More than 2,100 people arrested at anti-Israel campus protests across the US

Over 100 people were taken into custody at Columbia earlier this week – where officer accidently fired gun – and 200 at UCLA early Thursday morning as Biden decried

Police clash with anti-Israel demonstrators on the UCLA campus, May 2, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP/Ethan Swope)
Police clash with anti-Israel demonstrators on the UCLA campus, May 2, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP/Ethan Swope)

LOS ANGELES — Police have arrested more than 2,100 people during pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel protests at college campuses across the United States in recent weeks, sometimes using riot gear, tactical vehicles and flash-bang devices to clear tent encampments and occupied buildings.

One officer accidentally discharged his gun inside a Columbia University administration building while clearing out protesters camped inside, authorities disclosed Thursday.

No one was injured by the officer’s mistake late Tuesday inside Hamilton Hall on the Columbia campus, the NYPD said Thursday, asserting that he was trying to use the flashlight attached to his gun at the time and instead fired a single round that struck a frame on the wall.

There were other officers but no students in the immediate vicinity, officials said. Body camera footage shows when the officer’s gun went off, but the district attorney’s office is conducting a review, a standard practice.

More than 100 people were taken into custody during the Columbia crackdown, just a fraction of the total arrests stemming from recent campus protests against Israel’s offensive in Gaza, which began following the October 7 massacre carried out by the Hamas terror group in southern Israel.

A tally by The Associated Press on Thursday found at least 50 incidents of arrests at 40 different US colleges or universities since April 18.

Early Thursday, officers surged against a crowd of demonstrators at the University of California, Los Angeles, ultimately taking at least 200 protesters into custody after hundreds defied orders to leave, some forming human chains as police fired flash-bangs to break up the crowds. Police tore apart a fortified encampment’s barricade of plywood, pallets, metal fences and dumpsters, then pulled down canopies and tents.

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)

Like at UCLA, tent encampments of protesters calling on universities to stop doing business with Israel or companies they say support the war against Hamas have spread across other campuses nationwide in a student movement unlike any other this century.

Iranian state television carried live images of the police action at UCLA, as did Qatar’s pan-Arab Al Jazeera satellite network. Live images of Los Angeles also played across Israeli television networks.

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 and violent threats, protest organizers say it is a peaceful movement to defend Palestinian rights and protest the war.

US President Joe Biden on Thursday defended the right of students to peaceful protest but decried the chaos, destruction of property, violence and antisemitism witnessed in recent days.

The nationwide campus protests began at Columbia on April 17 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, more than 30 of whom are 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.

On April 18, the NYPD cleared Columbia’s initial encampment and arrested roughly 100 protesters. The demonstrators set up new tents and defied threats of suspension, and escalated their actions early Tuesday by occupying Hamilton Hall, an administration building that was similarly seized in 1968 by students protesting racism and the Vietnam War.

Demonstrators from the pro-Palestinian encampment on Columbia’s campus show a banner as they barricade themselves inside Hamilton Hall, an academic building which has been occupied in past student movements, and name it after a Palestinian child allegedly killed in Gaza, April 30, 2024 in New York City. (Alex Kent/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP)

Roughly 20 hours later, officers stormed the hall. Video showed police with zip ties and riot shields streaming through a second-floor window. Police had said protesters inside presented no substantial resistance.

The officer’s gun went off at 9:38 p.m., the NYPD said, about 10 minutes after police started pouring into Hamilton Hall. The department did not name the officer, whose actions were first reported by news outlet The City on Thursday.

The confrontations at UCLA also played out over several days this week. UCLA Chancellor Gene Block told alumni on a call Thursday afternoon that the trouble started after a permitted pro-Israel rally was held on campus Sunday, resulting in skirmishes with at least one person reported to have been injured.

In the following days, administrators tried to find a peaceful solution with members of the encampment and expected things to remain stable, Block said.

That changed late Tuesday, he said, when counterdemonstrators clashed with the pro-Palestinian encampment, grappling in fistfights and shoving, kicking and using sticks to beat one another as days of tensions over the war in Gaza burst into outright violence.

It took several hours for campus administrators and police to intervene or call for backup, and no one was arrested that night, but at least 15 protesters were injured. The delayed response to the brawl drew criticism from political leaders, including California Gov. Gavin Newsom, and officials pledged an independent review.

“We certainly weren’t thinking that we’d end up with a large number of violent people, that hadn’t happened before,” Block said on the call.

By Wednesday, the encampment had become “much more of a bunker” and there was no other solution but to have police dismantle it, he said.

Pro-Israeli demonstrators protest across from the encampment at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) on April 26, 2024 (Frederic J. Brown / AFP)

The hourslong standoff went into Thursday morning as officers warned over loudspeakers that there would be arrests if the crowd — at the time more than 1,000 strong inside the encampment as well as outside of it — did not disperse. Hundreds left voluntarily, while another 200-plus remained and were ultimately taken into custody.

Meanwhile, protest encampments at other schools across the US have been cleared by police — resulting in more arrests — or closed up voluntarily. But the University of Minnesota officials reached an agreement with protesters not to disrupt commencements and similar compromises have been made at Northwestern University in suburban Chicago, Rutgers University in New Jersey and Brown University in Rhode Island.

Ariel Dardashti, a graduating UCLA senior studying global studies and sociology, said no student should feel unsafe at school.

“It should not get to the point where students are being arrested,” Dardashti said on campus Thursday.

Dardashti, who is Jewish, said he can relate to the trauma suffered by Palestinians.

“When my dad was fleeing Iran, he prayed that his children wouldn’t have to face antisemitism,” Dardashti said. “We’re afraid of having to flee again in the same way our parents did.”

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