful fights against Burger King and McDonald’s.

In addition, Aquinas College‘s Social Action Committee led a successful campaign to terminate their school’s soda contract with the Coca-Cola Corporation in light of the company’s involvement in anti-union violence in Colombia. Members of the SINALTRAINAL union have been kidnapped, tortured, and murdered by paramilitaries in collaboration with bottling factory management for their unionizing efforts. In addition, the corporation has caused extreme environmental degradation including the poisoning of groundwater in India. Over forty universities around the country have cut their Coca-Cola contracts.

Animal Rights Arrests Target First Amendment Activity

Animal Rights Activists Arrested Last Week for Legally Protected Activity

In California, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced the arrest of four animal rights “extremists” last week. The FBI is charging the activists–who are part of an ongoing campaign to stop animal research at the University of California system–with the “use of force, violence, or threats to interfere with the operation of the University of California in violation of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.”

The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act is a piece of legislation that was passed in 2006 that allows the federal government unprecedented power to stifle political speech and charge activists engaging in legal behavior with terrorism.

This is certainly what is happening in this case, with the four activists being arrested for four actions that are either protected by the First Amendment, or in the worst case, misdemeanors. The FBI says the four:

  • Held a protest at the home of a UC researcher: “The group, some wearing bandanas to hide their faces, trespassed on his front yard, chanted slogans, and accused him of being a murderer because of his use of animals in research. The professor told police he was afraid, and felt harassed and intimidated by the extremists.”
  • Held a series of protests at the homes of UC researchers: “At each residence, extremists dressed generally in all black clothing and wearing bandanas to hide their faces marched, chanted, and chalked defamatory comments on the public sidewalks in front of the residences. One of the researchers informed authorities he had been previously harassed and the incident had caused him to fear for his health and safety.”
  • Scuffled with a researcher’s spouse at the researcher’s home: Details of what exactly happened at this event are sketchy, but there appears to have been a minor scuffle between activists and the spouse of a targeted researcher. The FBI is hyping the action as a “home invasion” with “forced entry.”
  • Distributed fliers: According to the FBI, the four activists were tied to the “production and distribution” of fliers that criticized animal research at UC and listed the home addresses of researchers. The FBI is says this preceded two unrelated firebombing attacks.

The events described above–at worse misdemeanors–are far from being “terrorism.” However, the arrests reflect how animal researchers, corporations, and the federal government plan to use the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act–which bans a broad range of activity–to disrupt activism and criminalize First Amendment activity.

Environmental Summit at GVSU Energizes Youth Activists

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This weekend college students from across Michigan converged on the campus of Grand Valley State University to participate in a three-day summit organized by the Michigan Student Sustainability Coalition (MSSC). The gathering was called the Regeneration Summit which featured student activists, information tables, a “Green Jobs Fair,” and keynote speakers from national organizations.

On the opening night of the summit, several students involved in the coalition welcomed those in attendance and talked about what the MSSC has accomplished over the past two years. Some of the highlights mentioned were lobbying work, education and petition campaigns, with an emphasis on challenging the auto industry to be more “green,” and to get Michigan legislators to adopt a more sustainable energy policy.

The State of the Movement

The first speaker at the summit was Jessy Tolkan who works for the Energy Action Coalition. She began by stating that she believes that it is the first time in her lifetime that “we have a President that really cares about what we think.”

One of the major challenges that those involved in this new environmental movement faced, according to the speaker, was the current economic crisis facing the US, particularly how that crisis impacts Michigan. She shared with the audience that her father works in the auto industry and how they would argue over climate change and energy issues. However, she wanted to make it clear to everyone that she was not against cars, rather she was advocating for the auto industry to create green, sustainable automobiles. However, the speaker never articulated what a green/sustainable car would look like or whether or not that is even possible to have cars that fit into a model of sustainability.

