Students call for less disruptive protests
By Jim Sweeney and Clifton B. Parker
Photos by Karin Higgins and Cheng Saechao/produced by Susanne Rockwell and Claudia Morain
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Student leaders called for a "focus on safety" in the wake of student protests March 4 in which one student was arrested in a failed attempt to block traffic on Interstate 80.
ASUCD president Joe Chatham said he thought protesters went too far and cited the disruption of traffic and Unitrans buses and the pulling of fire alarms. President-elect Jack Zwald said, “Right now we have to focus on safety," adding that student body leaders were in communication with campus police throughout the day.
During the protests, more than 120 law enforcement officers were forced to use their batons and fire pepper balls to repel a crowd of some 300 protesters who were attempting to march onto Interstate 80 and block the busy freeway just before the onset of the afternoon commute.
Laura Mitchell, a sociology major from Stanford, Calif., was cited and released after her arrest for allegedly resisting arrest and inciting a riot. Smaller numbers of students protested into the evening and the next day, but no further arrests were made.
Despite the disruption, other campus sporting and entertainment events went on as planned.
The demonstration, part of a national “march forth” day of protest against soaring student fees and campus cuts, had been building from just before 9 a.m., when protesters began randomly pulling fire alarms around campus. At least 16 false alarms were reported by UC Davis fire authorities by late afternoon.
Shortly before noon, a crowd that had grown to perhaps 200 entered Olson Hall. They blocked the main hub of the student-run bus service, Unitrans, shutting down the service for about a half hour.
When they began marching toward the freeway, UC Davis police issued a call for mutual aid at 2:30 p.m.
The California Highway Patrol joined with UC Davis police to draw a “skirmish line” at Old Davis Road, just north of the freeway, said Capt. Joyce Souza of the UC Davis Police Department.
“The crowd kept advancing,” Souza said. “They eventually confronted the officers after officers adjusted the skirmish line three times.”
Sheri Atkinson, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center, said about the day's events, "A lot of people are affected by struggles in different ways."
Atkinson helped police and students negotiate an end to the showdown at the I-80 entrance, just off campus property where several rows of police in riot gear from counties as far away as Contra Costa were waiting. One of the officers told her, "They trust you," and Atkinson expressed optimism that cooler heads would prevail after the lone arrest was made.
Marching from the MU to the bus station and along Russell Boulevard, students held posters that reflect their angst over budget issues and hate crimes. "Stop the Hate," "Stand Up for Your Education," "Queers Bash Back," "Strike, Strike, Strike," "Education is a Right" and "Education for Everyone."
Staff and faculty turned out for the noon rally at the Memorial Union. Ward Stewart, director of the Student Academic Success Center, has worked on campus for 29 years. "I'm very concerned with budget cuts and sympathize with the students, especially on the hate crimes and higher fees."
Mika Kubo, a first-year student from Berkeley, said it is "disgusting the way education is suffering."
Due to higher fees, Kubo said she may not be able to attend college next year.
"I can't afford to come here," she said.
Monica Lopez, a third-year psychology student, was one of the many students displaced from her classroom by one of the false alarms. While not condoning the false alarms, which are a felony under the law, she pointed out that they served the purposes of the protestors.
"It was surprising, but I think it got a lot of students outside where they could see all the protestors," Lopez said.
Susette Min, an assistant professor of Asian American Studies, showed up at the MU rally wearing a yellow arm band like many others to express "solidarity" with the students.
"I think public education must serve the public good," said Min, who said she was impressed with the student activism.
"It will be a long fight," she added.
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