Several protesters arrested at UC Irvine as authorities clear pro-Palestinian encampment

Thursday, May 16, 2024
Several arrested at UCI as police clear pro-Palestinian encampment
Several people were arrested Wednesday at UC Irvine as a pro-Palestinian protest took a tense turn, prompting a massive response from law enforcement.

IRVINE, Calif. (KABC) -- Several people were arrested Wednesday at UC Irvine as a pro-Palestinian protest took a tense turn, prompting a massive response from law enforcement.

The protesters began rallying around the Physical Sciences Lecture Hall around 2:30 p.m. where an encampment - much like the ones seen at college campuses across the country - has been in place for weeks.

The demonstrators - who are demanding the university divest from Israel over the Hamas war - began blocking the entrance to the building, stacking tents on top of each other as a makeshift barricade.

Hundreds of police officers and sheriff's deputies in riot gear descended on the campus and began arresting protesters and dismantling the encampment by early evening after declaring an unlawful assembly and ordering the crowd to disperse. The number of arrests is unknown during the active situation.

AIR7 HD was above the scene and captured hundreds of officers and deputies in riot gear as they confronted protesters, prompting a tense moment between the two groups.

For most of the afternoon into the evening, the situation seemed tense but there were no drastic moments of violence between the two sides. One woman who was detained by police said she's a professor in the global studies department.

"We cannot have a genocidal foreign policy in a democracy," she said. "These young people are going to be the ones that have to pay the price for these horrible decisions."

When asked if she was concerned about her actions possibly jeopardizing her job, she responded saying, "What job do I have if the students don't have a future?"

Classes for the remainder of the day were canceled and school officials urged anyone in the immediate area to evacuate until further notice.

Tensions at the University of California, Irvine campus escalated Wednesday as a group of several hundred pro-Palestinian protesters entered a lecture hall and surrounded the building, according to school officials.

"Anyone currently in buildings in the vicinity of the protest are advised to exit buildings & leave area at this time," UC Irvine wrote in an update on X. "Please disregard all previous orders to shelter in place. If able, please leave immediately & continue to avoid the protest area until further notice."

Chancellor addresses protesters: "I devoted all of my energies to prevent this from happening"

In a late night statement released by UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman, he directly addressed the protesters, saying "it was terrible to see that they would dramatically alter the situation in a way that was a direct assault on the rights of other students and the university mission."

"The latest campus-specific and systemwide demands made by our encampers and their counterparts across the University of California attempted to dictate that anyone who disagreed with them must conform to their opinions," said Gillman. "They asserted the right to oversee many elements of university operations involving the administration, faculty, students, and staff, bypassing customary campus protocols and ignoring the function of the Academic Senate.

Most importantly, their assault on the academic freedom rights of our faculty and the free speech rights of faculty and students was appalling. One can only imagine the response if people on the other side of these issues established an encampment to force me to censor all anti-Zionist academic and student programming.

But my concern now is not the unreasonableness of their demands. It is their decision to transform a manageable situation that did not have to involve police into a situation that required a different response. I never wanted that. I devoted all of my energies to prevent this from happening."

Local leaders speak out

As the situation unfolded through the afternoon, several Orange County leaders took to social media to share their thoughts, pushing for peaceful protests.

Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan took to X and said, "It's a shame that peaceful free speech protests are always responded to with violence. Taking space on campus or in a building is not a threat to anyone. UCI leadership must do everything they can to avoid creating a violent scenario here. These are your students w/ zero weapons."

Meanwhile, Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley released a statement, saying "we cannot enable the recent escalations which include the disruption of classes and vandalization of campus property."

"UCI is a place of learning, research, and free expression. Maintaining this requires the situation surrounding these protests to remain peaceful. I reached out to the Chancellor to encourage the administration practice restraint, peacefully disperse the protestors, and subsequently re-engage in negotiations with our students."

Students stand by their efforts

Wednesday's unrest comes amid weeks of protests breaking out at universities across the country, calling for institutions to divest from companies that financially support Israel.

On Tuesday, UC Chief Investment Officer Jagdeep Singh Bachher announced that investments from companies that students are targeting in their call for divestment represent $32 billion, which is nearly one-fifth, of the UC system's overall assets.

Last month, the University of California president said the institutions would not boycott or divest from Israel.

ABC News contributed to this report.