Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

How Javier Reyes, the UMPD and Zionists are failing the UMass community

An inside account of the October arrests and the harm that has followed
Kira Johnson

Disclaimer: The following views represented are solely my own and are not to be ascribed to any group of individuals.

I could feel the zip-tie handcuffs digging deeper into my wrists as the University of Massachusetts Police Department paddy wagon rolled into the police station parking lot. Over the low rumbling of the engine, the six of us in the back of the van could hear cheers of support coming from our friends who had been waiting in the parking lot for our arrival. Through the exhaustion, I could feel myself smiling. I was happy to have stood up for my beliefs and grateful for the community of support that we created.

It was around 1:30 a.m. on Oct. 26, and 57 people had just been arrested at the Whitmore Administrative Building for protesting UMass’ connections to war profiteers. Earlier in the day, over 500 people gathered in front of the Student Union and marched to Whitmore, simultaneously protesting the University’s actions and displaying an outpouring of support for the people of Palestine.

The building closed at 6 p.m., and 57 students opted to remain inside – refusing to leave until a meeting was granted with UMass Chancellor Javier Reyes. This meeting would not come to materialize, but the University did not hesitate to call the police on the protestors. Officers from the UMPD arrived and warned demonstrators that they were required to leave or would be subject to arrest. We opted to stay.

The police arrested individuals in groups of three-to-five, with at least half an hour between each group of arrests. They chose to start with the individuals they perceived as female, walking up to each person and asking if they would be willing to walk or if they would make the police carry them. Everyone decided to walk, and the officers took each person further into the hallway, requesting their identifying information and patting each person down before placing them in cuffs.

The hours continued to pass, as the police seemingly found it effective to make us wait. They would return to Whitmore and spend large swaths of time standing in the hallway, watching us wait for them to take us. We refused to be demoralized and filled the cold, dreary hallways with music and dancing, bringing joy to a location utterly devoid of it. We talked, laughed, sang and hugged, participating in the cultivation of radical solidarity while mourning the deaths that our university is complicit in.

The hours went by, and the crowd slowly got smaller as the police took more people. I was in the last group to get arrested at almost 1 a.m. I was removed from the building with my hands zip-tied behind my back. Marched out by police, I was shocked to see the crowd of around 50 students who were still outside of Whitmore, cheering for each of us as we were brought to the police van.

Inside the police station, we made sure to keep our morale as high as possible. My comrades were removed from the paddy wagon, and I was told to stay seated, alone in the van that was now parked inside a garage. Those I was arrested with were handcuffed to a concrete wall while I sat alone in the vehicle. After a significant amount of time, we were brought into a processing room – a small, white room with a long concrete bench on each wall. Each of us was sat down and handcuffed to the wall. We waited to be called up, brought to another bench directly outside of the room and answer questions regarding our mental health and medical histories. After which, we were returned to the small room to wait to be called up again.

I sat on the cold bench and watched an officer finally approach me. He attempted to take me to get booked, but the handcuffs that connected me to the wall were malfunctioning. Unable to get them unlocked, I was informed that the officers would have to cut me out of them. After around five minutes of trying different keys, the officers were finally able to unlock me. I was brought to booking, answered the required questions and posed for my pictures. The officer taking my pictures stated that he would have to document all my tattoos. This meant that I had to take off my clothes in the middle of the busy police station and listen to the officers engage in small talk about my various tattoos.

At this point, we were informed that the bail clerks had gone home for the night, and we would have to spend the night there. They split us into groups of three and placed us in the holding cells. Each cell consisted of a short concrete bench and a toilet that only the officers had the power to flush. Without access to blankets or layers, we sat in these cells and waited for morning to come. It would be around 6 a.m. before we could pay our $40 bails and be allowed to exit the facility. We were once again greeted by our friends in the parking lot, who had brought coffee, donuts, blankets and cars to drive us home in.

The situation was a wake-up call for me. I, of course, always knew that the inside of a jail cell would not be a pleasant place to be, but the discomfort manufactured inside those walls was unparalleled. For me, it raised a larger question: what is the point of UMPD?

At every step, it seemed the UMPD officers were stumbling, unsure of what they were supposed to be doing. Much to my amusement, they appeared to be steeped in confusion and a small amount of fear whenever they had to engage with us. We stayed multiple steps ahead of them and ensured that we were in complete control of the situation at any given moment. They proved themselves to be, above all, useless.

Clearly unhappy with our seemingly cavalier attitudes, the officers seemed to attempt to increase our discomfort whenever possible. The blame, however, cannot be placed solely on the UMPD, as it was the University’s call to have us arrested. UMass administration showed that they were completely unwilling to listen to the concerns of the campus community. Instead, they chose to subject their students and staff to direct state violence.

Drowning in terrible public relations, the University made the decision to dig its heels in. After demonstrators were arraigned, we received notice that we were being charged with student conduct violations. In addition to the criminal legal process, the University found it necessary to subject those who had been arrested to its own carceral accountability system. It is still too early to know what the ramifications of these sanctions will be, but it’s become clear that the University cares more about punishing demonstrators than actually listening to what the community has to say.

UMass frequently tells its students to “be revolutionary.” The administration, however, constantly shows that they don’t want us to do that. When students speak their minds or stand up for their beliefs, they’re met with harsh ramifications from the University. In this case, UMass clearly felt that its usual solution of putting students through its bureaucratic accountability process was insufficient and decided to subject demonstrators to direct state violence and incarceration.

The University has grossly mishandled this situation. The administration has shown that it not only doesn’t want revolutionary students, but it will be explicitly hostile to those with revolutionary ideals. Additionally, UMPD has shown its true nature to the campus community. Many are starting to realize that the department is not here to protect us but to keep us in line. At every step of this situation, UMass has failed its students and unabashedly supported the genocide of Palestinian people.

To be clear, there are a number of individuals directly responsible for this. Javier Reyes has proved himself to be an ineffective and cowardly leader of this institution. His presence at the helm of this university makes me embarrassed to be a student here. Tyrone Parham, the chief of the UMass Police Department, has been complicit and supportive in the University’s violence towards demonstrators and subsequent doxing of those arrested. The fascistic Zionists that plague our campus have spread lies about us and continue to perpetrate incredible harm against our community.

These individuals have created a perfect storm in which our school’s most vulnerable students have been threatened and directly harmed. Javier Reyes has failed us. UMPD has failed us. Our community has failed us. UMass should not continue to stand for this.

Zach Leach can be reached at [email protected] and followed on X at @ZachLeach12.

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