When Michael Moore finally arrived at the Del Mar Fairgrounds on October 12 to rail against a second term for President Bush, he promised to devote the ticket proceeds to scholarships for the biggest hell-raisers on the Cal State San Marcos campus.
The renegade documentarian (Fahrenheit 9/11) spoke to a crowd of some 10,000. He said he was still smarting from university president Karen S. Haynes's veto a month before of the use of Cal State San Marcos money to pay for the preelection visit. Her reason: there would be no balancing -- or pro-Bush -- voice represented, and too little time to find one before Election Day.
The veto overturned the student government's vote to use student activity fees to cover Moore's appearance. Student leaders raised money and brought him here anyway.
Eight days after the anti-Bush tent revival in Del Mar, just after midnight on October 20, Jason Edwin Williams, a 23-year-old communications major and star 400-meter hurdler, was pulled over by university police for allegedly running a stop sign at Campus Way and Campus View Drive, just up the hill from his room at the University Village dorm complex.
Williams had to wonder why he was being pulled over. He felt certain he had come to a full stop at the intersection. After all, he said, he had seen the police car parked nearby.
Williams also could not help wondering if his race -- he was one of fewer than 200 blacks among the more than 7000 students enrolled at the university -- had something to do with it.
Police searched his car, a 2001 tan Honda Civic, showed him a steak knife and an open bottle of rum they allegedly found inside, charged him with felony possession of a weapon on a college campus, and carted him off to the Vista jail.
He was released some 19 hours later, about 7:30 at night, on a $15,000 bond. On October 27, he entered a not guilty plea in Superior Court in Vista to a misdemeanor charge of weapons possession -- knocked down by prosecutors from a felony -- and to the infraction of an open bottle of alcohol in a vehicle. He faced a year in jail and a fine of as much as $3201.
Over the next week, he talked with friends and teachers about the incident. One, Sharon Elise, a sociology professor and African American who counted herself among those who had endured racism over the years at the campus, urged him to speak out. And on November 4, he did. He accused the police of racial profiling and wondered aloud if a "blue-eyed white" would have gotten the same treatment.
At a forum sponsored by the African American Faculty and Staff Association, Williams told a rapt audience that overflowed Academic Hall 102, one of the largest lecture halls on campus, that the evening had started out in celebration as he joined his parents and a klatch of cousins and uncles and aunts at a Red Lobster restaurant to fete his grandmother on her 75th birthday.
He said he had stopped at the stop sign. He also said that little if anything is visible through the windows of his car even in the daytime because they are darkly tinted. So how, he asked, could police have seen a bottle of Malibu rum through the back window at night? Police said they found the rum on the floor behind the passenger seat.
This justified a search, Williams said. He passed three field sobriety tests. He said he did not know that the bottle was in the car, that it probably had been left there by one of the cousins he'd shuttled about for the birthday party.
The search also yielded the knife from the open storage compartment on the driver's-side door -- an EverSharp steak knife with a 5H-inch blade affixed to a black handle. "I never once thought that having a kitchen knife -- a kitchen utensil, a steak knife -- in my car was against the law," Williams said.
He told the crowd that the police were wrong in reporting that he said he used the knife "for protection." Williams insisted that he never said any such thing. He said instead that the knife belonged to his mother, and he used it to pare apples and cut up other food he brought to campus.
Then he accused the police of brutalizing him. After putting him under arrest, Williams said, they patted him down, grabbing his right testicle so forcefully that he screamed. When they did it again on the left side, he said, "That's when I went ballistic."
"I speak the truth," Williams told the crowd. When he was done, after about 40 minutes, the audience rose to its feet and gave him a sustained ovation.
Asked at the time to respond, the university said race was not a factor in the incident and that police were "very confident" they had followed correct procedure.
The denials did not sit well with students.
On November 11, a Thursday morning, about 30 students marched across campus to deliver letters to the university police in protest of what they called racially motivated traffic stops and arrests. One letter called for police to make a formal apology and for people to pray for the police to change.
Jason Williams joined the crowd. As the route took them past his dorm room, he pointed out the cover of his compact disc, Tha Hurdlez, displayed in the window. A rap artist, Williams has been selling the albums for $10 apiece out of his backpack and the trunk of his car. He said he wants to convey a positive and uplifting message to his black contemporaries. "I feel that I'm the next Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the next Malcolm X," he said, "because I am a messenger."
On Monday, November 22, nearly 300 students walked out of class, descended on the plaza at the foot of University Hall, and denounced the campus police for alleged racial profiling. Scores fell to their knees and clasped their hands atop their heads in the posture of suspects about to be arrested.
One after another they took to a microphone in front of a banner that read, "Free Jason Williams. Touch one, touch all." The protesters called for an economic boycott of the campus, urging people to spend not a dime at such places as the Starbucks at the Kellogg Library across the way. They said the boycott should last until all the charges against Williams are dismissed.
"If one person does not have social justice," said student Heidi Doyle, "I should not have it." Noted Williams, "I am preparing to spend a year in the penitentiary."
Six days later, on November 28, university president Haynes asked distinguished writing and literature professor Susie Lan Cassel and former Cal State Fresno police chief Lynn Button to conduct an independent inquiry into the Williams case. She also indicated she would convene an in-house task force to examine the role of the police.
On November 30, the police went into damage control, holding their own public forum at the Clarke Field House to assure a skeptical crowd they would thoroughly investigate any formal complaints about officers in the department.
Four weeks later, on December 28, Williams filed a statement at the Vista Courthouse. In it, he swore that police had stopped him illegally, told him he did not "belong here," searched his car without his consent, roughed him up, and then falsified their arrest report.
By February 4, investigators Cassel and Button had completed their work. The university released 4 pages of what's thought to be a 25-page report. It concluded that in the Williams arrest, campus police had acted "within the policies and procedures established."
Nonetheless, the investigators called for a study of arrests by race, a community committee to oversee the police "to ward against race inequity," and the training of officers to be more sensitive to cultural diversity.
By early May, with graduation approaching at Cal State San Marcos, Michael Moore had still not been heard from as to his scholarship awards. Reminded of this by a reporter, Moore swiftly moved into action, put up a website inviting nominations, and declared, "It's not easy to take on the establishment, but when students do so for the right reasons, they should be rewarded."
On May 13, just two days before commencement, Moore announced the awards. He gave out six scholarships worth $15,000, tripling both the number of recipients and the amount of cash. Among the winners: Jason Edwin Williams, $2500 richer and now with the money he said he needs to finish college.
According to Moore, the student had "tirelessly pursued justice," battled racial profiling, and represented "exactly the type of student who belongs at CSUSM."
In a newspaper interview later, Williams said, "I stand for that citizen who is tired of being mistreated."
At the end of May, with the campus quiet and in between semesters, the in-house task force issued a report that urged the campus police to be more community oriented in their patrols. But it rejected the idea of forming a citizens' review board to oversee the department. Instead, the task force leaned toward forming a panel -- drawn from the region, the faculty, and the student body -- that would only offer the police advice. Williams's trial is scheduled to begin on September 2 at the Vista Courthouse.