Police begin dismantling defiant pro-Palestinian protest encampment at UCLA

Forces move in with helicopters overhead after demonstrators repelled initial attempt to disperse them; police detain handful of people after threatening arrests over loudspeakers

Footage shows police forces removing barriers and dismantling a pro-Palestinian protest encampment at UCLA, May 2, 2024. (Social media/X; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

LOS ANGELES — Police removed barricades and began dismantling an anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian fortified protest encampment early Thursday at the UCLA campus after hundreds of protesters defied police orders to leave, about 24 hours after counter-protesters attacked a tent encampment on the campus.

Police detained a handful of people on campus, tying their wrists with zip ties. The law enforcement action came after officers spent hours threatening arrests over loud speakers if people did not disperse. Hundreds of people had gathered on campus, both inside a barricaded tent encampment and outside of it in support.

As police helicopters hovered overhead, the sound of flash-bangs, which produce a bright light and a loud noise to disorient and stun people, could be heard as police moved in. Chants of “where were you last night?” could be heard. The protesters claim they were attacked by pro-Israel demonstrators last night.

California Highway Patrol officers wearing face shields and protective vests stood with their batons protruding to separate them from demonstrators, who wore helmets and gas masks.

Police methodically ripped apart the encampment’s barricade of plywood, pallets, metal fences and trash dumpsters and made an opening toward dozens of tents of demonstrators. Police also began to pull down canopies and tents. Demonstrators held umbrellas like shields as they faced off with dozens of officers.

The police action occurred a night after the UCLA administration and campus police waited hours to stop the counter-protesters’ attack. The delay drew condemnation from Muslim students and California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Police break through a barrier set up by pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel demonstrators on the UCLA campus Thursday, May 2, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Demonstrators rebuilt the makeshift barriers around their tents on Wednesday while state and campus police watched.

Shortly before 2 a.m., police briefly made their way into the perimeter of the encampment only to retreat after being outnumbered by scores of protesters who yelled “shame on you!” Some in the crowd tossed water bottles and other objects as dozens of officers ran back.

Later the crowd chanted “we’re not leaving. You don’t scare us.”

Huge numbers of police began arriving late in the afternoon Wednesday, and empty buses were parked near the University of California, Los Angeles to take away protesters who don’t comply with the order. The tense standoff came one night after violence instigated by counter-protesters erupted in the same place.

A small city sprang up inside the barricaded encampment, full of hundreds of people and tents on the campus quad. Some protesters said Muslim prayers as the sun set over the campus, while others chanted “we’re not leaving” or passed out goggles and surgical masks. They wore helmets and headscarves, and discussed the best ways to handle pepper spray or tear gas as someone sang over a megaphone.

Police react while pro-Palestinian students stand their ground after police breached their encampment at the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in Los Angeles, California, early on May 2, 2024. (Photo by Etienne LAURENT / AFP)

A few constructed homemade shields out of plywood in case they clashed with police forming skirmish lines elsewhere on the campus. “For rubber bullets, who wants a shield?” a protester called out.

Meanwhile, a large crowd of students, alumni and neighbors gathered on campus steps outside the tents, sitting as they listened and applauded various speakers and joined in pro-Palestinian chants. A group of students holding signs and wearing T-shirts in support of Israel and Jewish people demonstrated nearby.

The crowd continued to grow as the night wore on as more and more officers poured onto campus.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators gather on the UCLA campus Wednesday, May 1, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ethan Swope)

The law enforcement presence and continued warnings stood in contrast to the scene that unfolded the night before, when counter-demonstrators attacked the pro-Palestinian encampment, throwing traffic cones, releasing pepper spray and tearing down barriers. Fighting continued for several hours before police stepped in, though no arrests were made.

At least 15 protesters suffered injuries, and the tepid response by authorities drew criticism from political leaders as well as Muslim students and advocacy groups.

Ray Wiliani, who lives nearby, said he came to UCLA on Wednesday evening to support the pro-Palestinian demonstrators.

“We need to take a stand for it,” he said. “Enough is enough.”

Elsewhere, police in New Hampshire made arrests and took down tents at Dartmouth College and officers in Oregon came onto the campus at Portland State University as school officials sought to end the occupation of the library that started Monday.

