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Santa Monica College President Defends Pepper-Spraying Students to 'Preserve Public and Personal Safety'

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Last night students protesting at the board of trustees meeting at Santa Monica College were pepper-sprayed by campus police.

The college's President Dr. Chui L. Tsang released a statement saying the campus police officers for "exercised restraint" in not arresting any of the students. He said the pepper-spraying was necessary to "preserve public and personal safety." The students were sprayed when they tried to enter the room where the board of trustees were holding their meeting but they had been barred because the room was too small. The students wanted to voice their opposition to the college's new two-tiered system that will offer certain classes that the president says otherwise would not be held—but at significantly higher tuition rates.

Here's an excerpt of the statement from Tsang:

The college had arranged for meeting participants to first be seated in the Board Room proper and overflow participants to be seated in an adjacent room. Many participants chose not to enter the overflow room and instead congregated in a corridor outside the Board Room. When some of these demonstrators used force to enter the Board Room proper, and had overrun the door and the personnel stationed at the door, there was one discharge of pepper spray used by a SMC police officer to preserve public and personal safety. Unfortunately, a number of bystanders, including college staff, students and other police personnel were affected.

Although a number of participants at the meeting engaged in unlawful conduct, Santa Monica College police personnel exercised restraint and made no arrests. Unlawful conduct included setting off fire alarms and attempting to disrupt the Board of Trustees meeting.

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Even though the president's statement seems to conclude the pepper-spraying was necessary, the college is investigating the incident. College trustee David Finkel called the incident a "black eye" on the college, and added: "It may be that you will conclude... that it was an inescapable necessity, but I'm not convinced of that."Tsang says the Santa Monica Fire Department reported that 15 to 30 people were treated and released at the scene, and three were transported to hospitals for further treatment and released. The school suggests participants send their medical bills to the Student Affairs Office.

MSNBC's photo blog has a round-up of photos from last night, including one shot of a 4-year-old girl getting the pepper spray flushed out of her eyes.