Words By: Lekha Sapers
UCSB lore is illustrious – particularly as it is documented from the KCSB lens. Coming from the archives coordinator herself, no event embodies the station’s core tenet more so than the February 25, 1970 Bank of America Burning. Station lore has documented this anti-establishment, anti-Vietnam act time and time again, perhaps to the point where it is almost trite to do so. Images from the day itself pervade the KCSB station walls, bank aflame and student spirits reaching an all-time degree of frustration.
For those unfamiliar with the Bank Burning, its incendiary nature was sparked not by police brutality or student discourse, but (arguably) by a preceding speech, wherein Chicago 7 lawyer William Kunstler took the podium at Perfect Park. The content of his speech, while rather humane upon first glance, was appropriately Orwellian. Speaking in front of over 200 Isla Vista activists, Kunstler stressed the need to avoid indifference in the face of authority. He was quoted saying “…I have never thought that breaking of windows and sporadic… violence is a good tactic, but on the other hand I can not bring myself to become bitter and condemn young people who engage in it.” With gossamer ties to the Isla Vista protest scene and iron-clad ones to the Chicago 7, it was advantageous for Kunstler to avoid flammable commentary. However, coupled with general student unrest and aforementioned anti-establishment rhetoric, the Santa Barbara pigs were to get what they deserved. At approximately 5:15 pm, a dozen or more police vehicles began to patrol the streets of Isla Vista. Concurrently, then-undergraduate student Rich Underwood had stepped out of the local liquor store, making his way home while clutching a bottle of wine. Underwood was handcuffed, just moments later, and harassed by two officers, who claimed he held a molotov cocktail for malicious purposes. This incident did not go without notice – thousands of students kept Underwood in their peripheral vision, pelting police cars with rocks. As tensions escalated, a police car was destroyed by fire, windows were smashed, and anarchy ensued until approximately 8:00pm. The prevailing incident remains a singular dumpster, lit aflame and placed in front of the Embarcadero Bank of America. The dumpster only burned for about a half hour, until a few frat boys managed to extinguish the flames. Regardless, police returned, erasing the air of anarchy that had been prevalent for the previous few hours. Various tear gas raids ensued, but police grew powerless and unprepared for a riot of such caliber. The bank was fully ignited between 11:30 pm and 12:30am, with flames reaching heights of up to forty feet. The roof caved in, and spectators entered the morning of February 26th with mixed feelings.
Chancellor Cheadle retorted rather quickly to the February 25th events, as University administration usually does. Citing Free Speech Movement protocol, the violence was denounced, and lack of university-led discipline was mentioned as well. William Kunstler bore the largest weight of the riots, as Cheadle and Vice Chancellor Gardner pinned him for incendiary commentary and the throwing around of phrases such as ‘outside agitators’, implying less-than-placid relations between the university and anti-Vietnam leaders. And another polarization was brewing between students and police. Not novel by any means, this interaction in particular created an impetus for THREE subsequent riots, which went virtually unremembered on the IV archival timeline. These riots are commonly cited as IV 1 (2/26 – 3/01), IV 2 (4/16- 4/18), and IV 3 (06/03 – 06/12), respectively. I’ll go through each event, play-by-play, to showcase Isla Vista history even further beyond the burning of the bank.
Isla Vista Riots, part 1, 02.26.70 to 03.01.70
The first series of Isla Vista riots directly succeeded the Bank Burning itself. During the morning of February 26th, the official start of IV 1, students were looking to rest on their collective laurels from the evening before. Momentum was in full force, and nothing – not even law enforcement – could get in Isla Vista’s way. At 6:15p, a rally was called to action at Perfect Park, amassing a total of 200 persons and lasting around an hour prior to heavy police presence. Once the pigs arrived, a march ensued, followed by a bonfire and a declaration of ‘extreme emergency’ in Isla Vista. Upon reaching the Francisco Torres towers, known now as Santa Catalina, students donned handkerchiefs and rocks armed to hurl at police. Moments later, gas exploded from all corners of the property; by 10:10, gunfire ensued. By early morning, tear gas, bullets, and national guardsmen had been employed against the 300-600 student/non-student protesters. A newly-instated student curfew was finally enforced by 5:30am. Almost twelve hours later, police presence grew rampant; for every civilian in Isla Vista stood three officers, either on foot, in a police vehicle, or flying above in a helicopter. The 27th saw a few reported incidents of police car attacks and over 60 arrests, but set a precedent for a much quieter riot closure. Rain poured over the course of Feb 28th, and on March 1, police retired due to nearly empty IV streets, leaving only the residue of riots prior. Between IV 1 and IV 2, both arrested prisoners and student media outlets were grossly mistreated by police. And, in a vein (albeit subtle) of peaceful retaliation, both an Isla Vista Community Council and the onset of Isla Vista Foot Patrol were implemented.
