Law enforcement cleared the “Liberated Zone” encampment on UCSB’s campus early Sunday morning, June 24. | Credit: @UCSBLiberatedZone

As a marine fog shrouded the UC Santa Barbara campus in the early-morning darkness Sunday morning, over 80 police officers in riot gear surrounded and cleared the “UCSB Liberated Zone” — a pro-Palestinian encampment set up by an autonomous group of students, staff, faculty over seven weeks ago — arresting five individuals and removing all remaining tents and property from the area.

The encampment, which was the hub for on-campus organizing in solidarity with Gaza during the tumultuous spring quarter, was home to dozens of students and community members for the past 54 days. It was also the last remaining camp of its kind across all UC campuses.

According to statements from university administration and updates posted on UCSB Liberated Zone’s Instagram account, the clearing of the encampment followed multiple messages from the university to camp organizers, which demanded that the area be cleared after negotiations between the group and the administration failed to come to a resolution.

In a letter addressed to UCSB’s designated liaison, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Margaret Klawunn, UCSB Liberated Zone representatives described how “conversations have been derailed multiple times,” with the university refusing to agree with the groups demands, which included divestment from military contractors and “acknowledging that what is happening in Palestine is a genocide.”

Then, at 9:30 p.m. on Friday, June 21, the university issued an ultimatum to the group, asking that they decamp or present a contingency plan by the next night or else face forced decampment and police intervention. 

On Saturday night, just a few hours before police arrived on campus, the university sent the group a final warning via email, with Chancellor Henry Yang writing that “the encampment is in violation of UC policies and an illegal trespass.”

“We call on you to remove your personal items and leave the encampment immediately,” Chang wrote. “Any items left behind will be treated as abandoned.”

In a statement published on social media, UCSB Liberated Zone said that the university had originally given the group at least until noon on Monday to deliberate and respond, and that the “abrupt change in the deadline undermines the trust and good faith we have tried to maintain,” and could be seen as an attempt to dismantle the encampment before the summer session.

“The administration’s handling of these conversations, particularly Chancellor Yang’s delegation of authority to a single representative without decision-making power, has added to our frustration,” the group said in the statement. 

When UCPD officers, backed up by units from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, arrived on campus after the stroke of midnight Sunday morning, university officials said that several individuals who remained were “given multiple warnings to leave the area before and during the clearing of the tents.” 

Law enforcement cleared the “Liberated Zone” encampment on UCSB’s campus early Sunday morning, June 24. | Credit: @UCSBLiberatedZone

“While most of the individuals complied with the warnings,” said UCSB spokesperson Kiki Reyes, “five individuals declined to disperse and were taken into police custody.”

By 1:30 a.m., law enforcement had surrounded the camp on all sides, blocking off all entrances and delivering at least three orders for dispersal. According to witnesses at the scene who livestreamed the incident on social media, a small group remained in the area while other protesters shouted chants from just beyond the police lines.

At around 2 a.m., law enforcement began dismantling the camp, including its tents, tables, food pantry, and an olive tree that was planted on the campus lawn — a tree the group had hoped that the university would preserve as a monument to the two-month-long camp.

The Sheriff’s Office confirmed that five individuals were arrested during the clearing of the camp, and all five were transported to Santa Barbara County’s Main Jail by UCPD officers, where they were each charged with “failure to disperse” and held with a bail of $2,500. All five were released Sunday afternoon with a citation and an assigned court date. 

The university could not provide details regarding further investigation into the encampment or occupation at Gervitz Hall, nor would officials confirm whether the individuals arrested were students.

Representatives from UCSB Liberated Zone called the clearing of the camp a “clear act of police retaliation” and “a suppression of our first amendment rights and our shared duty as students to use our education to change the world for good.”

After the smoke cleared on Sunday, university administration sent a campus-wide statement regarding the incident.

“As an academic community, we believe strongly in the principles of freedom of speech and academic freedom,” the administration’s statement read. “Over the course of a difficult year, we sought to balance the rights to protest and exercise freedom of speech with the rights of the broader campus community to pursue our educational mission and to live, work, and learn in a welcoming, inclusive, and safe environment.”

Chancellor Yang said that the university “sought peaceful resolution” and held meetings to listen to student concerns, though he claimed the group’s demands “included actions that are beyond the jurisdiction or control of the campus, that violate UC policy, and that are under the purview of the Academic Senate.”

In the weeks since the camp was established, Yang said, the number of tents, banners, and signs on campus increased, and the “walls of the library and bathrooms near the tents were defaced by vandalism.” He described the camp as “ increasingly disruptive to students who were trying to pursue their educational goals,” and said that after the group refused to voluntarily disband, “the university then made the decision to remove the unlawful encampment.”

“We recognize sincere and deeply held convictions about painful global events. We remain committed to dialogue, debate, and education,” Yang continued. “Our principles of community have been strained and we need to work together to restore them in a safe and tolerant environment that protects freedom of expression and supports our common academic mission.”

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