Cal State L.A. faculty decry forced removal of professor and BLM leader from debate
Questions continued to mount Monday about why a Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles leader and longtime Cal State L.A. professor was forcibly removed from a mayoral debate Sunday night on the campus.
Minutes before the televised debate began, Melina Abdullah — a tenured professor and former chair of the school’s pan-African studies department — was carried out of the University-Student Union Theatre by four campus police officers.
In a video recorded by a Times reporter, Abdullah can be heard saying that she teaches at the school and shouting, “You’re hurting me.” Abdullah also calls out to mayoral candidates Rep. Karen Bass, Council Member Kevin de León and City Atty. Mike Feuer, referencing them by name. The three, along with candidates Council Member Joe Buscaino and real estate developer Rick Caruso, were on the stage at the time.
The audience lights had been dimmed, and candidates said they were unable to tell what was happening.
Police forcibly remove BLM-L.A. leader, a Cal State L.A. professor, from campus mayoral debate
Black Lives Matter-L.A. leader Melina Abdullah, a professor at Cal State Los Angeles, was forcibly removed by police officers from the mayoral debate on the campus.
“With the stage lights blasting full force, it was impossible to see who was in the audience. And given the ongoing interruptions at debates and other events, it seemed like more of the same from the usual suspects,” De León said in a statement Monday. “To learn later that it was my friend and former professor was deeply upsetting.”
Bass said in a statement that she “couldn’t see or hear who it was.”
Several elected officials and candidates for local office decried Abdullah’s removal Monday, as did other members of the Cal State L.A. faculty.
In a lengthy statement released Monday afternoon, the university said the debate was “planned as a production for broadcast television that millions could view or stream in real time,” rather than as an event with a large in-person audience. The statement described “strict registration and check-in processes” for media and a very limited number of guests, saying that “at no point did organizers advise classes or faculty to simply show up at the venue.”
Protests about the exclusion of certain candidates from the stage preceded the event, and attendance had been closely monitored, with a small audience of 40 to 50 people allowed inside an auditorium that seats roughly 200.
“Professor Melina Abdullah and her companion were not on the guest or media list for the event. They bypassed all on-site check-ins and entered the theatre. An event organizer informed the pair twice that they could not remain. The two did not leave,” the statement said. “When public safety officers asked them to leave, Professor Abdullah’s companion complied. When Professor Abdullah ignored requests to leave, she was removed from the building by public safety officers and immediately released. Professor Abdullah’s race and group affiliation were not factors in this incident.”
Abdullah, who is Black, said she and a friend were “sitting there quite casually” when campus police approached and had “hardly made any noise at all, other than little whispers to each other, as people do when they’re waiting for an event.”
Asked if she had planned to protest during the debate or disrupt the proceedings, Abdullah said, “Absolutely not.”
“I wasn’t dressed for a protest; I was dressed for a debate,” she said, noting that she had been wearing sandals. In classes and at organizing training, Abdullah said, she teaches participants that they should always wear tennis shoes when they go to a protest.
Molly Talcott, a Cal State L.A. sociology professor and faculty rights chair for the campus chapter of the California Faculty Assn., was troubled by Abdullah’s forced removal.
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In some ways, the evening was a retread of the last debate featuring the five candidates, with much of the criticism again trained on businessman Rick Caruso.
“It was humiliating, it was violent, it was thoroughly antidemocratic,” Talcott said, noting that several other faculty members with whom she had spoken were “horrified” by what happened.
Leda Ramos, a professor in the school’s Chicano studies department, criticized the decision to call campus police on Abdullah and said images of police carrying her out against her will “traumatized faculty and students.” Ramos took particular issue with the message that the university was conveying to Black faculty and students and characterized the removal of Abdullah as “blatant discrimination.”
“Here we have one of the most prestigious, sought-after, well-loved faculty members, who’s contributed to our campus, Cal State L.A., for over 20 years, being treated in the most disrespectful, dehumanizing human manner on the campus that she’s dedicated so much of her life to,” Ramos said.
Ramos, Talcott and Abdullah all said they plan to raise issue with Sunday’s events during a Cal State L.A. Academic Senate meeting Tuesday.
Anthony Ratcliff, a professor in the pan-African studies department and president of the campus chapter of the California Faculty Assn., said the union planned to write a resolution condemning Abdullah’s removal and calling out the administration for allowing it to happen.
“We’re going to at least raise our voice and say, as a union, our faculty members should not be treated this way by campus police and by administrators,” Ratcliff said.
Several elected officials also decried Abdullah’s removal.
“It’s gut-wrenching to see images of the leader of a movement against police abuse and excessive force being carried away by four police officers,” Council Member Mike Bonin wrote in a tweet.
Assembly Member Isaac Bryan (D-Los Angeles) said in a tweet that he understood that the discourse at debates has become “increasingly contentious,” but the idea that Abdullah “would be preemptively and forcibly removed by law enforcement from a debate happening on the very campus she is a professor at doesn’t sit well with me.”
Mayoral candidates Gina Viola and Craig Greiwe, city attorney candidate Faisal Gill, city controller candidate Kenneth Mejia and City Council candidate Eunisses Hernandez were among those seeking elected office who tweeted in support of Abdullah or condemned her removal.
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