Police arrest 80 protesters at UC Santa Cruz after tense standoff

Police and the California Highway patrol moved in early Friday morning at UC Santa Cruz to confront pro-Palestinian protesters, arresting roughly 80 people who refused to move their encampments, which have been blocking campus entrances for weeks.

By about 2:40 p.m., all law enforcement suddenly departed. After they left, the protesters moved back over to the university side of Coolidge Drive. There were no signs that an encampment or blockades were re-established. Roads around the entrance to campus were reopened and protesters remained outside.

The arrests on Friday afternoon capped a tense, but mostly nonviolent, dispersal of protesters that started at about 1 a.m. when police began shutting down the roads near the university entrances. The roads had been blocked for at least a week, resulting in classes going online, as students and staff were not able to get past the makeshift barricades. 

CHP officers and police were also seen breaking down the tent encampments, while also telling the protesters to leave peacefully.

"Leave the area, back up," officers said. 

Many of the protesters linked arms to make it more difficult to move. They also began singing pro-Palestinian chant songs.

As the morning went on, the situation appeared to be a standoff, with dozens of police officers in riot gear facing off with the protesters in a tense but non-violent manner. By about 8 a.m., the situation escalated, where police were seen pushing protesters off the campus. 

Protesters yelled at police and threw water bottles. 

One young woman who wore a mask and would not be identified said that police hit her with a baton, bruising her ribs. 

She said police told her to get back, but she couldn't.

"I told him he was hurting me," she said. 

The protesters vowed to stay in place until their demands, including calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, are met.

UC Santa Cruz spokesperson Scott Hernandez told KTVU in an emailed statement that the university removed the barricades and disbanded the "unlawful encampment."

Protesters had been given "repeated, clear directions" to move their camps, which blocked campus access for weeks, he said. 

But many refused to follow directions and were arrested. 

"These actions could have been avoided," he said, "if the encampment participants heeded the many previous directives." 

A UCSC professor at the protest site, Fernando Leiva, said he disagrees with the university administration.

"I think it is shameful what the campus leadership has done.  Destroying the encampment of the students, calling in more than 150 police," said Leiva.

Earlier this week, UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Cynthia Larive emailed the campus community saying that blocking the only two ways to drive on and off campus was "extremely dangerous" and caused "intentional harm" to many students and staff members who couldn't get to work, class or access childcare. 

"I imagine that many who are engaging in these protests believe themselves to be well-intentioned individuals who are trying to make change through their spheres of influence," she wrote. "Those who took part should be aware that their actions carry with them severe penalties — penalties that they should be prepared to receive."

Larive issued another statement on Friday explaining why the university was not going to meet the protesters' demands.

"As the chancellor for the entire university, I must be firm when the demands of one group undermine the rights of others," she wrote. "In this case, the demonstrators demanded that we end relationships with organizations that support our Jewish students and funders that support important student success work and happen to be Jewish organizations."

She said the protesters also demanded that UC Santa Cruz divest from and boycott companies affiliated with Israel, a demand that the UC Office of the President has already addressed and deemed unacceptable.

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A young woman said she was hit by a baton at a UC Santa Cruz protest. May 31, 2024 

"Most worryingly," Larive added, the protesters demanded that the university "curtail the foundational right of academic freedom" by condemning the use of funding from select federal agencies.

One example, Larive said, would end up preventing UC Santa Cruz researchers from "pursuing research related to topics with which they disagree."

"This is a dangerous precedent and to give in to it would undermine academic freedom and make our academic community vulnerable to the values of whatever political force seeks to prevent free inquiry," Larive said.

She reminded protesters that she supports First Amended rights but blocking entrances is unlawful. And that these protests have caused disruptions in the dining hall, causing a reduction in services, as one example. 

"Many campus demonstrations have shown that people can make their voices heard while allowing our mission to continue," she said.