News and Commentary

BLM Leader Removed From Mayoral Debate
US-VOTE-CALIFORNIA Civic leader and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Los Angeles chapter, Melina Abdullah, poses for a photo after voting at the Staples Center early on November 3, 2020, in Los Angeles, California. - Americans were voting on Tuesday under the shadow of a surging coronavirus pandemic to decide whether to reelect Republican Donald Trump, one of the most polarizing presidents in US history, or send Democrat Joe Biden to the White House. (Photo by VALERIE MACON / AFP) (Photo by VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images) VALERIE MACON / Contributor
Photo by VALERIE MACON / Contributor / AFP via Getty Images

A leader of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles was forcibly taken away from a mayoral debate on Sunday night by campus law enforcement at Cal State Los Angeles. 

That leader is Melina Abdullah, who is also a professor at Cal State L.A. 

Abdullah told The Los Angeles Times she was taken out of the room by police officers because she did not have a ticket, but her reaction to the removal appeared to suggest that she felt it was unfair for her not to be allowed to attend. 

“Debates should be public … especially at a public university,” Abdullah told the outlet via text, saying that students, teachers and the public weren’t permitted inside “a near-empty theater.”

The university released a statement, saying, “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.”

Abdullah claimed that the police “were attempting to arrest [her]” but did not do so at the scene and informed her they would be making contact with her later.

This is not the first incident where protesters have made a scene directed at the main mayoral candidates. At least one additional person was taken out of the audience before the event started on Sunday, but it otherwise proceeded without any incident. 

Protesters reportedly didn’t explain what they wanted, but chanted “Shame on you,” and “This is a public university.”

“I should have been able to watch the mayoral debate that was happening on my own campus,” Abdullah said to The Times in a written statement. “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.” 

Raphael Sonenshein is the executive director of Cal State L.A.’s Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, which co-sponsored the event. Sonenshein was reportedly walking back and forth near the stage as he was told before the event that individuals were in the vicinity who didn’t have credentials. “A Times reporter saw Sonenshein ask campus police officers what options they would have in removing protesters,” the outlet added. 

Abdullah added, “I’m processing that as I was yelling for help, that I was being hurt and called for Karen Bass and Kevin De León … 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.”

The Los Angles Times appeared to update the title of its story after it received pushback online for describing Abdullah as a “Black Lives Matter-L.A. leader,” changing the heading to “Police forcibly remove BLM-L.A. leader, a Cal State L.A. professor, from campus mayoral debate.”

The candidates responded to the situation after the debate was over.  

“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,” Mike Feuer, L.A. city attorney, said. “That includes all the viewers, the candidates and the people of Los Angeles who are entitled to have a debate that isn’t interrupted.”

City Councilman Kevin de León said everybody has a right to share their views, but they should do so in a “constructive” manner.

“I think the debate was civil and well-organized,” said Peter Ragone, spokesperson for mayoral candidate Rick Caruso. Ragone later made the point that he was referencing what he had watched on television and not the incident, which he had not seen.