University of California Riverside students gathered to protest a UC Regents meeting on January 19. They gathered to demand that the Regents stop raising fees, supporting layoffs and passing budget cuts. They organized to defend public education. But, their presence was met with a significant show of force from police clad in riot gear, especially later in the afternoon. The presence of riot police escalated the situation and ultimately led to at least one officer firing paint-filled bullets into a crowd of students.
UC Rebel Radio, an alternative source of news and entertainment produced by students, faculty and staff, reported:
…[A]t around 3:30 p.m. the students were notified by scouts that the police were gathering in the back to make way for the exit of the Regents. Students split their ranks and took both exits, but no Regents were seen. At 4:30 p.m. (give or take) the Riverside Police Department sent in re-enforcements and the police line started their push back on the back side of the HUB building next to the parking lot.
The students realized the riot police were going to move on them and they tried to get everyone to sit down. Seconds after, paint-filled bullets were fired.
A video posted by TheNand311 shows police in riot gear at about the 3-minute mark pushing and shoving students with batons. Then, students scream twenty seconds or so later. The firing of paint-filled bullets can be heard along with more screaming. Then there are shouts of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” And finally cries of, “Medic! Medic! Medic!” as a body of a student is carried out of the crowd.
Another video posted by alborz101 shows police coming by the front line of protesters and bellowing in their storm trooper voices, “Move! Move! Move!” A trooper can then be seen swinging his baton at protesters. He clears the area around him and seems to back away. Students are then seen holding up a barricade (which they claimed was in self-defense from police moving in with batons). At about the 1-minute mark, an officer is seen pointing his gun and pepper bullets start going off. There are screams. Some of the protesters fall back from the line of police.
The student hit with paint-filled bullets is not critically injured. He is just traumatized significantly from the police violence that hurt him. And where he was hit can be seen as there are red spots on his pants.
The Press-Enterprise reported on what happened inside the UC Regents meeting prior to the paint-filled bullets being fired.
…[A]ctivists dislodged the regents from their meeting room by initiating a boisterous sit-in. The tactic delayed the meeting for a little more than an hour and prompted the regents to expel most of the public from the remainder of the day’s proceedings…
…Additional officers from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and Riverside Police Department — nearly 100 of them — began pouring into the campus in early afternoon to help out the 100 UC police officers already on scene.
By mid-afternoon, after the regents had adjourned, the protestors had moved to the north side of the campus, occupying a short street and preventing some officials from leaving the university. During a move by police to cordon off an area near a loading dock, a swarm of officers pushed one protestor to the ground, dragged him away and handcuffed him…
In total, two were arrested for “felony assaults” on officers. One was accused of “hitting an officer with a handheld sign.” Another was accused of “hitting an officer with a metal barricade.” A woman was detained and relased.
Students, some with “Occupy Riverside,” mic-checked the meeting. One shouted, “We the students ask that the regents open their meeting to a public forum.” They listed off “concerns, linked arms and sat back-to-back in a line on the floor.” The Regents were urged to join a “people’s assembly.” But, of course, most UC officials simply left the room.
The brutality was not as intense or severe as the brutality of Lt. John Pike, who unleashed pepper spray right into the eyes of students peacefully sitting on the ground at UC Davis in November of last year. But, like most demonstrations where riot police forces appear, the presence of more than a hundred police escalated the protest. Students would likely have not grabbed barricades if riot police were not lining up in military-style formations around them.
At the most, students were angry but certainly not intent on harming any of the Regents or school officials that were making education more expensive and also firing a tenured professor. They were there to engage in the right to assemble and, perhaps, make the Regents uncomfortable and disrupt their ability to conduct business as usual.
The UC Regents should be able to conduct a meeting without interruption, but that ability depends on whether those, whom are going to be most impacted by their decisions, consent to the decisions that will ultimately be made. It depends on the legitimacy of the body that will be making decisions, and the Regents are clearly a group of university heads that have been and are losing legitimacy by the day.
A UCR Task Force has tried to clamp down and restrict assemblies and students’ rights to speech and expression on campus.
So long as students perceive the Regents’ decisions to be about protecting the continuity of the institution that is the University of California instead of what’s best for students and younger people—who may some day attend a University of California school, these protests will continue to happen.
For Firedoglake’s Occupy movement live blog, click here.