A Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles leader was forcibly removed by campus police from a Sunday night town hall debate in Cal State Los Angeles.
Melina Abdullah – a teacher at Cal State LA and former chair of the school’s Pan-African Studies department – told The Times she was taken out of the room by police officers because she did not have a ticket to the event.
Protests over the exclusion of some contestants from the stage preceded the event, and attendance had been tightly monitored, with only a small audience of 40–50 people allowed inside the auditorium.
Videos shared on Twitter shows police officers dragging Abdullah out of the auditorium.
“Debates should be public…especially in a public university,” Abdullah said via text message, noting that students, professors and the public were not allowed to enter “a nearly empty theater.”
The university released a statement: “One individual was removed from the debate, arrested and released at the scene. There were no other arrests. The Cal State LA Department of Public Safety had no comment. The university will provide a statement after further investigation of the incident.
Abdullah, however, said the police were “trying to arrest me” but did not arrest her at the scene and told her they would contact her later.
Activists have sued leading candidates in recent months and briefly disturbed a mayors’ forum focused on Asian American Pacific Islander issues held in Little Tokyo on Saturday.
Sunday’s debate went on without a break, but Abdullah and at least one other person were forcibly removed from the audience minutes before it was due to start. Cal State LA Police did not respond to requests for comment.
The demonstrators did not say what they demanded but chanted “Shame on you” and “It’s a public university” in front of the candidates.
Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State LA, which co-sponsored the debate, was seen pacing near the stage when told about 20 minutes before the start that people without passes had entered the area. A Times reporter saw Sonenshein asking campus police what options they would have to evict the protesters.
“I should have been able to watch the mayoral debate that was happening on my own campus,” Abdullah told The Times in a written statement. “I’m still coming to terms with the fact that Raphe Sonenshein, someone who called himself a friend, who I’ve known well since I was in college, called the police and had me forcefully and brutally expelled. .”
Abdullah added: “I’m processing this as I was screaming for help, being hurt and calling Karen Bass and Kevin De León… two people who have been very close for over 20 years, they haven’t nothing said, not even a simple ‘Please put it down’, or any other candidate. It’s both hurtful and outrageous.”
Sonenshein declined to comment.
Agustin Rojas Navarro, 20, a second-year political science student, said the crowd rushed to the other side of the auditorium as Abdullah was abducted, creating a group around her to protect her .
Navarro said he was disappointed to see Abdullah fired and criticized the restricted nature of the debate.
“I was really interested in this debate and I was so disappointed that my school didn’t have a representative here,” Navarro said.
The debate is one of the last major events for mayoral candidates to make their case before mail-in ballots are sent out for the June 7 primary.
After the debate ended, the candidates made statements similar to those they made about previous disruptions.
“I wish there hadn’t been this exchange at the start. But at the same time, I think it’s really important that everyone is respected,” Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said. “That includes all viewers, contestants and residents of Los Angeles who have the right to have a debate that is uninterrupted.”
City councilor Kevin de León said everyone has the right to express their views, but must do so in a “constructive” way.
“I think the debate was civil and well organized,” said Peter Ragone, spokesman for mayoral candidate Rick Caruso.