Posted October 9, 2017 by Cooper Point Journal in Community

Ed Sorger Returns to Evergreen

By Chloe Marina Manchester

Evergreen students have had a tumultuous relationship with the police on campus, one of the more notable incidents being a cop car which was flipped, had the word “PIGS” spray painted on the side, and had recycling bins stacked along the bottom (top by that point) of the car following a Dead Prez concert on campus in 2008.  The school has also had an uncomfortable relationship with Sorger himself who was allegedly complicit with Federal attempts to spy on students.

Students also found fault with Sorger when in 2014 an Evergreen Police Officer went up against him for the department’s use of dorm walkthroughs, which the officer alleged were illegal. In a Cooper Point Journal article published following this incident, student journalists explained that it was college policy to allow walkthroughs despite the fact that in 2008 the State v. Houvener ruling determined that “students at public institutions have an expectation of privacy in the hallways of their residence halls and police may not patrol the hallways without a search warrant unless one of the warrant exceptions exist,” according to The Law of Higher Education, Fifth Edition: Student Version.

In an interview with the CPJ, Sorger stated, “It’s a community policing effort—not a fishing expedition.” “We decided that we would make sure students at the beginning of the school year would know that officers are going to be there as a part of the community and a part of the safety issue, and that officers are a resource to students.” These walkthroughs were being phased out of practice in 2014 though campus PD officers accompanied RAs and RDs on patrols of lower campus up until this year. This policy changed as a result of the protests in the spring.

In 2014, The Evergreen State College Police, under the command of Ed Sorger,  were accused of spying. Civil rights lawyer Larry Hildes said on the radio program Democracy Now! that the police had “spied on, infiltrated, or otherwise monitored the activities of Port Militarization Resistance and/or related or associated activists.” Hildes revealed that information obtained through public records requests revealed that information on the student group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) on campus was given to multiple outside groups, including the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, the Olympia Police Department, the US Capitol Police Department, and John Towery.

Towery was revealed in 2009 to be a military spy whose mission was to infiltrate various PNW activist groups including SDS and Port Militarization Resistance who were protesting the militarization of local PNW ports, including the port in Olympia which drew protests in 2016 and 2017 because of the transport of fracking sands from the port to pipeline construction locations. Two former Greeners and SDS members worked with Hildes to uncover emails proving that Evergreen police were sharing information about students groups and events on campus with outside agencies. This walked the line of FERPA violations if students were named. FERPA protects students and their education records from becoming public information.

At that time, both Sorger and Wendy Endress declined to comment on these allegations. Following this, there was no comment made to the CPJ in 2014.

Ed Sorger, upon retiring from Evergreen in 2016, stressed the importance of understanding your community as a police officer’s, and encouraged all Evergreen police and incoming chief Stacy Brown to take time to get to know the community they were policing.

Electronic Media (EM) provides sound amplification and as video and audio documentation for a number of events on campus and the clients who host them. EM normally has a presence at a number of events on campus during any given week.

Thus, they could potentially play a crucial role in allowing a student disruption to continue or effectively hinder it by turning microphones and speakers off. Additionally, the documentation captured by their state-owned cameras and audio recorders could be subpoenaed and used as evidence against students in the case of litigation.

In order to have safe and effective demonstrations, there needs to be transparency between the students and this often forgotten about part of Media Services around its protocol for continuing its service during disruptive action. The current guidelines were announced and distributed among EM’s staff during this year’s training just weeks ago. As the dean of the library, Greg Mullins, who oversees and administrates to EM, has of lately been unresponsive in collaborating on an official policy, the guidelines are the result of a discussion among the full time staff.

While the opinion of student staff has been listened to during this process, it has had little influence on what was produced and they are working to be more involved and outspoken while an official policy is being generated.

The first thing EM’s staff advocates to its student employees is personal safety. However, in the case of disrupters attempting to operate equipment such as PA systems or projectors intended to support the client’s event, the following guidelines are being disseminated to student staff:

“Check in with the event sponsors [before the event] to see if they are comfortable with allowing others to present their opinions using the mics.”

“In the case of individuals simply taking over the stage, in general the PA should be turned off unless the clients are comfortable with [it].”

“Documentation cameras should be paused . . . [and] wait for the clients to indicate they want to proceed.”

“If there are attempts to damage the equipment, remove it from the site, or other behaviors which are possible safety risks to the attendees, Police Services should be immediately contacted.”

The priorities of these preliminary measures are unfortunately client-centered which is often Evergreen’s administration or campus groups that are overseen by higher-ups. As EM is technically hired by each client group, the full time staff feel it is them whose consideration should be prioritized.

Events, however, should not be considered in terms of ownership but rather from a mentality of service; the student and community attendees are most frequently the people the events are being put on for. Attempting to sway the event to the sterile plan of the client’s intentions may not always be the most beneficial for the campus community.

This is a college, a place established for the education of students. Therefore, students should always be prioritized first. Disruptions, or at least the technical support of disruptions, should be considered from a student agenda and perspective.

Electronic Media student employees are concerned about student voices and the platforms the school creates and, depending on the course these guidelines take, potentially controls. A number of student staff have expressed that in the case of an event disruption, they will proceed with inaction with regards to audio amplification. While it is widely recognized that recording should be stopped during any kind of demonstration, they have made clear to their bosses that turning the faders down is not something they are comfortable with.

As both students and staff members of a central group on campus, they play a gatekeeping role when it comes to these questions. Is it the students’ job to attempt to help with de-escalation? Or is it appropriate for them to make personal decisions which could dramatically sway the efficacy of a demonstration?

Without clear guidelines for the student staff, which at present are yet to be disseminated, it leaves the students who run the PA systems with a decision to make: follow what is advised for the benefit of the client’s neutrality or allow things to proceed as unplanned. Needless to say, some students would not be comfortable making this decision while on the clock.

The full time staff have given student workers the option of considering themselves off-the-clock. This would of course be the case if student staff were to participate in a demonstration, start documenting with their personal cell phones, or otherwise commit themselves to actions that do not fall under their EM responsibilities. This state of being off-the-clock can be used by them to defer action with regards to shutting off microphones and speakers.

The students have expressed their discomfort both with the lack of an official protocol and with one that would effectively silence student voices.

As a student employee wrote in an email conversation between Peter Randlette, head of Electronic Media, and Greg Mullins, dean of the library, “These guidelines are a blueprint for how we, Electronic Media, The Evergreen State College, and really how our society chooses to engage with or silence social movements, resistance to fascism, and anti-racist work.”

The consequences of an insubstantial policy orient the school against the values, actions, and dialogue of the student body. EM full time staff do not want their student workers to be coerced into a role of de-escalation yet the line that states, “In the case of individuals simply taking over the stage, in general the PA should be turned off unless the clients are comfortable with [it],” would essentially be taking an action to that end.

These procedures are still being discussed among the EM staff and the administration. We’ll be sure to update you if any major changes come out of it.

While it’s always uncertain if a demonstration will go according to plan, if you are planning a disruption, its best always to be prepared. Bring a megaphone.