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UC students and faculty members from across the state gathered on the UC Riverside campus last Thursday to protest during UC Board of Regents meeting, ultimately resulting in the arrest of two protesters including UCR art lecturer Kenneth Ehrlich.
As the meeting commenced inside the Highlander Union Building, demonstrators held a public forum outside, eventually migrating to Parking Lot 19 where campus police awaited them. Students uplifted metal barricades installed to separate them from law enforcement, pushing them against officers who shot pepper pellets — similar to paintballs — at the crowd and struck them with batons.
Ehrlich was arrested for assault on a police officer using a handheld sign, while protester Humberto Rivera was arrested for the same charge involving a metal barricade. Nine police officers sustained minor injuries while 11 crowd members were bruised by the pellets.
David Castillo, a UCR third-year sociology and law and society major, said students lifted the barricades as a defensive measure against police officers dressed in full riot gear when suspicion arose that the officers would resort to the same crowd-containing pepper spray procedures used at UC Davis in November.
“They had their tear gas canisters and people were like, ‘Oh wait, are they going to use that?’ and students were really scared that they were going to,” Castillo said. “I heard someone doing a mic check and they were asking for people to help out and use the barricades.”
Demonstrators assembled in Parking Lot 19, which was closed for the event, to await the departure of the convened regents. Once the meeting came to a close, however, board members were escorted into three large white vans while the majority of protesters remained removed from the scene, according to Castillo.
“They shut [the parking lot] off, so we assumed that was the only place they were going to leave from, but now we know it was a decoy,” Castillo said. “Lot 19 was a decoy. It was real slick, the way they left. They just had cops escort them out and they got into their cars and left.”
At the regents’ Nov. 28 meeting, Chairman of the Board Sherry Lansing said the board completely supports the students’ right to protest and would take steps toward better representation of student interests.
“We cannot change the past but we can change the way we act in the future,” Lansing said. “We regents share the passion and conviction of our students, we share your passion for the University of California and we want all of you to know that we fully and unequivocally support your right to protest peacefully.”
Over 100 UC police from various campuses, 50 deputies from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and 40 officers from the Riverside Police Department were present at the protests.
In the latest edition of his weekly letter to the student body released last Friday, UCR Chancellor Tim White said the protesters’ behavior eliminated the opportunity for regents and students to collaborate on improved funding schemes for the system.
“Their actions, while making a point to disrupt and while remaining nonviolent, nonetheless prevented others from listening to the discussion by denying public access to the remainder of the meeting,” White said in the letter. “I was disappointed by that, because it was an amazing opportunity for many, lost by the behavior of a few. These few protestors claimed victory for what was actually a loss.”
However, public access was originally denied by the board, who only allowed those participating in the public comment session to enter its meeting space.
Although Ehrlich is an active faculty member at UCR, Chancellor White referred to Ehrlich and Rivera as community members and did not mention Ehrlich’s connection to the university.
“[O]nly two individuals were booked for alleged felony assault of police officers,” White said. ”These two individuals were older men from Los Angeles and Corona … not UC students.”