40 Percent of Arrestees in UC Irvine Protest Had No Connection With School
40 Percent of Arrestees in UC Irvine Protest Had No Connection With School

By Rudy Blalock

Forty percent of arrestees in the Pro-Palestinian protest at the University of California–Irvine May 15 had no connection with the school, according to numbers released by authorities.

University spokesperson Tom Vasich confirmed to The Epoch Times 47 individuals were arrested—including 26 students, 2 employees, and 19 not affiliated with the institution—for disrupting university operations, failing to disperse, and trespassing. They were taken to the Orange County Jail, processed, and then cited and released.  

Classes were held remotely May 16 following the removal of a pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of California–Irvine the day before.

The encampment has been largely peaceful since it was formed two weeks ago, but protestors Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. took over the campus’s Physical Sciences Lecture Hall, disrupting classes and violating school policy, prompting school officials to call for the removal. 

“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,” UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman said in a statement Wednesday evening. 

Protesters of various ages and ethnicities were seen handcuffed and escorted to nearby police vehicles in a school parking lot, with some shouting “Free Palestine” while being removed. Some of those arrested were silent when asked questions by the media.

It is unclear how many protesters were affiliated with the university, which couldn’t be confirmed by UCI officials.  Chants including “the students, united, will never be defeated,” “we won’t move,” and  “free, free, free Palestine,” continued throughout the hour-long removal which began around 5 p.m. Police forming a barricade advanced on the encampment, grabbing and arresting protesters as police pushed forward.  

Some willingly stayed put as officers approached and arrested them without incident while others were captured forcefully, with several seen throwing water bottles and objects at the advancing police formation. 

About 300 protesters remained as of 7 p.m. after being backed up by police into the campus’s Aldrich Park. At around 8:10 p.m., police announced those remaining had 5 minutes to disperse or be arrested, with most leaving after the warning. 

A female voice from the demonstrators could be heard asking protesters to leave and return another day.  

Recent suspension notices for some UC Irvine students, including some who were engaged in negotiations with university officials, allegedly led to the science building takeover. 

Police move to break up a pro-Palestinian protest at the University of California–Irvine in Irvine, Calif., on May 15, 2024. (Rudy Blalock/The Epoch Times)
Law enforcement officers arrest a person during a pro-Palestinian protest at the University of California–Irvine in Irvine, Calif., on May 15, 2024. (May He/The Epoch Times)

A social media post with the handle “UCI Divest” said it was “reclaiming the university for Palestine and for the people.” 

The group said May 8 the university had issued temporary suspensions to many students in the encampment, including those in the negotiation team. 

“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 and friends,” they said in a statement. 

The group noted that the university had agreed to continue negotiations but moved forward with suspensions. 

“How can we negotiate if our negotiators are barred from physical and virtual presence at UCI?” they argued in the statement. 

University of California–Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman presided over the groundbreaking ceremony for a new medical complex, which is located on campus in Irvine, Calif., on Nov. 15, 2021. (Courtesy of Steve Zylius)

Mr. Gillman, the school’s chancellor, said the protesters demanded they oversee much of the university’s operations related to administration, faculty, students, and staff, and bypass campus protocols, which, he said, couldn’t be tolerated. 

“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,” he said in his statement. 

Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan in a post on X ridiculed the response by police, mentioning that “it’s a shame that peaceful free speech protests are always responded to with violence.”

She argued that students and protesters “taking space on campus or in a building is not a threat to anyone,” and advised UC Irvine to take every precaution to prevent violence from erupting on campus.

Mayor of Irvine Farrah Khan speaks at Irvine City Hall on Nov. 15, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

In response to Ms. Khan’s post, Newport Beach Mayor Will O’Neill fired back on X and called her comments unworthy of a mayor.

“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. If that’s what you meant, then your message is beneath the office of Mayor.  If it is not, then clarify immediately,” his post reads.

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer acknowledged the right to peacefully protest but any criminal activity beyond that, he said, would not be allowed. 

“Criminal activity which transcends peaceful assembly, including violence and vandalism of any kind, will not be tolerated,” he said in a statement on social media. 

Students at the University of California–Irvine protest against the Israel-Hamas conflict in Irvine, Calif., on May 2, 2024. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Aftermath of the Pro-Palestinian protest at the University of California–Irvine in Irvine, Calif., on May 15, 2024. (May He/The Epoch Times)

Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Don Wagner, a former mayor of Irvine, commended the response by law enforcement. 

“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,” he said Wednesday. 

Supervisor Katrina Foley agreed. 

“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,” she said. 

In a statement last month, University of California officials said they oppose any boycott of divestment from Israel, and that asking for such “impinges on the academic freedom of our students and faculty and the unfettered exchange of ideas on our campuses.” 

They noted “UC tuition and fees are the primary funding sources for the University’s core operations. None of these funds are used for investment purposes,” they said.

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