Editor’s Note: February 2005 marks the 35th anniversary of student protests that rocked the UCSB campus in 1970. In reaction to the firing of professor Bill Allen and the expanding war in Vietnam, rioting students burned down the Isla Vista Bank of America on Feb. 25, 1970. The third of four parts, this series looks back on the’69-70 year in UCSB history.
Nearly two months after rioting students burned down the Bank of America on Embarcadero Del Norte, UCSB students like 22-year-old Kevin Patrick Moran – who opposed the violence – found themselves defending the reconstructed bank during Isla Vista’s second full-scale riot on April 17, 1970.
Student tensions flared again after UCSB and Santa Barbara County officials denied “Yippie!” activist and “Chicago Seven” defendant Jerry Rubin a permit to speak on the UCSB campus. Citing the massive student unrest that followed an on-campus speech by “Chicago Seven” attorney William Kunstler – the afternoon before the bank burned down on Feb. 25 – university officials said their denial stemmed from a concern for student safety and the community’s well being.
Transmitting live during the late hours of April 17, reporters in the field from campus radio station KCSB described the events immediately preceding Moran’s shooting death.
KCSB reporter 1: I repeat, two men ran through the broken glass doors of the Bank of America and attempted to stomp out the fires with their coats. Now we have a much bigger group in front of the Bank of America, some attempting to put out the fire, some attempting to keep it going.
KCSB reporter 2: There is someone apparently still inside the bank, someone in there trying to beat out the flames. It looks like the bank has just gone dark; possibly that person has succeeded…
The second reporter describes a group of four or five people he sees standing on the bank’s porch, one holding a water bucket, whom he said helped put out the fire. The broadcast then switches back to the first reporter, who attempts to describe the scene until police arrive.
KCSB reporter 1: If I can draw a conjecture, apparently, those who are attempting to start the bank on fire – uh oh, uh, we’re having tear gas apparently coming toward this area. We’re going to have to leave. We’ll report later… [transmission ends].
A programmer at the station apologizes for technical difficulties and switches to the other reporter holed up in a restaurant near the bank.
KCSB reporter 2: You can hear the gas canisters going off in the background. It seems that the police moved in – uh, there’s a very dense cloud of gas going by this window right now. It appears that the police – [coughing]. It appears that the police… [coughing].
Overcome by tear gas, the reporter hands off the phone to a third KCSB employee.
KCSB reporter 3: Hello. The police have pulled into the Bank of America parking lot. They have laid down quite a large cloud of gas. The whole crowd outside is scattered. There’s a few people inside here now, but the police are in the Bank of America parking lot and are effectively surrounding the building. I cannot see from here exactly what’s going on and I probably couldn’t see anyway because of the gas coming in through cracks around the door, which is very bad, but as far as we can tell, the police moved in very quickly. We have no idea where they came from…
Early the next morning, in violation of federal law, police ordered KCSB off the air for several hours for revealing law enforcement movements in real time, allegedly hampering the Sheriff’s Dept.’s ability to control the situation.
Arriving in half a dozen armored dump trucks, police in gas masks and riot gear deployed around the bank. In the confusion of tear gas explosions, an officer’s rifle accidentally discharged. Ricocheting off the bank’s porch – where the small group that had extinguished the fire was standing – a bullet fragment entered Moran’s stomach, mortally wounding him.
Police would initially claim that sniper fire felled Moran. However, a Sheriff’s Dept. investigation showed that a police officer’s gun – which had a faulty safety switch – accidentally discharged at about the same time Moran was hit. There was no evidence to suggest the presence of snipers, and ballistics tests showed the bullet fragment came from a police weapon. The Sheriff’s Dept. immediately removed the officer, David Gosselin, from duty, but he was later exonerated of wrongdoing.
“It’s an accident in that Kevin Moran was up there trying to protect the bank from others, rather than trying to burn it, but these police had loaded guns,” said UCSB sociology professor Richard Flacks, who wrote a book about participants in the I.V. riots and spent his first year on campus during the 1969-70 term.
Flacks said the situation at Kent State, in which National Guard soldiers shot four unarmed students to death in May 1970, was similar to what occurred in I.V. only one month prior, and was emblematic of why students and police mistrusted each other to such an extreme degree.
“Those who were in charge of instructing the police in many parts of the county in the ’60s had the most stereotypic view of the protesters as mindless animals or something,” Flacks said. “And that was fed to the police, who when they felt themselves in danger, would then rely on these stereotypes as justification for very repressive attacks.”
In June 1970, police officers from a special unit of the Los Angeles Police Dept. assisted Santa Barbara police in savagely breaking up a peaceful sit-in strike at Perfect Park in I.V. According to accounts published in the Santa Barbara News-Press, after police dragged away and arrested more than 300 of the demonstrators on June 10, they doused the rest of the crowd with pepper spray from a hose mounted on a truck and charged the seated protesters with their batons. Complaints of police brutality from the two previous I.V. riots and the third sit-down protest in Perfect Park numbered in the hundreds, according to reports documented by El Gaucho.
Rational people in positions of authority today have learned from the 1960s, Flacks said, in that they know not to “…construct the world in that kind of dire, stereotypic, polarized fashion.”
“There are far better ways [to control crowds] than to arm people and shoot unarmed people,” he said.
From Real Guns to Water Guns
Between Moran’s death and President Nixon’s announcement in late April 1970 that he had expanded the Vietnam War to include targets in Cambodia, Doug Hewitt said the atmosphere at school was extremely tense. Hewitt, a UCSB freshman in 1970, said helicopters constantly flew over the campus, and students were forbidden to walk in groups of more than two or three. Any group larger than that would be considered an illegal assembly, he said.
“You would go to class and every single class would have a bomb threat,” Hewitt said. “They would say, ‘OK, we have a bomb threat. If you want to stay for class, you can. If you don’t, you don’t have to.'”
To decrease tension, Hewitt said, university staff organized a massive pillow fight near the residence halls and a squirt gun fight that spanned across the entire campus. The water fight culminated in a mock “die in,” where students lied down in front of Cheadle Hall and pretended to be dead as a protest against the recent expansion of the war in Vietnam.
“The water fight was really interesting,” Hewitt said. “Everybody was so tense that it turned out to be this two-day water fight [with] squirt guns [and] water balloons.
Hewitt said he thought the water fight went further than organizers anticipated, but the anti-authority sentiment on campus made them afraid to restrict the student’s activities.
“The carpets were soaked in the dorm halls,” he said. “Nobody stopped it. Nobody said, ‘Don’t do that,’ because the tension was so high.”