The Role of Voting

Next, she spoke to the importance of the numbers of young people who participated in electoral process. She equated this participation as a form of political power that not only raised issues like climate change during the election, it “helped to get Barack Obama and a new Congress elected.”

Tolkan then spoke to the mission of the coalition, which is to fight for a clean and just energy future. One way that the coalition works towards this mission is by having a movement that is different than previous environmental movements. One of the main differences is that this movement is racially more diverse, with students from Black, Latino and Indigenous communities. She also spoke about the need for this movement to be more radical than previous environmental movements and then said that helping to elect Barack Obama was evidence of this radical change.

The speaker then encouraged young people to come to the national youth summit in Washington, DC in February. The speaker wants to fill the halls of Congress to let them know that, “We will vote their asses in or out of office if they don’t do what we want them to do.” The speaker continued by saying, “We need to demand that Congress move to create green jobs.”

Unfortunately, there was never any description of what green jobs would look like nor what tactics would be used beyond just expressing their desires to members of Congress.

The Time for Debate is Over, It’s Time for Change

She ended her comments by talking about a meeting she had with “CEOs of national environmental groups.” At the meeting, there was a discussion about the need for a serious effort towards a reduction in carbon emissions. She said that the environmental groups were arguing amongst themselves about how little to push carbon reduction and renewable energy or whether or not now is the time to push this issue because of the economic crisis.

Tolkan felt that her generation cannot expect the mainstream environmental groups to make the change that was necessary and that those in attendance need to be the catalyst for real change.

Michigan Professors’ Group Issues Statement Against Israel’s Attack on Gaza

Michigan Professors Against the Occupation Statement on Israel's Attack on Gaza

An ad-hoc group calling itself Michigan Professors Against the Occupation has released the following statement opposing the Israeli attack on Gaza. The statement has garned signatures from 71 professors at colleges and universities across the state.

The group’s goals:

Our main goals are: 1) to provide information about the occupation and 2) to work towards ending the occupation. MPAO calls for a forceful implementation of international law in Israel/Palestine. We support the peaceful co-existence of Palestinians and Israelis. We also encourage solidarity between Arabs, Jews & others in struggles against anti-Arab racism, anti-semitism, and militarism.

The statement on Gaza:

“We are an ad hoc group of university and college professors in Michigan that condemns in the strongest possible terms the Israeli bombardment and invasion of the Gaza Strip. The Israeli assault on Gaza has caused hundreds of Palestinian deaths and the massive destruction of civilian infrastructure. Although the Israeli government and its US supporters claim that Israel is responding to Hamas rocket fire, the military operation, codenamed “Operation Casting Lead,” constitutes a disproportionate retaliatory action that indiscriminately targets the entire population of the Gaza Strip.

Since 1967, Israel has committed numerous war crimes and human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories with impunity. Once again, the international community has failed to respond substantially to Israel’s life-stifling blockade and its devastating invasion of Gaza. Furthermore, US politicians in both parties have given support to Israel’s military operation, justifying what many other international observers view as an excessive use of force on a largely defenseless civilian population.

As educators, we are particularly appalled at the destruction of educational institutions and student casualties. Human Rights Watch reported on December 27, 2008 that an Israeli air-to-ground missile struck a group of students leaving the Gaza Training College, killing eight and wounding 19 others. Israel then bombed on December 29, 2008, the Islamic University of Gaza. Most tragically, on January 6, 2009, Israel bombed a UN-operated school in Jabaliya refugee camp killing at least 40 people. These attacks against Palestinian students and educational institutions are part of a long history of Israel’s obstruction of the Palestinian right to education guaranteed in international conventions.

Despite its disengagement from Gaza in 2005, Israel remains the occupying power according to international law, and retains control of Gaza’s land borders, air space and sea ports. Israel has the responsibility to secure the safety of Palestinian civilians and to abide by the Geneva Convention and other instruments of international law. As noted by UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk, “That such a human catastrophe can happen with minimal outside interference also shows the weakness of international law and the United Nations, as well as the geopolitical priorities of the important players.”

