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Isla Vista Student Riots (1970)

IslaMore than 1,000 kids seized a three-block business district in a student neighborhood near the University of California at Santa Barbara wednesday night, Feb. 25, held it from police for six hours, smashed windows, set fire to a police car, and burned a plush Bank of America office to the ground doing more than a quarter of a million dollars damage to the bank alone.

Five hundred national guardsmen were called out Friday, Feb. 27, and another 2,500 placed on standby alert after students drove 300 police out of their neighborhood three nights in a row. Two inches of rain plus a student decision not to fight the Guard quieted the area Friday and Saturday nights. We don’t have any quarrel with them, a spokesman said.

But sheriff’s officers worried that renewed demonstrations would follow the pull-out of the Guard on Sunday and Monday. It scares me, said Sheriff Lieut. William Chickering. We’ve been told that the demonstrators are going to wait until the National Guard pulls out and do it to us again.

A total of 141 persons were arrested In five nights. At least 34 policemen were injured. Other casualties Included a 35 year-old university employee, who was shot in the shoulder when he accidentally drove through a police roadblock, and a 21-year-old student, who was hospitalized after being run down by a police car thursday night.

Gov. Ronald Reagan flew to Santa Barbara on Thursday morning. He called the demonstrators cowardly little bums, declared a state of extreme emergency, and placed National Guard units on alert. He also said he would declare martial law if necessary. County officials ordered a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, and police were ordered to prohibit loitering on public streets and to break up assemblies of more than three persons.

Students defied the orders, and a combined force of 300 police, California Highway Patrolmen and sheriffs deputies was gathered from three counties Thursday night. They fought students for six hours and were forced to withdraw at 11:30 p.m.

The most spectacular destruction occurred Wednesday night. One thousand demonstrators began pelting sheriff’s cars with rocks. At 9:45 p.m. they captured one car, forcing two deputies to flee and then setting the car afire. The flames were 30 feet high. Windows were smashed; the plywood used to board up the Bank of America’s windows, smashed the day before, was torn down and set afire; demonstrators then surged into the bank.

An observer said that the group inside hurled chairs into windows, overturned desks, created snowfalls of envelopes from an upstairs office and tore up anything they could reach. Then some people got a big trashcan, set it on fire, and ran it through the front doors and pushed it against the drappery.

The police were informed that a manager was inside the burning bank. Seventy sheriff’s deputies, in full riot gear, were sent to free the manager, but when they arrived they found they had fallen into a trap. There was no manager inside but there were hundreds of students surrounding the cops, throwing rocks.

The police fought their way out and withdrew completely, surrendering the area to the students until 2:15 a.m., when a force of 240 cops returned to clear the streets.

After the police withdrawal, firemen were unable to reach the bank. Some fraternity members tried to put out the fire, but it was ignited again and the whole place was gone in 45 minutes. Afew charred beams were all that remained the next morning, bank officials said $275,000 damage was done.

One veteran radical said, While the students heId the shopping center, there wasn’t an atmosphere of ‘wild in the streets.’ The group was calm and highly political –explicitly anti-capitaltst. Targets of window-breaking were chosen carefully: the Bank, the real estate offices which gouge students on rents, and the gas stations whose companies pollute Santa Barbara Bay with oil seepages. Small businesses were not touched.

The business district that was seized and held from police on three consecutive nights lies in the heart of Isla Vista, a suburb of Santa Barbara, with a population of 13,000. Of these, 9,000 are students of the University of California branch here.

The students had been united by a series of on-campus demonstrations which began in January, when Bill Allen, a popular anthropology professor, was denied tenure. Three-fourths of the school’s 14,000 students took part in one demonstration or another. Two-thirds of the student body signed a petition in support of Allen.

This was the first time radical politics made an appearance at the University of California at Santa Barbara, one veteran radical said. In the campus demonstrations there was a feeling of the early sixties –they were non-violent and not confrontation demonstrations.

In spite of the peaceful character of the campus demonstrations, police arrested 19 people, dragging many of them out of bed in the middle of the night. The demand to re-hire Allen was not met and a massive residue of frustration and hostility to the police was left.

The Chicago conspiracy defendants became immensely popular among Santa Barbara students. Tom Hayden gave a speech at the University in early January, drawing an enthusiastic crowd of 1,200, the largest audience ever assembled fora political event on the campus up to that time. In February, the official student government invited Defense Attorney William Kunstler to speak on campus, offering him $2,000 of student funds, plus a percentage of the gate, plus a passing of the hat. He appeared Wednesday afternoon, February 25, in the football stadium, where 7,000 people paid 50 cents each to hear him.

The night after his speech the bank was burned. Gov. Reagan suggested that Kunstler had violated the Rap Brown act – saying he crossed a state line to incite violence (this is the law the Chicago defendants were convicted under).

Student leaders pleaded with newsmen not to say Kunstler incited the violence, pointing out that the windows of the bank had been broken the night before his appearance on campus.

The Bank of America, whose offices have been attacked during the past week in Berkeley, San Francisco and Los Angeles, has offered a $25,000 reward for the Santa Barbara arsonists. Board Chairman Louis B. Lundborg reported that we have not been able to open the vault doors since the fire, but we assume that the bank’s funds and records are safe. He said the bank was proud to be a symbol of the establishment in the real sense of that word: established law and order, established orderly process.

Source: Madison Kaleidoscope 3/18/70

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