Students Protesting Napolitano Met With Police Aggression

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A group of over 80 students marched around campus on Monday to protest UC President Janet Napolitano during her visit to Irvine’s campus, but were met with aggression from police during their demonstration.

Students marched from the flagpoles to Donald Bren Hall (DBH) where Napolitano was set to have a meeting with administration. Representatives from different organizations including APSA (Asian Pacific Student Association), MEChA  (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán), MSU (Muslim Student Union), D.R.E.A.M.S. @ UCI, and the Orange County DREAM Team, graduate students, law students and many undergraduate students joined in this protest. Throughout the rally, students brought up many concerns about Napolitano’s appointment, including the record number of deportations during her time as head of Department of Homeland Security and commented on the fact that she receives a housing stipend of $10,000 while students struggle to pay tuition and workers struggle with pay cuts.

Nathan Duong | New University
Nathan Duong | New University

Demonstrators eventually convened on the first floor lobby of DBH as they began approaching the hallway where the room Napolitano was meeting was set to be in. When students attempted to enter the hallway, police officers began closing the doors on students and pushing them out of the doorway. Many students in the front of the group attempting to get through were met with hands of police physically shoving them back. Students claimed that police were pushing them back on their chests and that at least one student was struck by an officer while trying to cross the doorway.

“There were some police officers that were undercover and when we tried going in they blocked the door and started shoving and pushing us, punched one of us,” Lisa Lei, an organizer of today’s rally, said. “We asked for their badge numbers and names. We asked them to give us their exact orders to stop us from going to the class but they refused.”

 Eventually, the doors were opened, yet, police officers and administrators created a human barrier, blocking students from entering the other side of the hallway. Officers were continually recorded and questioned by students asking why they were not let through, yet administrators were. Multiple students took this time to speak out against the fact that they were being prohibited from speaking with the UC President. Demonstrators questioned why they were being treated this way by police and why Napolitano would not meet them or schedule an opportunity for students to voice their concerns in an open public forum.

As the demonstration continued, instructors and students began to make their way to class, but found that the hallway to enter their classroom was blocked by police officers. Those protesting lined the hallways to give space for students trying to get to class, however once they reached the doorway could not pass police officers.  Over a dozen students attempted to go to class, but were continually blocked by police officers from doing so. Ralliers began chanting “Let them go to class!” “Let them pass!” in hopes that officers would let students through, but to no avail. Shortly thereafter, the entire building was closed off and remained closed as of 4 p.m. on Monday.

Balmore Ruano | New University
Balmore Ruano | New University

UCI communications spokeswoman Cathy Lawhon gave a statement on the matter.

“There was some jostling and shoving as police acted to the secure the building. There were no injuries reported, and no one was arrested or detained. No weapons were used by UCI PD or students,” Lawhon said.

Only a handful of students from UCI were invited to meet with Napolitano today, including ASUCI President Nicole Hisatomi, AGS President Justin Chung, UC Student Regent and UCI Law student Cinthia Flores and some of the leaders from the Cross Cultural Center’s Umbrella Organizations. However, a representative from MEChA de UCI was denied admittance to the meeting and members of the undocumented community via D.R.E.A.M.S. @ UCI were not invited to meet with her. Those that were given the opportunity to meet with Napolitano were not informed of the meeting place until less than an hour before meeting time. Many speculated that this was a tactic to divert protesters.

UC Student Regent Cinthia Flores was present on scene today – though she did not see the police encounter itself, she was present for part of the rally and spoke about the students voicing their concerns.

“I think its completely unacceptable for police, administration, faculty, or any of the above to impose force on students while they are exercising their legitimate right to organize, to protest, to speech. I believe that this is incredibly concerning for me and I look forward to speaking to President Napolitano about enforcing different mechanisms of interaction between students and police enforcement and administration,” Flores said. “I believe that this is one of the requests that undocumented students highlighted, that there be more sensitive training for the interaction between police enforcement and undocumented students and I think that should be extended to all students, especially student activists.”

UCIPD was not available for comment.

More pictures of the protest can be found here: http://is.gd/0Is39d

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