Protest At UCI
What began as a protest of the UC Regents’ decision to raise student fees turned into an agitated rally versus police in riot helmets and the controversial arrest of a protester. Approximately 300 students and service workers gathered outside the Administration building on Ring Road to protest the UC-wide 32 percent fee increase last Tuesday, Nov. 24.
Signs read, “UC Education IC Exploitation,” while chants rang, “UCI you’re no good, treat your students like you should!”
Hu-Ling Malone, a UCI student with BSU, spoke of the brutality she witnessed at UCLA where 14 were arrested for “unlawful assembly.”
“The scene was terrifying,” Malone recalled.
UCIPD was also present at the UCLA protests on Nov 18 and 19 and had no comment regarding the UCIPD officers’ tactics there. Malone spoke to Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, Manuel Gomez after the protest when he explained his attempt to inform the protesters of his support.
Graduate student in comparative literature Emma Heaney drew cheers as she demanded Yudof resign his post and for Chancellor of UCI, Michael Drake, to come out and support the protesters.
But the entrance to the Administration building was blocked off by about a dozen UCIPD equipped with helmets, guns, batons, and tasers.
Despite this, the protesters were not discouraged. After speakers expressed their concerns and demands, the crowd proceeded in a school wide walkout.
Students joined the walkout as the crowd came around Ring Road. The crowd grew bigger as students from the Social Sciences quad stormed out gathering more followers as they made their way toward Physical Sciences. Classes came out to witness the protest as protesters went into classrooms to encourage students to walk out with the crowd chanting, “Join us!”
After a brief stop in the Physical Sciences quad, where the hardships of workers’ low wages were heard, the crowd made their way back to Ring Road, picking up more students from Humanities Instruction Building. The UCIPD patrolled behind the students as they proceeded around the campus.
Back at Aldrich Hall, the crowd demanded, “We want Drake!” But the police had erected barriers that would prevent students from getting through and formed a line in front of the Ring Road entrance of Aldrich Hall.
“We didn’t create this mess … so why is the blame on us?” asked Osama Shabaik, a member of the Muslim Student Union.
A few fired up speakers later, the protest seemed to be over and was to resume at the Science Library, but the crowd wanted Drake. They made their way to the west side entrance of the Administration building, which was open to the public.
As protestors crowded around the entrance and banged on the windows to let them in, police poured out of the doors.
John Bruning, a graduate student in Sociology and member of the Radical Student Union, had been with the protest since early in the day.
“They were letting some people in [to Aldrich Hall], so I grabbed the door handles. One of [the UCIPD officers] reached around the door and pepper sprayed me in the face,” Bruning said, recalling the officer’s next words as “I’m going to tase you if you don’t back off.”
The interview was cut short when UCIPD officers grabbed Bruning and took him up the service ramp toward Ring Road and through the police barricade in front of the Ring Road entrance to Aldrich Hall. Students quickly noticed and detached from the main protest in the service alley, following the officers and yelling at them to free Bruning as far as the barricade and looked inside as police handcuffed Bruning.
Edgar Dormitorio of the office of the Dean of Students and Rameen Talesh, interim assistant vice chancellor of the Dean of Students crossed the barricade to talk to students who remained outside calling for Bruning’s release.
Shortly after, Dennis Lopez of the Defend UCI Coalition came to the police barricade and informed students that service workers were coming to join students in solidarity.
“All students are demanding a public forum [with Chancellor Drake] … to address the police violence. We want a broad discussion about the future of UC,” Lopez said. “We will hold the university responsible for the mistreatment of John [Bruning].”
Bruning was released from the campus police station at 4:30 p.m. the same day and charged with vandalism and resisting arrest. His police report was not available at press time and his court hearing will be held on Jan. 26.
Eventually, two students were allowed into the building: Malone and a student named Ricardo, along with a reporter from The New University.
They met with Chancellor Drake’s Chief of Staff, Ramona Agrela, since Drake was not in. She did not promise a meeting with Drake, but told the students to email her about setting up a meeting in which five individuals could attend.
When Malone informed Agrela about the violent treatment of student protesters outside the building, Agrela responded, “I was not aware of that. We will definitely look into that.”
Malone also asked why unarmed protesters were met with such hostility to which Agrela claimed, “It was a precautionary principle.”
After Malone and Ricardo came back out to inform their fellow students of the meeting, their frustration only grew.
“These students are working very hard to get their feelings known. The next step needs to be directed at Sacramento where the issue really lies,” said Director of Media Relations at UCI, Cathy Lawhon.
Bruning believes he is a part of over 100 arrests this week due to UC protesting.
“I do not believe I have done anything illegal or unjustified. Even if I am prosecuted for these charges, I will never give up the struggle. They may beat us or jail us but they will never stop our movement,” Bruning said.
David Lumb contributed to this article.