Nearly 30 students and staff members marched in protest Thursday afternoon across campus after an incident near UC Merced led to the arrests of five black college students.
The protesters, who marched from Cheadle Hall to Storke Tower and back chanting, “It could have been you, it could have been me — stop police brutality,” called for criminal charges against the students to be dropped. All five of the students arrested are related and one of them attends UC Merced.
Video taken of the incident early Sunday morning shows Merced police in a physical confrontation with patrons of Chandelier’s Hookah Lounge & Smoke Shop, a location about seven miles from the campus.
The incident reportedly started after police entered the lounge to search for a man wanted for arrest on a warrant, according to the Merced Sun-Star. At the time, a party celebrating the release of a fashion line was nearly finished, organizers of the protest said.
The police arrived in riot gear, said third year sociology and black studies double major Zenzile Riddick, who helped lead Thursday’s protest. The man wanted for arrest was never found, according to the Sun-Star.
A lounge security guard told the Sun-Star that an officer “put his hands” on a black male, which “provoked” others to run towards the scene. In the ensuing “melee,” an officer was injured and sent to the hospital. None of the detained men, two of whom were medically examined before being brought to jail, suffered any serious injuries, the Sun-Star reported.
During the confrontation, a different officer fired a non-lethal anti-riot weapon. Officers told the Sun-Star that the Merced Police Department is conducting both a criminal investigation and an investigation into the police’s use of force in the incident.
Riddick said two of the students have been charged with Class C felonies and could face multiple years in prison.
“The felony they are being charged with is assaulting an officer,” Riddick said. “While the officer was beating them to death, he sustained an injury.” She said the arrested students were injured themselves, and that the police did not allow for the students’ injuries to be tended to before their arrests.
Riddick knows all five men personally and attended high school with them, she told The Bottom Line. Four of the men are brothers and the other is a first cousin, she said.
“They were always outstanding students and community members,” Riddick said. “One of these men published a book before he graduated high school. Most of them are engineering students — they have very high GPAs.”
The men will appear in court on August 14 for a hearing, Riddick said. She urged her fellow protesters to share videos of the incident to raise awareness for the men involved. She also said the UCSB Black Student Union (of which Riddick is the internal vice president) will organize a caravan trip to Merced to attend the hearing.