The windows of the Covel Commons building pounded in sync with the impassioned chanting of the crowd. Inside, 26 individuals pondered a decision that will deeply impact the lives of over two hundred thousand students in the UC system. The indirect results of the decision may ultimately affect millions of Californians.
Over 300 students, workers, faculty and community members converged in solidarity at the entrance of Covel Commons on the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) campus yesterday to make one last stand against UC Regents proposed 32 percent fee hikes. To keep the crowd from forcing entry into the Regents meeting taking place inside, UC Police Department had a strong presence in the course of events. In a police clash with the crowd, batons and Tasers were used leading to several student injuries. Fourteen arrests were made.
Imari Thomas, a third-year UCLA student, was among those arrested.
“All of us who got arrested had totally clean records, we were willing to get a police record to show the regents how serious we are,” Thomas said.
The 14 students were arrested in two phases, after they stood singing “We Shall Overcome” with linked arms. The first group was cited with Penal Code Section 409, or failure to disperse from a space deemed unlawful. The second group was cited with disturbing the peace. Both groups were later released.
Officers, who were previously providing support in the arrests during the Committee of Finance, ran down the four flights of stairs geared up in the lobby with Tasers, helmets with facemasks, and some with compressed paintball guns.
Chants of “Whose university?” were answered with a resounding “Our university!” by seas of people hoping to make their voices heard to the administrators inside of the building.
An oval barricade of fencing supported by officers equipped with riot gear who stood on the inside kept protestors from entering the building. As the time to make a final decision neared, the crowed pushed and began throwing various objects, including plastic bags filled with vinegar soaked bandanas, hot dogs, carrots, and their declarative signs.
Because students were no longer being admitted to the public session riotous activity broke out.
“When students realized that they were starting the vote and they weren’t letting students in, some students made a decision to force their way in,” said Richard Stevenson, a fifth-year UCLA student who was hit with a baton on his arm and in the chest several times, leaving a mark on his arm. “It was not the initial intent, but a reaction.”
A few students made it to the doors and were among those who felt the hand, or rather baton, of the law.
“It wasn’t pleasant,” said Stevenson of the baton usage. “But everybody was so into it, and we knew what we wanted to do, we wanted to be inside.”
Another fifth-year UCLA student, King Adjei-Frimpong, who was observing the chaos from planter boxes situated near the front of the Covel Building, described how once the batons were out, Tasering broke out as well.
“One officer had malice on his face, aimed his Taser, and went at it,” he said. To push back the imposing crowd, officers struck the individuals pushing on the barricades with batons. A number of officers stretched over the barricades, extending their Tasers to hit a few students. Some officers threw the items back at the crowd. Adjei-Frimpong stated that the girl next to him was hit in the face with a can of soda.
UC President Mark Yudof, expressed his support for the protests.
“I regret any violence, people have the right in a democracy to express their opinions,” said UC president Mark Yudof. “I don’t have any problem [with the protests].”
Soon after, officers outside announced that the protest was as of that time in violation of California law, and threatened arrest for anyone who did not disperse within five minutes.
Student organizers encouraged the group to move to a different side of the building, away from the entrance. In the new location several student and union leaders spoke out encouraging those present to continue the fight through the night and the following day, when the Regents would make the final vote on the fee increase.
People of all ages from all over the state held picket signs with messages such as “Debt: My Grad Present,” “Education, not Incarceration” and “Last generation college student” made visible above the bobbing heads of the crowd.
“My daughter won’t be able to attend a UC if this [fee increase] passes,” said Evangelina Nevarez, a representative of the American Federation of State, City and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union who attended the action.
Cindy Amobi, a third-year journalism student at UC Irvine, felt a personal motivation to oppose the fee hikes.
“I can’t afford to pay for school anymore,” she said.
UCLA fourth-year Spencer Soo attended the protest even though he will be graduating this year.
“I’m doing it for future students,” he said.
Shahida Bawa, Internal Vice President for Undergraduates at UCLA, addressed the crowd.
“We want to be able to support the student regent, who was the sole negative vote [on Wednesday’s fee vote]. This will allow students to see that this is a struggle across the state,” she said.
Although the UC community has predicted that the fee increase will pass regardless of student actions, many students felt that this was no reason to stop voicing their opinions.
“Even though they pretty much already decided on the vote, it’s important to still come and show our displeasure,” Cindy Amobi said.
Brian Malone, a Graduate Student in literature from UC Santa Cruz who traveled to UCLA yesterday, hoped that the protest would influence the bigger picture, if not the Regent’s actual vote.
“At a certain point, whether the Regents pass it or not, they’re supposed to be voting with our consent — when it becomes apparent that they are acting without our consent, they lose legitimacy with the citizens of California, and even with the state legislature, which does have some power over the Regents,” he said.
Victor Sanchez, the president of the UC student association and fourth-year student at UC Santa Cruz, was disappointed that a speech he gave on behalf of students, and the student presence outside, didn’t seem to affect the Regents when they voted to move forward the fee measure yesterday.
“For them it’s practical on paper, but for us it’s a real life experience,” he said.
Thousands more individuals gathering in protest of the decision have been predicted to arrive at UCLA today.