20 Pomona College protesters arrested after occupying president’s office

Claremont Colleges student demonstrators from Pomona Divest Apartheid greet police officers with middle fingers, taunts, and jeers during an April 5 protest at Pomona College. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

by Mick Rhodes | editor@claremont-courier.com


Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

Police from at least four jurisdictions — many in riot gear — descended on Pomona College Friday, April 5 and arrested 20 masked protesters after some had occupied President Gabrielle Starr’s office.

Nineteen were charged with misdemeanor trespassing after allegedly refusing to leave Alexander Hall. An additional protester was charged with misdemeanor delaying or obstructing a law enforcement officer after allegedly refusing to clear a path for officers. Police from Claremont, Pomona, Azusa, and La Verne were on the scene. All were booked at Claremont Police Department jail and released with citations to appear in Pomona Superior Court.

Starr also alleged one or more of the protesters used a racial slur at some point during the day’s events.

Police stand by Friday after being summoned to Pomona College. Photo/by Rob Lawrence

The protesters, who numbered more than 100, were from Claremont Colleges group Pomona Divest Apartheid, which has for months been calling on Pomona College to divest itself from entities connected to Israel’s role in the war in Gaza.

The demonstration began shortly after 1:15 p.m. when Pomona College administrators and campus safety officers began dismantling signs and art students had installed March 28 on a roughly 32 foot wide, eight panel wooden wall outside Smith Campus Center they dubbed the “apartheid wall.” Many had camped out there since.

Student protesters from Pomona Divest Apartheid blocked the entrance to Alexander Hall Saturday and about 60 more entered the building, apparently aiming to confront Pomona College President Gabrielle Starr. Photo/by Rob Lawrence

The installation was meant to draw parallels between Israel and a wall “preventing Palestinians from returning to their native land,” according to Jessica, a student demonstrator who refused to provide her last name. “It’s been really a hub of student resistance and organizing.”

Students were alerted via email early Friday that the wall installation was being taken down in front of a campus event scheduled for Sunday, which prompted scores of protesters to make their way to the Smith Campus Center.

By 4 p.m., 18 of the demonstrators made their way inside neighboring Alexander Hall, “under false pretenses,” according to Starr. College officials said students then began making their way up a staircase that led to Starr’s office. Campus safety officers then called Claremont PD.

“Campus Safety reported that approximately 100-150 protesters were outside the President’s Office and another 30-40 protesters had stormed inside the building and taken over the President’s Office,” read a CPD press release. “Communication was immediately established by School Administration with the protesters, but they refused to leave the building.”

Claremont Colleges student demonstrators from Pomona Divest Apartheid occupying Pomona College’s Alexander Hall during Friday’s protest. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

A press release from Pomona Divest Apartheid described the scene thusly: “On their way up the stairs, the president attempted to physically block the protestors. Immediately after their arrival, the 18+ students sitting in Starr’s office were barricaded in by Campus Safety Officers, who positioned themselves in front of the exits.”

A second wave of demonstrators made their way to Alexander Hall at 4:10 p.m., but the building was locked. After a protester who was inside opened the door, about 50 additional demonstrators occupied the hallway outside Starr’s office.

At 4:26 p.m., Starr sent out an email to the Pomona College community: “I am writing to update the community regarding steps we are taking after a group of individuals refused to identify themselves to Campus Safety and Student Affairs staff, and proceeded to verbally harass staff, even using a sickening, anti-black racial slur in addressing an administrator. This is part of an escalating series of incidents on our campus, which has included persistent harassment of visitors for admission tours … This is unacceptable. These actions are actively destructive of the values that underpin our community.”

Starr then authorized a call to Claremont police. Police from multiple agencies arrived on the scene about 5:30 p.m.

“Contact was made with a spokesperson with the protesting group and with our coordinated efforts, we were able to gain compliance with about half the protesters inside the building, who left on their own free will,” according to CPD. “The remaining protesters were given multiple lawful orders and adequate time to leave the building by School Administration, Campus Safety Personnel and Claremont PD Officers, but they still refused to leave.”

Police then arrested 19 protesters for trespassing and one for obstructing/delaying an officer.

Demonstrators taunt police during Friday’s protest at Pomona College. Twenty were arrested. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

The protesters had been chanting for more than an hour before police arrived in riot gear and entered Alexander Hall. As they exited minutes later with the 19 arrested students, the demonstrators greeted officers with middle fingers, curses, and “oinking” noises.

After the arrests, the demonstrators moved to CPD headquarters and continued to protest as television news helicopters circled overhead. After booking, the 20 arrestees were released. No arrests were made at the CPD protest.

In video shot sometime during the day and posted on Instagram, Starr is heard, presumably in her office, telling what appear to be campus safety officers that protesters “used an anti-Black, sickening racial slur” against a colleague. “For that alone, you are in violation,” Starr is heard telling someone in who appears to be a protester. “If you think you are justified in that, you are dead wrong.”

Claremont Colleges student demonstrators from Pomona Divest Apartheid relocated to Claremont Police Department Friday evening after 20 of their members were arrested at Pomona College, charged with trespassing and obstructing an officer after occupying President Gabrielle Starr’s office. No arrests were made at the second protest. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

“For the past week, masked individuals who are part of a protest have occupied a portion of the Smith Campus Center (SCC) lawn,” Starr wrote in the email. “This occupation was against our policies, but as we have expressed in the past, we work with students who are exercising their right to protest unless that protest impedes on the rights of others. In addition, we require all individuals on campus to identify themselves upon request by campus administrators or Campus Safety. This is imperative for the safety of our community, especially when these individuals are masked.”

Sometime during the Friday melee Starr is shown on video attempting to navigate through some protesters inside the college, and is heard saying, “You need to stop pushing me.”

Starr’s statement also made clear there will be consequences for some of the protesters who took part in Friday’s demonstration.

“Any participants in today’s events on the SCC lawn or in Alexander Hall, who turn out to be Pomona students, are subject to immediate suspension,” Starr wrote. “Students from the other Claremont Colleges will be banned from Pomona’s campus and subject to discipline on their own campuses. All individual participants not part of The Claremont Colleges community are hereby banned from campus immediately.”

Pomona Divest Apartheid also released a statement:

“At 4:10 PM, 18+ students entered Alexander Hall to protest the college’s removal of the Apartheid Wall,” read the PDA press release. “On their way up the stairs, the president attempted to physically block the protestors, and promptly threatened all Pomona students in the building with suspension, and all students from other campuses with a permanent ban from the College’s campus. Campus Safety officers also physically forced student press — who were wearing press vests and filming on cell phones — out of the office.”

A witness said 16 police cars responded to the incident.


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