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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Two arrested for vandalism while protesting Turning Point USA speaker event

The protest also resulted in damage to the doors of the U Center and minor injury to a campus police officer

 

By SONORA SLATER — campus@theaggie.org

 

Two people were arrested and the glass doors of the University Credit Union Center (U Center) were broken by protesters outside of the speaker event held by conservative student group Turning Point USA (TPUSA) on March 14, but the event went on as planned. 

After an on-campus event planned by the group last fall was canceled before it began when fights broke out between protesters and counter-protesters affiliated with the Proud Boys, the university said that they had security plans in place to ensure public safety at this event.

These plans involved limiting tickets to the event to 1,000, checking IDs and event registration confirmation emails at the entrance, having attendees pass through metal detectors, not allowing bags or backpacks inside the venue and having a presence of more than 100 police officers, including campus police and private security, in and around the U Center.

The event, which began at 7 p.m., featured TPUSA founder Charlie Kirk, who is known in part for previous anti-LGBTQ+ statements, such as describing the LGBTQ+ movement as a “social contagion.” Kirk spoke to an audience of around 500 people.

Protesters, some of whom appeared to be associated with the left-wing political movement “Antifa,” began gathering slightly before 5 p.m. wearing black clothes and masks and holding black umbrellas to cover their faces. They were holding banners that read “Protect Trans Kids,” among other statements. Throughout the protest, they yelled at or pushed several members of the press who attempted to take pictures or videos.

Some conservative media outlets have reported that the protest may have been spurred on by a Sacramento Bee op-ed published ahead of the event which stated that, “Kirk has also called for the lynching of trans people.” A correction was later issued to the Sacramento Bee article noting that the claim was “extrapolated from Kirk’s comments” about a women’s swimming competition in which he said that, “Someone should’ve took care of it the way we took care of things in the 1950s and 60s.”

Kirk has said that the comment was in reference to female college swimmer Riley Gaines being uncomfortable with trans swimmer Lia Thomas’s presence in the women’s locker room and that his callback to the 50s and 60s was meant to imply that “local law enforcement would have interceded” if a similar situation were to take place back then.

The crowd of protesters outside the UC Davis event slowly grew, and by 6 p.m. they were blocking the sidewalk toward the southeast entrance of the U Center, making it difficult for people attending the event to get through. As police began to let attendees into the building, more officers emerged in riot gear, including face shields and batons. They lined the entrance of the building and began to move the line slowly back away from the plastic barrier set up surrounding the entrance. They continued to hold the line as protesters threw eggs and other small objects at police and event attendees.

Slightly before 7 p.m., the line of officers moved quickly to the other side of the building, where 10 glass panes in the doors to the northeast entrance, near the ARC, had been kicked in by protesters

These protesters did not get into the building or the event, and no arrests were made related to the breaking of the glass — however, two people were arrested and charged with vandalism in relation to graffiti of the Trans Pride flag on the wall of the U Center. One of these two is not affiliated with the university in any way, according to a March 14 press release from UC Davis, and the other has not been identified.

Some of the UC Davis eggheads were also graffitied with messages against the university and the Antifa symbol. Additional incidents reported at the event include one officer sustaining an injury when he was jumped on from behind and pushed to the ground and people being pepper sprayed by others in the crowd of protesters.

First-year chemistry major Alex Cabrera said that he initially came to the event as a protester but ended up shifting to the side to watch because he didn’t feel safe in the crowd after people dressed in Proud Boys attire said threatening things to some of the protesters.

“I really don’t like Charlie Kirk and some of the things he’s said about the border,” Cabrera said. “I’m Mexican American, and my parents are immigrants, and I feel threatened by [TPUSA] being on campus.”

He went on to say that the fact that he felt unsafe despite the presence of 100-plus police officers made him feel like “the police are protecting [TPUSA], not us.” However, he noted that he did not agree with any violent actions of the Antifa protesters and that he believes “there needs to be some type of police to protect against when Antifa gets violent.”

On the same day as the TPUSA event, ASUCD hosted a finals study session and decompression space in the CoHo from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. offering free Scantrons, Blue Books, snacks, coffee and bike lights, as well as a safe and quiet place to study far away from where the protest was taking place.

“It’s finals week, so normally there’s some sort of finals study session going on held by one of the centers in the Student Community Center,” ASUCD External Affairs Vice President Celene Aridin said. “But unfortunately […] they decided to close down today because of how close they are to the event, so we decided to step up and say, ‘Hey, if anyone wants to study, we’ll just keep the CoHo open a little longer.’” 

Before the event, UC Davis Chancellor Gary May posted a video message addressing the concerns regarding TPUSA. 

“Thank you for sharing your distress at a student group hosting a speaker who is a well-documented proponent of misinformation and hate and who has advocated for violence against transgender individuals,” May said. “UC Davis stands with our transgender and non-binary Aggies in opposition to this hateful and divisive messaging. UC Davis did not invite this individual and did not sponsor this event.” 

He went on to acknowledge that as a registered student organization (RSO) on campus, TPUSA has the right under UC and campus policy to reserve space on campus for events and invite speakers of their choice. 

Kirk responded to May’s video with a video of his own, saying in reference to “advoca[ting] for violence against transgender individuals]” that he had “never done that” and “might sue [May] for [saying] that.”

In the March 17 edition of May’s “Checking in With the Chancellor” newsletter, he addressed the event, saying that “the limits of free speech are being tested at college campuses across the country, [including] at UC Davis.”

“Freedom of expression is vital to our higher education mission,” May said. “As a public university, we’re also obligated by law to uphold free speech protections. History shows us how these have protected the voices of oppressed and minoritized communities. Let’s reaffirm our commitment to nonviolent exchange and the highest standards of conduct and decency toward all.”

Written by: Sonora Slater — campus@theaggie.org