A small group of protesters briefly interrupted a talk by Mayor Rahm Emanuel at UCLA on Monday, demonstrating against plans for a $95 million police academy campus on the city’s West Side.
Kareem Youssef, who organized the protest along with some other UCLA students from Chicago, said the students were protesting both the mayor’s support for the police training facility and UCLA’s decision to host Emanuel.
The hecklers shouted “16 shots and a cover up” as they stood up and interrupted the talk — a reference to the shooting of Laquan McDonald by Officer Jason Van Dyke.
“I didn’t realize there were these many direct flights,” Emanuel said as demonstrators left the room. He went on to say that the topics of concern raised by the protesters are serious and would be discussed during the question-and-answer part of the event.
Three people unaffiliated with the university were ultimately arrested, according to a UCLA representative, who noted that the protesters were warned of possible arrest on multiple occasions. The arrests were first reported by the Daily Bruin. Youssef said these individuals acted independently of the student organizers, and he partially thanks them for keeping the students out of trouble.
“It was because the non-students were so hostile that it made us students look like: ‘Oh, you protested the right way,'” he said, explaining that students shouted too, but didn’t resist officers. “They were kind of spreading chaos… but we didn’t really care; it didn’t really make a difference to us.”
The student organizers were also demonstrating against planned closures of Englewood schools as CPS moves to consolidate students at a new $85 million high school.
A coalition of organizations released an open letter before the talk opposing the invitation, but the student protesters were not acting on behalf of any groups, Youssef said.
The #NoCopAcademy campaign gained momentum in November when Chance the Rapper scolded aldermen and the mayor at a City Hall session for spending money on police training while the city’s schools are underfunded. Local Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) has been a strong supporter of the academy, however, and she has insisted aldermen to listen to her, not Chance, when it comes to what’s best for her ward. Mitts believes the academy will help address concerns raised in a scathing report by the Justice Department which found that CPD officers are inadequately trained.
Emanuel was invited to UCLA, where his son Zach is a student, for the Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership. A spokesperson for the mayor responded to the demonstrations in a statement to the Sun-Times Tuesday.
“During the course of last night’s event, a handful of people sought to disrupt the event, and were removed from the hall in accordance with the university’s policies,” mayoral spokesman Matt McGrath said. “The new West Side public safety academy is among the reform recommendations laid out by the Obama Justice Department that the Mayor and CPD are in the process of implementing. This facility will replace several outdated facilities and provide Chicago’s first responders with the state-of-the-art training facility they need to maintain professional excellence and to keep our communities safe. It will also serve as a catalyst to economic activity and growth in a community that needs it.”
The mayor was also interrupted last month by #NoCopAcademy protesters at a talk at the University of Michigan, the Michigan Daily reported. Emanuel responded similarly to that disruption, telling the crowd after demonstrators exited the room that “they had legitimate points.”