Police officers arrested two protesters and struck several others with plastic pellets during a demonstration Thursday surrounding the UC Board of Regents meeting at UC Riverside.
The two individuals arrested — identified as Kenneth Ehrlich, 39, and Humberto Rivera, 25 — were booked on suspicion of felony assault on a police officer, according to Riverside campus spokesperson Kris Lovekin.
Nine police officers also sustained minor injuries, and about 11 people in the crowd suffered bruises from the pellets, Lovekin said.
For UC Riverside junior Stephen Fong, the protests on his campus marked a dramatic shift in the atmosphere of the student body.
Fong works in the Highlander Union Building, where Thursday’s meeting was held and where hundreds of demonstrators gathered to protest tuition increases.
Going to work the morning of the meeting, Fong found himself sharing his elevator ride up with regents and his elevator ride down in the afternoon with riot police, watching as the mood of the protest became tenser as the crowd grew and more police officers arrived.
“I remember standing on this ledge, and everyone was chanting, and all of a sudden chants were turning into screams,” Fong said. “The whole mood changed almost instantly from chanting and protest to mayhem and chaos. I felt anxious, and … from that point on, everyone was afraid of the cops.”
Lovekin said officers fired about 10 hard plastic pellets, mainly at two individuals who attempted to use metal barricades to break through a line of police officers.
According to Lovekin, the method of force used was selected because it would be the least harmful, with a level of force similar to that of a paintball gun.
“If you play paintball, you know that it does sting, but it’s not going to put you in the hospital,” Lovekin said.
In addition to officers from the UC Riverside police department, officers from the Riverside city police department and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department were called in via mutual aid for a total of about 200 officers, Lovekin said.
The protests come in the wake of the implementation and subsequent reconsideration of assembly guidelines by Riverside campus administrators, which would require events to be planned in advance. Additionally, the guidelines require that a staff member be present at student protests and prohibit signs attached to sticks or poles.
The guidelines, removed from the UC Riverside website by Chancellor Timothy White and announced in a statement released Dec. 13, are currently under the review of a task force formed by the chancellor.
“We want to facilitate free speech and free assembly — we absolutely believe in those things,” Lovekin said. “The only part we try to regulate is the part that might impact the safety of our students or the property of the campus.”
Lovekin added that the guidelines were designed to prevent property and physical damage.
Fong said that in retrospect, he feels the demonstrations were ultimately positive events for the campus.
“We kind of have this reputation of being passive and uninterested, so I think that was sort of broken down yesterday,” Fong said. “I know that I and a lot of other people feel proud of the school because we got together to do something.”
Senior staff writer J.D. Morris contributed to this report.
Jamie Applegate covers higher education.