Law enforcement detains at least a dozen protesters at University of California, Irvine, as they clear encampment

Police detained at least a dozen pro-Palestinian demonstrators at the University of California, Irvine, as they cleared an encampment in front of a lecture hall on Wednesday.

“A group of several hundred protestors entered the UC Irvine campus and began surrounding” the school’s Physical Sciences Lecture Hall at around 2:30 p.m., the university said in an emergency update. The university put out a mutual aid call to local law enforcement and received assistance from the Irvine Police Department and Orange County Sheriff’s Department, it said.

The protesters moved “in a coordinated fashion … out of the encampment to the Physical Sciences Lecture Hall, where a small group barricaded themselves in, supported by a large group of community members who had gathered for a scheduled rally,” said Chancellor Howard Gillman in a statement after the police action.

“What a sad day for our university. I’m brokenhearted,” Gillman said. “After weeks when the encampers assured our community that they were committed to maintaining a peaceful and nondisruptive encampment, it was terrible to see that they would dramatically alter the situation in a way that was a direct assault on the rights of other students and the university mission.”

Authorities cleared what looked like at least half of student protesters at the encampment, aerial footage from CNN affiliate KABC showed. At least a dozen people were seen being detained in the video. Law enforcement used zip ties to restrain protesters and escorted them away from the encampment toward a parking lot.

It’s unclear exactly how many people were detained during the incident. CNN has reached out to the Irvine Police Department, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and UC Irvine to confirm the number of protesters who were detained.

Law enforcement started breaking up the encampment at the university shortly after 5:10 p.m. Wednesday, aerials show. The aerial footage shows a large cluster of police officers surrounding the group of tents outside the hall as they face a line of several protesters, and a number of protesters can be seen getting detained.

Protesters seemingly attempted to reestablish a barrier taken down earlier by law enforcement by piling wood panels and tents on top of one another. Live pictures from KABC show law enforcement dismantling these structures.

A sign on the building behind the encampment says “UC Divest from genocide” and another under it appears to say “drop suspensions defend students.” A large sign hung next to those on the building reads “Alex Odeh Hall,” seemingly referencing the Palestinian activist who served as the West Coast regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

The majority of the protesters have dispersed from their encampment, but a small group of people remained scattered in a grassy area nearby, footage from KABC and KCAL show.

“Protest activity continues in the Physical Science Quad and Aldrich Park areas,” the university said. “Please avoid the area until further notice.”

Classes were canceled for the remainder of the day Wednesday and the university urged people to stay away from campus, according to the emergency update. The university initially asked anyone in the area to shelter in place, but later said they should leave the area.

Classes will be held remotely Thursday, the university said in an emergency update.

Police detain a pro-Palestinian demonstrator as they clear an encampment after protesters surrounded the Physical Sciences Lecture Hall at the University of California, Irvine, Wednesday. - Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images
Police detain a pro-Palestinian demonstrator as they clear an encampment after protesters surrounded the Physical Sciences Lecture Hall at the University of California, Irvine, Wednesday. - Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

Pro-Palestinian protesters had established an encampment on the campus on April 29. That day, the university called in local law enforcement officials to assist campus police with the protest.

Days later, Gillman said in a statement to the campus community that the university would continue to negotiate with pro-Palestinian demonstrators on campus over issues of divestment. Student protesters opposing Israel’s military action in Gaza have largely demanded their universities sell investments in companies with financial ties to Israel.

The university presented a proposal to student leaders and received a counterproposal in early May. Gillman expressed concerns over some of the requests included in the counterproposal, according to the statement.

“The counterproposal calls for ending numerous external partnerships that support our students through scholarships and facilitate long-standing research collaborations,” Gillman said. “It also demands an end to a wide-range of academic and research collaborations with Israeli organizations and individuals. This would violate fundamental principles of academic freedom and would require us to discriminate based on a person’s nationality, which goes against our commitment to anti-discrimination and our principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

In the statement, Gillman also thanked student protesters for ensuring that their encampment “remains peaceful and minimally disruptive of university activities.”

“As long as this remains the situation, there is no cause to involve law enforcement, except as needed to help ensure the safety of the protestors and others in the area,” he said at the time.

In his Wednesday statement, Gillman said UC Irvine “along with most other UC campuses, received the latest ‘demands’ from the protesters” earlier that day.

The demands “attempted to dictate that anyone who disagreed with them must conform to their opinions,” Gillman said.

“But my concern now is not the unreasonableness of their demands. It is their decision to transform a manageable situation that did not have to involve police into a situation that required a different response,” Gillman said in the statement.

In response to UC Irvine’s law enforcement presence, Irvine Mayor Farrah N. Khan said protesters don’t threaten campus security and shouldn’t be met with violence.

“It’s a shame that peaceful free speech protests are always responded to with violence. Taking space on campus or in a building is not a threat to anyone,” Khan said in a post on X Wednesday. “UCI leadership must do everything they can to avoid creating a violent scenario here. These are your students w/ zero weapons.”

The United Auto Workers 4811, which represents 48,000 University of California academic workers, has authorized a strike “if circumstances justify,” citing “numerous, egregious unfair labor practices committed” during on-campus protests. Specifically, the union mentioned the handling of protests on April 30 and May 1 at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The union said in a press release that 19,780 teaching assistants, readers, tutors, student researchers, postdocs and academic researchers at all eleven campuses of the University of California participated in a strike authorization vote, resulting in 79% of participating members voting to authorize the executive board to call a strike if it’s justified.

During such a strike, “not all represented workers are called to go on strike at the same time. Certain campuses may be called to go out on strike at certain times,” the union added.

“At the heart of this is our right to free speech and peaceful protest,” said Rafael Jaime, a graduate worker in the English department and president of UAW 4811. “If members of the academic community are maced and beaten down for peacefully demonstrating on this issue, our ability to speak up on all issues is threatened.”

On Friday, the union’s executive board will “evaluate and announce” whether or not they will call on the first campus or campuses to strike, the UAW 4811 posted on X.

CNN’s Elizabeth Joseph and Melissa Alonso contributed to this report.

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