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HomeNewsCampus NewsStudent protesters hold press conference following Gaza Solidarity Encampment dismantlement

Student protesters hold press conference following Gaza Solidarity Encampment dismantlement

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The day following the police dismantlement of the UCI Gaza Solidarity Encampment, the UCI Divest Coalition held a press conference on the afternoon of May 16. The conference took place  at the UCI flagpoles. 

Around 70 people attended, including 20 faculty members who silently stood behind the presenting protesters as they addressed the media. 

Three protesters — M. Wong, Sarah Khalil and Dr. Meryem Kamil — acted as the spokespeople for the UCI Divest Coalition. In addition to representing the UCI Divest Coalition, Wong represented Anakbayan at UCI and Khalil represented UCI Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). Dr. Kamil represented the Faculty for Justice in Palestine (FJP UCI). 

The presenting protesters explained they “reclaimed” the Physical Science Lecture Hall in honor of Alex Odeh, a Palestinian activist killed in a bombing outside of his Santa Ana office in 1985. At the Nakba rally, protesters released a banner that read “ALEX ODEH HALL.” 

They said that the rally was organized for three key reasons: to demand that student suspensions be lifted, that UCI end “its complicity in genocide by meeting student demands” and to “commemorate 76 years of Palestinian resistance.” 

According to Khalil, the lecture hall was empty when the building was taken over.

The spokespeople said that protesters were hit with batons and pinned to the ground by the police. They also said there were 17 police departments present the day of the raid. New University is able to independently confirm that a minimum of eleven police departments were on site. They also said Muslim women had their hijabs removed by law enforcement.

Thai Viet Pham, the Santa Ana Mayor Pro Tem, released a statement on Santa Ana PD’s “mutual aid response” and said she was “made aware of a video showing armed SAPD officers physically engaged with protestors.” 

“I hope to see that SAPD was not involved in the unwarranted actions seen in some online videos,” the statement reads.

The spokespeople stated that over 50 students, faculty and community members were arrested and all were released by 2:30 p.m. on May 16. They said that those arrested had testified that they experienced “psychological torment” and “humiliation” while they were detained.

“They wouldn’t let [those arrested] go to sleep. Every time they [would] see someone asleep, they’d knock at the cage to wake them up,” Khalil said in an interview with New University. “The administration has to be held accountable for what they did.”  

Khalil reiterated the protesters’ advocacy for Palestine. 

“In 10 years, when we look back, you will see that the students’ movements were on the right. As we have always seen, everything starts with the students.”  Khalil said when addressing the media..“Standing up against the students is where you are wrong. Stand up against the genocide and stand up for liberated Palestine.”. 

Arrested students were given a Notice of Withdrawal of Consent to Remain on Campus, “barring” them from campus for 14 days under California Penal Code 626.4(a)

The spokespeople at the coalition press conference also called for the resignation of UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman and demanded amnesty be granted to all those who were arrested.

The spokespeople were asked by the media about those arrested, to which they said that they would not be disclosing any information. They stated that those arrested were not present at the press conference. 

Dr. Kamil, a film and media studies assistant professor, said many faculty members share similar demands as the students but have “added responsibility” as faculty. 

“A lot of [faculty] have been going by the encampment, talking with administrators and the security officers; that faculty is the intermediary between all these groups,” Dr. Kamil said. “We’re not the ones in charge of [the encampment], but we feel like it’s our responsibility to be there.” 

On May 16, the UC board of regents endorsed guidelines by UC President Michael V. Drake, which were released on May 9.

“Any member of the university community who is arrested for unlawful behavior or cited for a violation of university policy must go through the applicable review process,” the endorsement reads. “The Regents further affirmed that amnesty for students, faculty and staff is inconsistent with this guideline.”

Emilie Takahashi is a Campus News Staff Writer. She can be reached at takahae1@uci.edu. 

Skylar Paxton is an Opinion Apprentice. She can be reached at paxtons@uci.edu.​​
Edited by Jaheem Conley