Hundreds of protesters organized by the Occupy movement, Free UCR Alliance, Associated Students of UC Riverside (ASUCR) and other groups gathered for two days of demonstrations during the UC Board of Regents meetings held at UC Riverside. The protest activities, prompted by the increasing cost of a UC education, reached a crescendo on Thursday afternoon when protesters and police officers clashed outside of the Highlander Union Building (HUB). Two protesters were arrested during a brief confrontation that involved the use of police force, including batons and plastic pellets that were fired at protesters. Thursday’s violent incidents stood in stark contrast to the seemingly subdued demonstrations held on Wednesday.
Given the previously scheduled activities of groups such as Occupy UC Riverside and the Free UCR Alliance, the events that unfolded on Thursday appear largely spontaneous in nature; the two groups had merely referenced “open mic” sessions and a “rally” to take place outside of the HUB. The aforementioned activities indeed characterized the majority of Thursday morning until approximately 11:30 a.m. The initial gathering of protesters, who assembled at the base of the stairs on the southern section of the HUB beside Costo Hall, had maintained an appreciable distance from the police officers who stood atop the stairs. By 12:20 p.m. however, the protesters had advanced to the point where they stood within a few feet of police who were equipped with riot gear.
“There was an amazing sense of connection. Students and faculty members were there because they want to know and have a right to learn, support, educate and speak out about the choices the regents make,” stated third-year UC Riverside student Sarah Yu, who stood in a crowd of hundreds of students, activists and concerned members from across the state.
For the next two hours, tensions flared as demonstrators urged crowd members to hold their ground in amidst warnings by Lieutenant Day of the UC Police Department that protesters cease moving forward.
Chants of “Let us in! Let us in!” filled the air as countless speakers utilizing the “human mic” technique denounced the regents and voiced their dismay with the state of public education. Previous announcements from both speakers and Lt. Day began to take on a much more grave tone; police warnings against moving closer to the police line were replaced with threats of police force, ultimately leading to a declaration that the protest was an unlawful assembly and that arrests would be made if the crowd failed to disperse. Meanwhile, the protesters informed their peers that a pepper-spray station was situated nearby and that sections of the crowd should re-locate to other exits of the HUB in order to intercept exiting UC regent members.
Chants of “Show me what a police state looks like, this is what a police state looks like,” were shouted as rumors of police reinforcements began to be dispersed among the crowd. A widely held belief among numerous protesters was voiced when a speaker stated, “They said UC Riverside couldn’t protest. We were the only school that couldn’t protest, that’s why they held [the UC regent meeting] here.”
At approximately 1:20 p.m., UC Student Alfredo Mireles Jr. could be seen among the crowd of protesters. “I never want to see violence from any side. One thing I think that makes the student movement especially powerful, as we saw at Davis and Berkeley, is their commitment to nonviolence. I just hope UC Riverside students can continue that commitment because we lose the moral high ground if we are violent to the police,” stated Mireles in an interview when informed of the unfolding situation.
By 2:15 p.m. most of the crowd had dispersed and reconvened in the northern portion of the HUB and along North Campus Drive. Upon hearing word that the regents would be leaving the campus, demonstrators surrounded vehicles and aligned themselves in front of approximately 30 UC police officers guarding the rear exit of the HUB.
The arrival of nearly 40 officers from Riverside Police and 50 deputies from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in riot gear, however, prompted further dismay and anger among the demonstrators; when the officers began walking toward the crowd, protesters responded by dragging metal barricades in front of the officers. The increased activity of protesters, coupled with the decision of some protesters to lift a portion of the barricade and move it towards the police officers marked a turning point in the confrontation; police officers could be seen using their batons to strike protesters while other utilized guns that deploy rubber pellets and pepper balls. At least one individual was dragged away from the crowd and arrested during this confrontation. UC Riverside Chancellor White specifically addressed the arrested individuals in his weekly Friday letter, noting that both men were not UC students.
The usage of the metal barricade was the source of particular controversy due to uncertainty as to the intent of those carrying the barricade toward the line of officers. While UC Riverside Police Chief Michael Lane has stated that the approaching barricade posed an immediate threat to the officers, other protesters insist that the barricade was never intended to be used as a weapon. UC Riverside student and protesters Grady Phillips noted that barricade was simply intended to be placed as a barrier between the protesters–especially those that were sitting down–and the police officers.
UCLA student Lee Rogers and his friend Anthony Lascano were among those that were shot with pepper balls. In an interview with the Highlander, Rogers stated that he had been shot five times and that Lascano was shot twice. “It’s just sad that we’re just sitting there, we were doing a peaceful protest and [the police officers] have to take action in such a violent way,” stated UC Riverside student Jessica Urquidez. Chief Lane, however, offered a different sentiment, stating that the use of force was necessary to “protect a fellow officer from getting seriously injured…We tried to be patient and restrained. In a difficult situation the officers did a great job when they faced that kind of active aggression,” published in a Press-Enterprise article. Lane’s opinion is also shared by students who did not believe that the protesters had been peaceful. “If the police weren’t there and the regents were left on their own, you think that would have turned out more peacefully? I really doubt that,” concluded a student who requested to remain anonymous. Lane confirmed that nine UC police officers sustained minor injuries, although the number of injuries of protesters is unknown.
Meanwhile, the presence of a large portion of demonstrators in a single area provided an opportunity for the police officers to escort the remaining regents out of campus. “We had planned to take the Regents out of the rear loading dock area, but that was blocked. So we took them to the second floor of the Highlander Union Building, through Costo Hall, and into three vans,” explained Lane in a UC Riverside Newsroom article. Nonetheless, the exiting regents faced the screams and taunting of protesters. “Shame on you Yudof,” and, “I want my money back,” were among the statements yelled by protesters as President Mark Yudof, UC chancellors and other regents walked toward their vans. Dozens of police officers ran alongside the vans to ensure that the vehicles were able to exit the campus.