UC Irvine protest: Newport Beach mayor claps back at Irvine mayor’s tweet over ‘violent scenario’

Scores of law enforcement personnel from various agencies descended on UC Irvine to move hundreds of demonstrators.
Scores of law enforcement personnel from various agencies descended on UC Irvine on Wednesday to move hundreds of demonstrators protesting the treatment of Palestinians and the UC system’s investments in Israeli interests.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

A clash between police and pro-Palestinian protesters at UC Irvine now includes the mayors of Irvine and Newport Beach.

After his city’s police department responded to a request for mutual aid at the Orange County campus Wednesday, Newport Beach Mayor Will O’Neill took umbrage at a social media post by Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan, who asked the college administration to avoid a “violent scenario” with the protests.

The scene played out in a similar fashion to other pro-Palestinian demonstrations on college campuses across the country, with police in riot gear clashing with student protesters.


The UC Irvine administration put out a call for police agencies from across Orange County to join the Irvine Police Department and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department “as protesters swarmed the campus joining a group of protesters who had established an encampment on the campus,” the university said Wednesday afternoon in an emergency bulletin.

Khan, who took the mayoral office in 2020, wrote in a post on the social media platform X that it was “a shame that peaceful free speech protests are always responded to with violence. Taking space on campus or in a building is not a threat to anyone.”

The university’s “leadership must do everything they can to avoid creating a violent scenario here. These are your students w/ zero weapons,” Khan said.

Khan, a Democrat elected to the City Council in 2018, is the first Muslim woman to hold the Irvine mayor’s office.

Her comments drew a swift response from O’Neill, who accused her of “careless wording.” The post, O’Neill said on X, “makes it appear that you are preemptively accusing our officers, and officers from the many law enforcement agencies who responded, of violence.”

“If that’s what you meant, then your message is beneath the office of Mayor. If it is not, then clarify immediately,” said O’Neill, a Republican who is currently serving in his second term as Newport Beach’s mayor.

O’Neill said in an emailed statement to The Times on Thursday that Khan’s “preemptive insult” to the police agencies who responded to the request for law enforcement on campus was “reckless and ill-advised.”

He’s asked for clarification or an apology to the Newport Beach Police Department, but said he hasn’t heard from the city of Irvine.

“Her words, though, will not stop the Newport Beach Police Department from providing mutual aid to the good residents of Irvine in the event that assistance is required again,” O’Neill said. “Our Newport Beach Police Department answers the call, and I’m proud of them.”

Khan did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The actions at UC Irvine began around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday amid protesters’ calling on the university to divest from companies with ties to Israel. The campus announced in a social media post that a group of protesters had entered a lecture hall, with the building takeover broadcast over Instagram. Protesters hung signs that read, “UC Divest from genocide,” while others erected a barricade with wooden pallets.

Police officers moved into the campus Wednesday evening armed with nonlethal projectile launchers and ripped down the makeshift barriers and encampments.

The university, which moved classes online Thursday, reported that 47 people were arrested, including 26 students and two UCI employees.