UC Irvine to resume in-person classes Friday after police clear pro-Palestinian encampment

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Friday, May 17, 2024
UCI classes remote after police clear encampment; 50 arrested
Fifty people were arrested after police cleared a pro-Palestinian encampment on the UC Irvine campus Wednesday. Students and staff were informed classes will meet remotely Thursday.

IRVINE, Calif. (CNS) -- Classes were held remotely Thursday at UC Irvine following a tense day that saw hundreds of law enforcement officers descend on the campus to break up a pro-Palestinian encampment and occupation of a lecture hall in what Chancellor Howard Gillman called "a sad day for our university."

But in-person instruction was scheduled to resume Friday, and university officials said "all employees should return to work as normal."

According to the university, 50 people were arrested, mostly for failure to disperse after a direct police order. "A few" were arrested for trespassing. Most, if not all, were taken to jail, cited and then released. Of those arrested, 19 were not affiliated with the university, two were employees and 26 were students, according to UCI.

Police also cleared a Gaza Solidarity Encampment at the university Wednesday evening, more than two weeks after it was established.

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?"

Protesters surrounded the Physical Sciences Lecture Hall about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, prompting campus police to request aid from Orange County sheriff's deputies and Irvine police, among other neighboring agencies, said Tom Vasich, a university spokesman.

The university sent a message to students at 5:57 p.m. declaring, "Anyone currently in buildings in the vicinity of the protest are advised to exit buildings & leave area at this time. ... If able, please leave immediately & continue to avoid the protest area until further notice."

A large contingent of police and sheriff's deputies 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.

Some shoving between police and protesters was spotted as officers moved further into the encampment area and eventually started to remove some protesters.

UCI officials said a total of six people were injured - five officers and one protester.

Approximately 300 protesters remained at 7 p.m. By 8 p.m. protesters had been funneled by advancing police to Aldrich Park, a large green lawn area nearby. An announcement was made about 8:10 to disperse within five minutes.

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

By 8:33 p.m., police had cleared Aldrich Park and only a few lingering people remained on campus.

The people arrested during the operation were booked at the Orange County Jail and then were released, Vasich said.

Irvine Mayor Farrah N. Khan wrote on X: "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."

In response, Newport Beach Mayor Will O'Neill wrote: "Police officers from Newport Beach are currently in Irvine providing assistance at the request of a mutual aid call. Your careless wording makes it appear that you are preemptively accusing our officers, and officers from the many law enforcement agencies who responded, of violence."

The protest had been largely peaceful as the students have been negotiating with university officials.

The situation intensified over the past week, particularly after some protesting students received suspension notices from the university, including some who were involved in negotiations with UCI administrators.

In a statement posted on social media Wednesday, the UCI Divest protest group said it is "reclaiming the university for Palestine and for the people."

"Exactly one week ago to the day, UC Irvine issued temporary suspensions to many students in the encampment, including the majority of the student negotiation team," according to the group.

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.

"Students barred from returning to their own campus residence halls, cannot come to campus at the peak of midterms and finals, and are already facing the emotional toll of seeing the university militarize itself before it even accepts ending the genocide and killings of the students' family members friends."

Numerous tents were erected around the physical sciences building, and banners were hung from the building's balcony listing the group's demands for divestment. Some small skirmishes were visible on the outskirts of the encampment perimeter as at least one counter-protester tried to confront participants.

An unknown number of protesters also took positions inside the building, and video from the scene showed access doors secured with electrical cords -- which were quickly removed by police.

UCI Divest added in its statement that university officials have called for a resumption of negotiations with protesters, "but how can we negotiate if our negotiators are barred from physical and virtual presence at UCI?"

In a statement issued at 10:49 p.m., Gilman said, "At 2 p.m. on Wednesday, we, along with most other UC campuses, received the latest demands' from the protesters. The protesters orchestrated a swift departure from their encampment. In a coordinated fashion they moved out of the encampment to the Physical Sciences Lecture Hall, where a small group barricaded themselves in, supported by a large group of community members who had gathered for a scheduled rally."

"For the last two weeks, I have consistently communicated that the encampment violated our policies but that the actions did not rise to the level requiring police intervention. My approach was consistent with the guidelines of UC's Robinson/Edley Report, which urges the UC to exhaust all possible alternatives before resorting to police intervention.

"I was prepared to allow a peaceful encampment to exist on the campus without resorting to police intervention, even though the encampment violated our policies and the existence of the encampment was a matter of great distress to other members of our community. I communicated that if there were violations of our rules we would address them through the normal administrative policies of the university and not through police action."

"And so after weeks when the encampers assured our community that they were committed to maintaining a peaceful and nondisruptive encampment, 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. 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.

"I'm sorry this campus I love so much had to experience this terrible and avoidable situation. I remain steadfast in my commitment to protecting the rights of all members of our community to express whatever viewpoints they believe are essential for others to hear and engage. And I remain steadfast in my commitment to defend our faculty and students from efforts to prevent them from having the same rights of academic freedom and free speech as everyone else on this campus.

"My hope is that we can find our way to a culture of peace, mutual respect, and shared commitment to addressing our differences through the norms of scholarly inquiry and debate."

Some protesters who were arrested and led away complained to media at the campus that they had done nothing wrong and were involved in a peaceful protest. Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer issued a statement on social media noting that failure to disperse after police declare an unlawful assembly is a crime.

Spitzer said "the right to peaceful assembly is a constitutional right and we encourage protesters to exercise their right to peaceful assembly; however, criminal activity which transcends peaceful assembly, including violence and vandalism of any kind, will not be tolerated. Any evidence of criminal activity, including failure to obey lawful orders to disperse, will be investigated and thoroughly reviewed to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime was committed."

Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Don Wagner, a former Irvine mayor, praised law enforcement for their response to the unrest.

"I would urge the students to all stand down and respect the declaration from UCI that this is an unlawful assembly and go back to class," Wagner told City News Service. "I certainly hope nobody gets hurt. I would like to see this end quickly and peacefully, unlike what we saw at UCLA, and I'm watching to see what happens, but I understand and appreciate the Orange County Sheriff's Department's response and expect them to do it as gently and as professionally as possible."

Wagner said he did not have any "inside information" about what set-off the standoff, but he said if it was because some students negotiating with administrators were angry about being suspended, they should know, "You get free speech, but you don't get consequence-free speech."

Wagner said he has known Gillman "for 40-plus years, and I don't think he'd take this action lightly."

Supervisor Katrina Foley issued a statement saying, "I value the right to peacefully protest. However, we cannot enable the recent escalations, which include the disruption of classes and (vandalism) 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 protesters, and subsequently re-engage in negotiations with our students."

The University of California issued a statement April 26 noting that the system has "consistently opposed calls for boycott against and divestment from Israel. While the University affirms the right of our community members to express diverse viewpoints, a boycott of this sort impinges on the academic freedom of our students and faculty and the unfettered exchange of ideas on our campuses.

"UC tuition and fees are the primary funding sources for the University's core operations. None of these funds are used for investment purposes," the statement continued.