SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California Highway Patrol officers arrested dozens of protesters who refused to leave the state Capitol Monday night after repeated warnings, capping a day of protests over cuts to higher education that saw thousands descend upon Sacramento.
The CHP said 68 people were arrested Monday evening and four earlier in the day. The protesters who were arrested for refusing to leave will be charged with trespassing, CHP Capt. Andy Manard said.
Police started pulling out protesters who remained in the Capitol rotunda around 7:30 p.m., more than an hour after they began warning them with a bullhorn to leave. Protesters chanted "We're doing this for your kids," as they were lifted by the arms one by one, handcuffed with plastic ties and led away.
"We gave them about seven or eight opportunities to avoid arrest," Manard said. "We wanted to give them every opportunity to leave. Having that many arrests puts a stress on the jails too."
He said the protesters would be taken to the Sacramento County Jail.
Those arrested were part of a boisterous daylong protest over state budget cuts to higher education that have led to steep tuition increases and fewer courses at California's public universities and colleges. Thousands swarmed the Capitol lawn, waving signs and chanting, "They say cut back, we say fight back."
Democratic lawmakers addressed the group and lamented the deep cuts to higher education they have made in recent years.
"We were expecting to have a good future, but things are looking uncertain for a lot of families," said Alison Her, 19, a nursing student at California State University, Fresno. "I'm the oldest in my family, and I want my siblings to be able to go to college, too."
Organizers had hoped that 10,000 protesters would demonstrate against rising tuition rates and demand that state lawmakers restore funding for higher education. But the actual turnout fell short.
After the rally, hundreds of students lined up to enter the Capitol and filled conference rooms and hallways inside. Some met with lawmakers to lobby for increased funding for higher education, while others headed for the rotunda.
CHP officers allowed several hundred students to settle on the black and white marble floor of the rotunda before all four hallway entrances to the area were blocked. Another hundred students sat down in a hallway, communicating with fellow protesters by call and response.
Several lawmakers watched from a second-floor balcony as the protesters were later arrested.
Outside the Capitol, hundreds of protesters who had lingered into the evening disbursed after the arrested protesters were taken away in vans. Officers in riot gear guarded the underground exits where they were taken out.
A CHP helicopter circled overhead throughout the day and evening. Manard said there were 210 officers for Monday's events.
Protesters spent two hours debating in call and response whether to stay after 6 p.m. and get arrested. They developed a list of core demands to present to lawmakers, including taxing the rich, educating prisoners and funding free textbooks.
A statue of Queen Isabella and Christopher Columbus was decorated with signs reading "Stop the fee increases" and "Occupy education."
Earlier in the day, three women were arrested for disobeying an officer's order after trying to unfurl a banner on the second floor. A man was arrested outside the building for being in possession of a switchblade knife, the CHP said.
Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement that the protest highlights the need for California voters to approve a tax increase he has proposed for the November ballot.
"The students today are reflecting the frustrations of millions of Californians who have seen their public schools and universities eroded year after year," said Brown, a Democrat. "That's why it's imperative that we get more tax revenue this November."
Brown's initiative would fund education and public safety programs by temporarily raising income taxes on people who make more than $250,000 a year and temporarily increasing the sales tax by half a cent.
The University of California Student Association has endorsed a rival initiative that would tax millionaires and earmark the revenue for education. The California Federation of Teachers and state PTA support that initiative.
Buses brought hundreds of students in for Monday's march from as far away as the University of California, Riverside, 450 miles south of Sacramento.
The crowd was a sea of red and white, as many wore T-shirts that said "Refund our Education" and "March March."
Tuition has nearly doubled in the past five years, to $13,000 for resident undergraduates at University of California schools and to $6,400 at California State University schools. Community college fees are set to rise to $46 per unit by this summer, up from $20 per unit in 2007.
Sam Resnick, 20, a history student at Pasadena City College, brought a tent with him to the rally.
"We want to show the state government that we care about our education, and we're not going to leave until they make it a priority," Resnick said.
Despite participation from outside groups, including Occupy protesters and supporters of the millionaire's tax, student organizers tried to keep the focus on education cuts.
Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, urged the students in a speech to use social media to spread the word about how much debt they are forced to take on to attend public colleges and universities. Perez and other Democrats support Brown's tax proposal.
"For thousands of students across California, the debt is too much to take on and the bill is too high," he said.
But at one point, the crowd drowned Perez out, chanting "Show us."