California State Los Angeles Professor and Black Lives Matter Leader Melina Abdullah was forcibly removed from a Los Angeles Mayoral debate on Sunday following her refusal to leave for not having a ticket and for trying to stage a protest while being removed.
The debate, held at Cal State LA, had been closely monitored on Sunday following previous incidents of protesters harassing candidates, and a recent Mayoral forum being interrupted by protestors. Security was also heightened on Sunday with the debate only having five major candidates participate – Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA), Developer Rick Caruso, City Attorney Mike Feuer, and City Councilmen Kevin De Leon and Joe Buscaino – and not including others who launched protests beforehand.
Not wanting similar protest disruptions amid a growing number on Sunday, Cal State LA Police and Cal State LA Institute for Public Affairs executive director Raphael Sonenshein were more on alert for those trying to get into the debate without passes. Around 20 minutes before the debate was to begin, they found that a few, including Abdullah, did not have passes. While what happened next is still unclear, Abdullah did not leave peacefully, with campus police having no other choice but to forcibly remove her. Chants by members of the public saying things such as “This is a public University” only hastened the process, with those there wanting to avoid a protest in the auditorium.
LOOK AT COPS DRAGGING @DocMellyMel OUT OF THE MAYORAL DEBATE.
This is the city of Los Angeles version of “public safety.” There was no disruption and four cops picked up Melina and pulled her out. All of this for a mayoral debate.
— People's City Council – Los Angeles (@PplsCityCouncil) May 2, 2022
While the debate started inside, Abdullah made her case clear, saying that the police were trying to arrest her and calling for debates to be open to the public.
“Debates should be public, especially at a public university,” said Professor Abdullah in a series of messages and statements on Sunday. “I should have been able to watch the mayoral debate that was happening on my own campus. I’m still processing the fact that Raphe Sonenshein, someone who called himself a friend, who I’ve known well since I was in graduate school, called the police and had me forcibly and brutally removed.
“I’m processing that as I was yelling for help, that I was being hurt and called for Karen Bass and Kevin De Leon, two people who have been very close for more than 20 years, they said nothing, not even a simple ‘Please put her down,’ nor did any other candidate. It’s both hurtful and outrageous.”
In a tweet she added “Today I attempted to watch the mayoral debate held on the campus where I’ve taught for 20 years. 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.”
Today I attempted to watch the mayoral debate held on the campus where I’ve taught for 20 years. 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
— Melina Abdullah (@DocMellyMel) May 2, 2022
Removal of non-ticketed audience members from LA Mayoral debate
As of Monday morning, the University has only given a small statement of the incident, giving little credence to Abdullah’s view of the events on Sunday.
“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,” Cal State LA said on Sunday.
However, many noted that Abdullah’s removal was standard procedure for those who refused to leaver ticketed events.
“I saw nothing wrong with that,” said Kwame Johnson, a head of security for an event center in Southern California who has had to remove people in a similar way before, to the Globe on Monday. “A known leader of a protest group at a major political event without a ticket? I mean, it doesn’t matter who you are, anyone with half a brain can see all the red flags popping up there. If they were acting like she was, it’s standard procedure in many cases to remove someone like that.”
“So why didn’t she have a ticket despite being an employee there and knowing this was a ticketed event? Why didn’t she leave quietly? Why didn’t she inform her supposed friends there earlier to try and get in without incident? Things there did not add up. I have had to eject people obviously trying to start something before, and I’m not saying she was trying to start something at that debate, but based on what we know about the lead up and her reaction, things seemed off. She may have well felt entitled to be there as a Professor of the University and just wanted to watch the debate, but it may have been something else.”
“The security there probably could have handled it better, but if you really needed potential trouble people gone with time being a factor and sensing that they might drag this out and cause more of a scene, then that’s the right move. Shame it was just so politicized.”
Following the debate, most candidates noted that they were in favor of the removal if it ensured a debate without interruption.
“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 on Sunday. “That includes all the viewers, the candidates and the people of Los Angeles who are entitled to have a debate that isn’t interrupted.”
A more complete statement by the University about the incident is due out soon. The Los Angeles Mayoral primary election is due to take place on June 7th, with mail-in ballots expected to reach voters soon.