Community shows overwhelming support for UCSC research scientists

Chancellor Blumenthal speaks with reporters at a rally in support of UCSC researchers at the base of campus Monday evening.
Hundreds of people attended the rally while news vans captured the scene with towering cameras. (Photos by Carolyn Lagattuta)
Santa Cruz Mayor Ryan Coonerty harshly denounced the attacks at a press conference held earlier in the day. (Photo by Gwen Mickelson)

More than 200 community and campus members gathered at the UC Santa Cruz entrance Monday afternoon to show their support for scientific research at the university and denounce two recent firebombings targeting UCSC researchers.

Chancellor George Blumenthal told the gathered crowd he was "extremely grateful not only to see faculty and staff, but also members of the community, as well. We have people here doing cutting-edge research on cancer and disease, and by coming out here today, you are showing support for that research."

Earlier Monday, Santa Cruz Mayor Ryan Coonerty and Santa Cruz Police Chief Howard Skerry announced a $30,000 reward fund for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the attacks. Tuesday, the FBI added $20,000 to the reward, bringing it to $50,000.

"These threats and attacks are shocking and abhorrent," Coonerty said at Monday's news conference at the police station. "Let me be clear: This is not protest, but terrorism."

Skerry said investigators have discovered "significant forensic evidence" at the scenes of both incidents but gave no information about possible suspects.

"We are not going to stop until we find those responsible," said Skerry. He asked for the community's help, urging anyone with information to call the investigations department at (831) 420-5820 or the anonymous tip line at (831) 420-5995.

Seven TV news vans lined the perimeter of Monday evening's informal rally at the base of campus, which materialized almost overnight in response to the weekend attacks on UCSC professors.

Psychology professor Margarita Azmitia said she attended the rally to support the research that goes on at the campus.

"Violence is not the way, and I wanted to come with my kids and support that point," she said.

"My feeling is that this is an act of terrorism, and our response should be to stand up and say we won't be terrorized," added Bob Hanson, who noted that he was a retired research astronomer who had worked at UCSC for three decades.

The crowd included Mayor Coonerty and City Council members Mike Rotkin, Emily Reilly, Tony Madrigal, and Lynn Robinson.

The idea for a campus rally came to Jack Mallory only 24 hours before the event. A former visiting assistant professor of anthropology at UCSC, he now teaches at Santa Cruz High School.

"What motivated me was I saw two students yesterday carrying signs supporting research at the base of campus, and I thought, 'Why aren't there 200 people there?'" he said. "We want people to know that this (violence) is unacceptable in this community."

Santa Cruz Police, the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and UCSC Police are investigating the early Saturday morning attacks at the homes of two biomedical researchers.

In one case, the Village Circle home of a UCSC researcher was firebombed. The professor and his family, including two young children, were home at the time. They escaped down a fire ladder from a second-story window. Santa Cruz police are investigating the case as an attempted homicide.

The family's address was among those listed in animal rights fliers left at a downtown coffee house July 29. The leaflets contained UCSC researchers' names, addresses, and other personal information.

Also on Saturday morning, a car was destroyed by fire at faculty housing on Dickens Way on the UCSC campus close to the same time as the home-firebombing incident.

The incidents have been designated as acts of domestic terrorism.

UCSC is providing $15,000 of the reward; the FBI added $20,000; $2,500 is from the Humane Society of the United States; the balance is from community members and the City of Santa Cruz.

The violent acts follow a string of attacks by suspected anti-science extremists dating back to an attempted firebombing of a police car in March 2007.

In February, UCSC researchers experienced several acts of harrassment and vandalism, and masked demonstrators provoked a confrontation at a UCSC scientist's home.

UC President Mark Yudof said in a statement that the attacks are "outrageous."

"As we remain steadfast in our support of the free, civil, and lawful expression of views, we are equally unwavering in our commitment to protect our faculty, staff, and students and to hold the perpetrators of these acts accountable," Yudof said.

He pledged to continue to work with Assemblyman Gene Mullin, D-San Mateo, for the passage of AB 2296, which aims to provide more tools to law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of such crimes.

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