Officers with the Sheriff’s Special Enforcement Team swept UCSB’s Girvetz Hall — including a classroom staged by protesters to look like a war scene — early June 12. | Credit: Jack Magargee

[Updated: Wed., June 12, 11: 10 am]

The two-day occupation of UC Santa Barbara’s Girvetz Hall by pro-Palestinian protesters ended early this Wednesday morning when local law enforcement arrived in force to clear the area.

On Monday, June 10, protesters occupied and barricaded themselves in Girvetz Hall, stating in a social media post that they would not leave until their demands are met. The self-proclaimed “autonomous group of students, workers, and community members” is a collective of unidentified and masked individuals going by the title “Say Genocide UCSB.”

According to a campus-wide email sent by Chancellor Henry T. Yang, these individuals entered Girvetz Hall early Monday morning and “intimidated custodial staff and ordered them to leave.” The group had obstructed exterior entryways, prevented access to classrooms, and restricted scheduled final exams from occurring.

UCSB’s Arbor walkway was full with officers dressed in full riot gear with helmets, masks, riot-shields, and police batons on June 12. | Credit: Jack Magargee

At 1 a.m. on Wednesday, UCSB sent an emergency notification campus-wide warning of a “large-scale operation occurring near Girvetz Hall,” telling students and faculty to avoid the area. By 1:10 a.m., the Arbor walkway was full with officers from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Special Enforcement Team and UCSB Police Department; armored vehicles and police SUVs, as well as a K-9 Unit, served as backup. As officers streamed out of their vehicles, dressed in full riot gear with helmets, masks, riot shields, and police batons, students and faculty quickly and excitedly surrounded them. Bystanders watched, turning on their cameras and speaking in apprehensive tones to those around them, as pro-Palestine supporters chanted and jeered at the reticent law enforcement.

Pro-Palestinian protesters occupied UCSB’s Girvetz Hall on Monday, June 10, erecting a Palestinian and upside-down American flag outside the building and vandalizing a ground-floor classroom to look like a war scene. | Credit: Aiden Kenney

Over the course of two hours, officers tactically cordoned off all access points into Girvetz Hall and conducted a thorough sweep of the building. However, by the time officers had arrived, the occupiers had exited. No arrests were made, and there was no physical confrontation between protesters, law enforcement, or counter-protesters; the UCSB Gaza Liberated Zone — the pro-Palestinian encampment that has occupied the lawn outside Davidson Library since May 1 — remains in place.

As the school year comes to an end, the image of law enforcement on UCSB’s campus is one that students, faculty, and the campus community won’t soon forget in a year that saw numerous protests, a short-lived academic workers strike, and uncertainty surrounding commencement ceremonies.

Occupiers had blocked windows and doors using chairs and tables, covered classroom windows, and displayed a number of banners calling for UCSB to divest from military and defense corporations. In an anonymous letter to “the University,” also posted on social media, the collective demands include the following:
•  That Chancellor Yang publish an email stating “the university agrees with the International Court of Justice ruling that labeled the Genocide in Palestine as such under international law.”
•  That “all future emails” from the UCSB administration connected to Palestine “acknowledge the situation abroad as a ‘Genocide’ in ‘Palestine.’”
•  That “full legal and academic amnesty” is secured for those participating in the action to take and hold Girvetz Hall.

On a ground-floor classroom was an exhibit representative of a war scene. The classroom — the only internally visible part of the building — depicted fake dead bodies covered in rubble, dust, and blood with chairs overturned and large rocks littering the floor. Red paint covered the outward facing wall with a chalkboard reading, “SAY GENOCIDE.”

Pro-Palestinian protesters occupied UCSB’s Girvetz Hall on Monday, June 10, erecting a Palestinian and upside-down American flag outside the building and vandalizing a ground-floor classroom to look like a war scene. | Credit: Aiden Kenney

As students and faculty members watched from the Arbor walkway and Davidson Library, the protesters erected two flagpoles: one flying the Palestinian flag; the other, an upside-down American flag. The Say Genocide protesters used the rooftop of Girvetz Hall as a platform to express their support for Palestine and keep a watchful eye for UCSB administration, law enforcement, or counter-protesters. A call to “mobilize” was made on the group’s Instagram account after rumors were spread of a potential police raid on the building. No raid was conducted by law enforcement by any kind.

However, at around 11:25 p.m., according to social media reports, counter-protesters attempting to remove the American flag got into a physical altercation with protesters, leading to minor injuries to some of the pro-Palestinian demonstrators.

On Monday, the UCSB administration had only interacted privately with the protesters. An unconfirmed letter from Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Margaret Klawunn communicated to the group that the administration has received their demands. Klawunn had stated they were open to having discussions with the collective as well as other campus protest groups like the Gaza Liberated Zone — an encampment formed on May 1 between Davidson Library and North Hall — but required the protesters to “vacate the building immediately.”

In a response on social media, Say Genocide called the letter “a cowardly move by the administration to pacify direct action and divide pro-Palestinian student organizing.”

In his letter to the campus community, Chancellor Yang stressed that “Everyone in our community has been deeply distressed by the violence in Israel and Gaza and the devastating loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives.” “Our principles of community have been strained,” he wrote, as the administration has battled with maintaining the right to free speech and community efforts to “pursue our educational mission.”

Aidan Kenney contributed to this article.

Officers with Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Special Enforcement Team conducted a thorough sweep of UCSB’s Girvetz Hall — including the ground-floor classroom that pro-Palestinian protesters on Monday staged to look like a bombed-out war scene — early Wednesday, June 12. | Credit: Jack Magargee

This is a developing story. Check back for additional details as they become available.

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