Published November 17, 2014
A celebrity-enhanced ACLU delegation criticized Puerto Rico's government Tuesday for using police to keep the island's main university system open during a strike over a new fee, with members saying they found clear evidence in which officers abused students during the protests.
The delegation, which included Oscar-nominated actress Rosie Perez and former major league baseball player Carlos Delgado, said the initial findings of a fact-finding mission found a pattern of excessive police force over the past 18 months involving students, union leaders and journalists.
Their final report, which will be presented to the U.S. Justice Department, is expected by September.
Perez said at a news conference that she was overwhelmed by the testimony of students who said they were brutalized or sexually harassed and groped by police during a series of violent clashes over the $800 fee and budget cuts.
"I was really appalled as to how many of the adults treated many of the young people whether the young people were right or wrong," Perez said. "Yes, there were some bad apples, there were many bad apples in the bunch, but even they have certain rights."
Puerto Rico last year appointed an independent monitor for its police department and announced additional training in April for all officers in response to repeated allegations of brutality and misconduct.
Puerto Rico's Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock, who met with the ACLU delegation along with other island officials, faulted the delegates for announcing their preliminary findings so quickly, saying it suggested they had reached their conclusions before they had started. He said he urged them to expand their focus to include the rights of students and teachers who wanted to go to classes despite the months of protests at island campuses.
"The rights of those thousands of students should be equally entitled to ACLU interest and protection as the rights of the hundreds who participated in the demonstrations," he said.
ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said in response that the group agrees that students have a right to attend classes but that local authorities went to far in using police to keep the university open.
"The university cannot be kept open at any cost," he said.