The chaotic scenes at UCLA came just hours after New York police burst into a building occupied by anti-war protesters at Columbia University on Tuesday night, breaking up a demonstration that had paralyzed the school.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators continue their encampment at Library Mall on the campus of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin, May 1, 2024. (Samantha Madar/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

Tent encampments of protesters calling on universities to stop doing business with Israel or companies that support the war against Hamas have spread across the country in a student movement unlike any other in the 21st century, reaching from New York to Texas and California. Some Jewish students say the protests have veered into antisemitism and made them afraid to set foot on campus.

Safety concerns have prompted police to take action in some locations, leading to confrontations with law enforcement and arrests. In rarer instances, university officials and protest leaders struck agreements to restrict the disruption to campus life and upcoming commencement ceremonies.

An Associated Press tally counted at least 38 times since April 18 where arrests were made at campus protests across the US. More than 1,600 people have been arrested at 30 schools.

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said in a statement that “a group of instigators” perpetrated the previous night’s attack, but he did not provide details about the crowd or why the administration and school police did not act sooner.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators watch police activity behind a barricade on the UCLA campus Wednesday, May 1, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ethan Swope)

“However one feels about the encampment, this attack on our students, faculty and community members was utterly unacceptable,” he said. “It has shaken our campus to its core.”

Block promised a review of the night’s events after California Gov. Gavin Newsom denounced the delays.

The head of the University of California system, Michael Drake, ordered an “independent review of the university’s planning, its actions and the response by law enforcement.”

“The community needs to feel the police are protecting them, not enabling others to harm them,” Rebecca Husaini, chief of staff for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said in a news conference on the Los Angeles campus later Wednesday, where some Muslim students detailed the overnight events.

Counter-protesters clash with pro-Palestinian protesters at a pro-Palestinian encampment set up on the campus of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), in Los Angeles on May 1, 2024. (ETIENNE LAURENT / AFP)

Speakers disputed the university’s account that 15 people were injured and one hospitalized, saying the number of people taken to the hospital was higher. One student described needing to go to the hospital after being hit in the head by an object wielded by counter-protesters.

Several students who spoke during the news conference said they had to rely on each other, not the police, for support as they were attacked, and that many in the pro-Palestinian encampment remained peaceful and did not engage with counter-protesters. UCLA canceled classes Wednesday.

Tent encampments of protesters calling on universities to stop doing business with Israel or companies they say support the war in Gaza have spread across campuses nationwide in a student movement unlike any other this century. The ensuing police crackdowns echoed actions decades ago against a much larger protest movement protesting the Vietnam War.

In Madison, a scrum broke out early Wednesday after police with shields removed all but one tent and shoved protesters. Four officers were injured, including a state trooper who was hit in the head with a skateboard, authorities said. Four were charged with battering law enforcement.

This is all playing out in an election year in the US, raising questions about whether young voters — who are critical for Democrats — will back US President Joe Biden’s reelection effort, given his staunch support of Israel.

In rare instances, university officials and protest leaders struck agreements to restrict the disruption to campus life and upcoming commencement ceremonies.

At Brown University in Rhode Island, administrators agreed to consider a vote to divest from Israel in October — apparently the first US college to agree to such a demand.

A demonstrator pumps his fist as he hangs a sign reading ‘Glory to the Martyrs’ from a window in Hamilton Hall inside the Columbia University campus, April 30, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

The nationwide campus protests began at Columbia in response to Israel’s offensive in Gaza. War erupted on October 7 when the Palestinian terror group Hamas led a massive cross-border attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, amid numerous atrocities. The roughly 3,000 attackers who burst into southern Israel also abducted 253 people of all ages who were taken as hostages to the Gaza Strip.

Vowing to stamp out Hamas and topple its regime in Gaza, Israel launched a military campaign that also aims to free the hostages, of whom 129 remain in captivity, some believed no longer alive.

At least 34,400 Palestinians have been killed and over 77,600 injured in Gaza since the start of the war, the Hamas-run health ministry in the Strip says.

The figures cannot be independently verified and include some 13,000 Hamas gunmen Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Israel and its supporters have branded the university protests antisemitic, while Israel’s critics say it uses those allegations to silence opposition. Although protesters have been caught on camera making antisemitic remarks or violent threats, organizers of the protests say it is a peaceful movement aimed at defending Palestinian rights and protesting the war.

Meanwhile, protest encampments elsewhere were cleared by the police, resulting in arrests, or closed up voluntarily at schools across the US, including The City College of New York, Fordham University in New York, Portland State in Oregon, Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona, and Tulane University in New Orleans.

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