Isla Vista Riots, part 2: 04.16.70 to 04.18.70:
Chicago 7’s presence continued to bubble in the Isla Vista consciousness, particularly after activist Jerry Rubin was banned from speaking in Santa Barbara county by law enforcement. Countercultural momentum could not slow, however, so Nancy Rubin, wife of Jerry, took his place. She drew a crowd of over 1,800 students, calling for a ‘revolution’, amongst other things. In fact, following the rally came a military craft via sea, filled to the brim with students in indigenous garb. Crowd control was minimal; protesters were said to be in possession of “F*** Reagan” paraphernalia and marijuana joints. Perhaps most importantly, then-Chancellor Lyle Reynolds joined the students in protest, later claiming that he was “…committed to helping students whether they be radical or not.” Night fell, and student reporters and activists alike marched through the Isla Vista streets. A fire hydrant was opened, windows were broken, trash bins were set aflame, and at 7:10pm, a police unit suffered three bottle throwings. By approximately 11:00, police dump trucks began to patrol the streets at 40 MPH. However, unlike the first riot, the crowd was largely divided in their attitudes towards this growing culture of protest – students were trepid about inciting. Regardless, a state of emergency was declared and a curfew was instated. On the second evening of IV 2, protesters marched, again, around the Isla Vista loop. Kevin Moran, a UCSB senior, joined the protests in an attempt to temper them and put out the flames. He and his roommate, Thomas Thomaides tried, during various instances, to maintain the peace. Moran’s fatal incident, however, was an endeavor to stop a burning trash bin from being pushed toward the bank’s newly-instated facade. Firecrackers were set off, and general visibility was blurred. Police were called into the area, and began blindly firing into the crowd. Attempts to disperse protesters proved ultimately fatal, as Officer David Gosselin, in control of dump truck Lion 5, had shot and killed Kevin Patrick Moran. Moran was pronounced dead at 1:30am on April 18th. The wound was small, and Gosselin was finally deemed culpable when the bullet was proven to have been .33 caliber instead of .22 from a sniper rifle. In fact, it was stated de jure that there were no snipers stationed in Isla Vista on the eve of Moran’s death. While Moran’s death reflected poorly upon the police themselves, it was succeeded by multiple surveillance installations all throughout Isla Vista, as well as KCSB’s 24-hour-long shutdown (for intent to incite rioting). During the closure, a degree of organized resistance to pig forces was employed; Asst Professor of Anthropology (albeit on leave) Bill Allen was openly pro-confrontation. Because of this, police from both LA and Santa Barbara were to patrol the Isla Vista streets. The riots, although tapering by April 19th, gained further traction when Captain Joel Honey dropped tear gas over Perfect Park, kindling the anti-establishment tendencies of the UCSB student body. A residual feeling was pervasive in the activist nous: Who is going to die next?
Isla Vista Riots, part 3: 06.03.70 – 06.12.70
Beyond the IV Campus itself, protests sparked at 60-70 colleges regarding then-President Nixon’s decision to order US troops into Cambodia. Likewise, unrest ensued at a more localized scale, outside of the global political sphere. At UCSB, the Santa Barbara 20, a unified group of arrested activists, pursued $50,000 per defendant on the basis of wrongful criminal allegations. In a separate vein, Chancellor Cheadle, burdened with the weight of ‘free speech denial’ accusations, allowed yuppie Jerry Rubin to once again speak in IV. Rubin’s May 25th speech, however, was largely a dud.
