A co-founder of the local chapter of Black Lives Matter was forcibly removed by police from a ticketed mayoral debate on Sunday at California State University, Los Angeles—the school where she is a tenured professor and has taught for over two decades.
Black Lives Matter activist Melina Abdullah, who teaches Pan-African Studies at Cal State L.A. and previously served as the chair of that department, arrived at the event on Sunday evening amid protests over the exclusion of some of the race’s candidates. Roughly 50 attendees were seated at the large auditorium, in what is one of the final debates leading up to election day on June 7.
In a video of the incident posted to Twitter, Abdullah can be heard in the distance asking why members of the public are not being allowed into the auditorium. The mother of three school-age children was then forcibly carried from the room by police officers, as she was not granted a ticket to the event, at which point she begins to yell to the stage.
“They’re hurting me!” Abdullah can be heard shouting before she addresses several of the mayoral candidates directly. “Karen Bass, Kevin De León, Mike Feuer—they’re hurting me!”
Protesters watching the events unfold then rushed across the auditorium to protect Abdullah in a huddle of solidarity as she was being forcibly carried away, according to a political science student at the scene who spoke with the Los Angeles Times.
“Today I attempted to watch the mayoral debate held on the campus where I’ve taught for 20 years,” Abdullah wrote on Twitter, sharing a video of the incident. “As I waited for it to start, the white @PBI director called the police on me. He and each of the candidates watched as I was brutally removed. @CalStateLA.”
Another video shared on Twitter shows a distraught-looking Abdullah, arms restrained by two officers, outside of the auditorium as she is being removed. Several witnesses are heard telling the officers that they can let her go and informing them that she is a professor at the university.
Afterward, CSLA’s public safety team declined to explain the reasoning for the professor’s removal.
“One person was removed from the debate, arrested, and released at the scene. There were no other arrests. Cal State LA’s Department of Public Safety has no comment. The university will provide a statement after a fuller review of the incident,” the statement reads.
Abdullah has said that she was not arrested on Sunday, but indicated to the Times that one other person had been forcibly removed ahead of the debate. Police reportedly told her that she would be contacted by them soon regarding the incident.
After Abdullah’s removal, the debate went off without interruption in front of the small, ticketed crowd. On stage were the five mayoral candidates leading in the polls: City Councilman Joe Buscaino, Rep. Karen Bass, businessman Rick Caruso, City Councilman Kevin de León, and City Attorney Mike Feuer. Afterward, some of the candidates released statements regarding the melee that proceeded.
“I wish there hadn’t been that exchange at the beginning. But by the same token, I think it’s really important that everybody is respected,” said Feuer. “That includes all the viewers, the candidates and the people of Los Angeles who are entitled to have a debate that isn’t interrupted.”
De León expressed that he believes that while everyone has a right to express their views it must be done in what he said is a “constructive” way; he later said he was referring to the debate and not Abdullah’s removal from the premises, the Times reported.
On Monday afternoon, CSLA’s public affairs team released a statement regarding the incident, saying that the debate was designed as a broadcast event and had a complex and strict registration and check-in processes for press attendees. The university added that a small number of staff and guests “designated by the partnering organizations, several guests of the candidates, and university staff and volunteers” were also invited to attend the debate.
“At no point did organizers advise classes or faculty to simply show up at the venue,” the statement reads.
The university said that after Abdullah and her guest bypassed the check-in, an event organizer informed them that they could not remain at the event—twice—but they did not leave the auditorium.
“When public safety officers asked them to leave, Professor Abdullah’s companion complied,” the university said in its statement. “When Professor Abdullah ignored requests to leave, she was removed from the building by public safety officers and immediately released.”
Records show that Abdullah contributed $1,000 to the Bass campaign late last year. The tenured Cal State professor’s career as an activist has focused on liberating the exploited and highlighting the scourge of mass incarceration. In 2018, she was arrested for allegedly assaulting an officer in a melee after an unknown powdery substance was reportedly thrown at Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck at a downtown hearing.
The mayoral candidates not present at Sunday night’s debate were: business executive Craig Greiwe; Echo Park neighborhood councilman Alex Gruenenfelder Smith; businessman John Jackson, attorney Andrew Kim, lawyer Ramit Varma; community organizer/activist Gina Viola; and real estate agent and former Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member Mel Wilson.
Abdullah was featured in this month’s list of the players who “make L.A. come alive” in Los Angeles Magazine‘s 60th-anniversary issue.
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