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Police make arrests at UC Irvine after protesters occupy science building

IRVINE, Calif. — Police began making arrests Wednesday evening on the campus of UC Irvine several hours into a pro-Palestinian demonstration in which protesters occupied and barricaded a university building.

The university said that around 2:30 p.m. “a group of several hundred protesters” entered the Physical Sciences Lecture Hall, a large indoor amphitheater.

UCI faculty on hand to observe the protest said, however, that figure was inflated and fewer than a dozen protesters entered the building.

In the hours after the protest broke out, social media was flooded with images of the large contingent of law enforcement that had converged on campus.

Meryem Kamil, an assistant professor of film and media studies, said she was late in arriving to the demonstration because she had to finish teaching a class. But when she arrived, she quickly joined the group of students gathered near the lecture hall, she said in a phone interview. As she spoke, she said police in tactical gear were “kettling” the group she was with — or corralling protesters into a smaller space.

She said she had seen or heard about at least 15 people being arrested so far, including other professors, graduate and undergraduate students and city residents. Although her research focuses on Palestine, Kamil said her primary reason for being at the protest was to ensure the safety of students.

Earlier in the day, the university had alerted students to instruct them to shelter in place. That order was rescinded by about 6 p.m., with officials urging those who had remained in buildings near the protest site to exit and avoid the area.

The building takeover was broadcast live on Instagram by several pro-Palestinian accounts. The videos showed a hectic scene as students clad in kaffiyehs ran to and from the area by the lecture hall, setting up a wooden fence barrier, tents, signs and other materials.

As many as 200 law enforcement officers were on campus. In helmets and carrying batons, they formed lines at the protest site. By around 5:30 p.m., several demonstrators had been taken into custody, and officers were ripping down some of the tents and barriers. A group of officers also began to enter the lecture hall.

Protesters had chained and tied the doors shut, a law enforcement source said.

Law enforcement officers from across the region responded to a call for support by UCI police. Agencies included the California Highway Patrol, Orange County Sheriff’s Department and police departments from Santa Ana, Fullerton and the city of Orange.

According to students, Wednesday’s action by protesters was taken after members of the protest negotiating team were suspended by the university. “They forced our hand,” said a student who declined to give her name for fear of retaliation by the university.

Police gave a dispersal order shortly before 4 p.m., students said.

The Orange County district attorney’s office said Wednesday evening that any person who was arrested for failing to disperse would be charged.

“The right to peaceful assembly is a constitutional right and we encourage protesters to exercise their right to peaceful assembly; however, criminal activity which transcends peaceful assembly, including violence and vandalism of any kind, will not be tolerated,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said.

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