The third IV Riots lasted a total of 9 days, and resulted in the arrests of six hundred and sixty seven people. Described as being ‘reactionary to the reactionaries’, the third series of riots emerged in the common discourse as nothing but an ‘…annoyance…’, where people were ‘dodging bullets and dodging tear gas canisters trying to get from here to there and it just was, again, kind of an annoyance.’ These ‘annoyances’ began June 5, where a rally of nearly 2,000 was held at noon to protest the arrests adjacent to the Bank’s burning. During the rally, various petitions were spread asking for arson charges to be dropped. Of course, the bank refused. By 3:30am on the subsequent day, the Boy Scouts (AKA UCSB’s campus protectors) called the police to mitigate a potential riot. A small fire was lit, and police retorted with the use and overuse of dump trucks, sling shots, and stones. The 7th was the evening of the Isla Vista pleasure faire, wherein the 7:30 pm curfew was still in effect. Patrons flocked to the faire, but did not depart upon curfew enforcement. Instead, they ventured toward the unguarded bank, where riots and further violence ensued. Come morning time of the 8th, both Santa Barbara and Los Angeles police forces pursued the rioting Isla Vistans. Curfews were as strict as ever and in full effect; more than 20 arrests were made from curfew violations. While the police were met with a general air of apathy from the involved students, the pigs were regardless undeterred. Accusations of police brutality and excessive force spewed from all over IV, particularly on behalf of the Los Angeles special riot squad. Cops were ‘cracking down’ on the remaining activists, and doing so with the most brute force possible. By the 10th, it was clear to the police that the crackdown had failed. At around 7:00 pm, 1, 500 people gathered in Perfect park in yet another attempt to lift the curfew. This was an entirely peaceful sit-in, but by 9:30, 300 arrests were made and police threatened use of tear gas if protesters did not obey. There was no gas deployed. June 11th, the subsequent morning, saw looser curfews, pushing the 7:30 time back to 11pm for almost all regions of IV.
Efforts to remedy heinous acts of police brutality were enacted by the students. The Santa Barbara Citizens Commission on Civil disorders was formed on June 15th to mitigate the already-stacked history of unprovoked beatings, shootings, and tear gassings from the police. The general student consensus was to explore the causes behind civil disorders and protect citizens from unnecessary violence. Five independent state investigations were engendered to remedy the brutality charges, but nothing resulted.
For further reading on the IV Riot series, UCSB + KCSB alumnus Malcolm Gault-Williams’ novel Sunshine Revolutionaries is definitely worth pursuing. Link to purchase here. If you’re interested in archival blog content, I’ll be releasing an interview with ex-KCSB General Manager Tim Owens in the near future. He will provide a firsthand account of the events at the Burning of the Bank.
El Gaucho, January 23, 1968. Main page. (n.d.). Retrieved January 15, 2023, from https://alexandria.ucsb.edu/lib/ark:/48907/f39k4d6m
Gault-Williams, M. (2004). Don’t Bank on Amerika.
Kevin Moran. Department of Political Science – UC Santa Barbara. (n.d.). Retrieved January 15, 2023, from https://polsci.ucsb.edu/news/announcement/934
U.S. Government Printing Office. (1970). Assaults on law enforcement officers. hearings before the subcommittee to investigate the administration of the Internal Security Act and other internal security laws of the Committee on the Judiciary United States Senate, Ninety-First Congress, second session on S. 4325, a bill to prohibit flight in interstate or foreign commerce to avoid prosecution for the killing of a policeman or fireman: S. 4348, a bill to prohibit assaults on state law enforcement officers, firemen, and Judicial officers: S. 4359, a bill to amend Chapter 84 of Title 18 of the United States code, relating to the injuring or killing of police officers because of their official character, and for other purposes and s. 4403, a bill to provide criminal penalties for acts committed in furtherance of urban terrorism, to provide licensing provisions and criminal penalties designed to control the unlawful use of explosive, and for other purposes.