It is urgent that we join with others around the world seeking peace and justice in the Middle East and call for an immediate cease-fire, a lifting of the blockade of Gaza and ultimately an end to the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. We believe in the need to achieve justice for Palestinians, and call on Michigan’s local, state and federal political representatives as well as the broader public to protest Israel’s violations of international law.”

College Costs in Michigan Limit Access to Higher Education

In Michigan, college costs continue to rise and are inhibiting access to the higher education in Michgian. Even as tuition costs soar, state financial aid has decreased since the early 1990s.

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A new study from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education has found that across the United States, tuition increased 439% from 1982 to 2006 while median family income increased 147%.

In Michigan, politicians frequently talk about increasing the number of college graduates. as a way to revitalize the state’s economy, but that goal often remains illusive. The study concludes that Michigan is not educating its population at a level needed in a competitive economy.

A major factor is tuition, which has risen nationally and in Michigan. To attend college in Michigan, families must make considerable sacrifices. Michigan’s two-year schools cost less than the national average (average $2,207), but four-year colleges cost more (average $8,454). This creates a situation where families must pay a high percentage of their family income to afford college–an average of 23% for two-year schools and 34% for four-year public universities. The 40% of the population with the lowest incomes earn an average of $19,118. If a family earning that amount were to send a child to college, even after financial aid they would spend $6,276 for a two-year school (33% of income) or $9,254 (48% of income).

At the same time, Michigan’s investment in financial aid has decreased since the 1990s. The state’s investment in need-based aid is “very low” compared to top performing states. For every dollar in Pell Grant aid to students, the state spends only 28 cents. Moreover, the study concludes, “Michigan does not offer low-priced college opportunities.”

Beyond the high cost of a college education, other barriers remain, particularly around race. Michigan has long had disparities between students of color and white students. For example, only 80% of African-Americans have a high diploma compared to 91% of white students. There is a 15% graduation gap between whites and students of color at four-year institutions, with 32% of African-Americans graduating from four-year institutions compared to 58% of white students. Overall, sixteen percent of African-Americans have a bachelor’s degree, compared with 28 percent of whites. The study doesn’t go into reasons why these disparities exist.

Unfortunately, its unlikely this will improve soon, as voters in Michigan passed a ban on affirmative action in 2006. Already, there has been a decline in minority enrollment at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) and colleges face challenges keeping numbers of underrepresented students at pre-Proposal 2 levels.

Moreover, as the economy continues to decline and state governments continue to face budget difficulties, it seems unlikely much headway will be made in addressing the cost of higher education or increasing access.

Democrats Vote to Give Telecommunications Companies Immunity for Illegal Domestic Surveillance

The Democratically controlled House of Representatives has engineered another “bipartisan compromise” with Republicans, this time on the issue of President Bush’s illegal warrantless domestic surveillance program.

Today, the House of Representatives–following a “bipartisan compromise” engineered by House Democrats–pass a new surveillance bill that legalizes President Bush’s warrantless surveillance program and protects corporations such as AT&T from lawsuits. The American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement saying that the only “compromise” contained in the bill is “of our constitutional rights.” Similarly, the Electronic Frontier Foundation issued a statement saying:

“The bill was touted as a bipartisan ‘compromise’ on the issues of electronic surveillance and immunity. But in fact it requires dismissal of lawsuits against companies like AT&T that participated in the program as long as the companies received a piece of paper from the government indicating that the surveillance had been authorized by the president and was determined to be lawful.”

The vote comes less than a full day after Democrats–who control the House of Representatives–compromised on a controversial war funding bill. In both cases, the compromises resulted in the Bush administration achieving exactly what they wanted. This has been a characteristic of the Democratic majority in Congress since winning in 2006. It has repeatedly “compromised” on major issues from war funding to telecommunications immunity, resulting in the passage of legislation that undermines many of the positions that the party claims to take.