Police flatten pro-Palestinian camp at UCLA, arrest protesters

In World
May 02, 2024


Hundreds of helmeted police swarmed the site of a pro-Palestinian protest at the University of California at Los Angeles early on Thursday, firing flash bangs, arresting defiant demonstrators and dismantling their encampment.

The pre-dawn police crackdown at UCLA marked the latest flashpoint in mounting tensions on US college campuses, where protests over Israel’s war in Gaza have led to student clashes with each other and with law enforcement.

“I’m a student here. I’m an English major,” one student said to television cameras, as police dragged him away. “Please don’t fail us. Don’t fail us.”

Prior to moving in, police urged demonstrators in repeated announcements to clear the protest zone, which occupied a central plaza about the size of a football field.

After massing for hours, officers eventually moved through the area in lines holding batons as protesters – some in white helmets – linked arms, attempting to block their advance.

Read more: Police mass near UCLA pro-Palestinian protest camp, a day after violent clashes

Live TV footage showed officers taking down tents, tearing apart barricades and removing the encampment, while arrested protesters sat with their hands restrained behind their backs with zip-ties.

Students have rallied or set up tents at dozens of schools in recent days, calling on President Joe Biden, who has supported Israel’s right to defend itself, to do more to stop the bloodshed in Gaza and demanding schools divest from companies that support Israel’s government.

Many of the schools, including Columbia University in New York City, have called in police to quell the protests.

In New Hampshire, police arrested approximately 100 protesters in separate incidents at Dartmouth University and the University of New Hampshire overnight, breaking up encampments.

In Portland, Oregon, police entered the Portland State University library on Thursday morning and began arresting protesters who had barricaded themselves inside since Monday.

Biden broke his silence on the demonstrations on Thursday, saying Americans have the right to protest but not to unleash violence.

“Destroying property is not a peaceful protest,” he said at the White House. “It’s against the law. Vandalism, trespassing, breaking windows, shutting down campuses, forcing the cancelling of classes and graduations – none of this is a peaceful protest.”

But Biden also rejected the idea of deploying the National Guard to campuses.

Biden, who is seeking re-election in November against Republican former President Donald Trump, has walked a careful line as he confronts criticism from both the right and the left over his Israel policy.

Campus clashes

At UCLA, dozens of loud explosions were heard during the clash from flash bangs, or stun grenades, fired by police as they moved into the camp.

Demonstrators, some carrying makeshift shields and umbrellas, chanted “push them back” and flashed bright lights in officers’ eyes.

Also read: UCLA campus protests over Gaza war erupt into violent clashes between rival groups

Local television station KABC-TV estimated 300 to 500 protesters had been hunkered down inside the camp, many wearing the traditional Palestinian keffiyeh scarves, while around 2,000 more had gathered outside the barricades in support.

Some of the protesters had been seen donning hard hats, goggles and respirator masks in anticipation of the siege a day after the university declared the encampment unlawful.

By sunrise, the plaza was strewn with detritus from the destroyed encampment: tents, blankets, food containers, a Palestinian flag, an upturned helmet. A line of officers carrying batons stood at the plaza’s edge, while a small group of remaining protesters shouted chants at them nearby.

The protests follow the deadly Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel by Hamas fighters from the Gaza Strip, which killed 1,200 people and saw dozens taken hostage, and an ensuing Israeli offensive that has killed about 34,000 and created a humanitarian crisis.

The campus demonstrations have been met with counter-protesters accusing them of fomenting anti-Jewish hatred. The pro-Palestinian side, including some Jews opposed to Israeli actions in Gaza, say they are being unfairly branded as antisemitic for criticising Israel’s government and expressing support for human rights.

UCLA crackdown came day after violent clash

UCLA had cancelled classes for the day on Wednesday following a violent clash between the encampment’s occupants and a group of masked counter-demonstrators who mounted a surprise assault late Tuesday night on the tent city.

The occupants of the camp, set up last week, had remained mostly peaceful before the melee, in which both sides traded blows and doused each other with pepper spray.

The confrontation went on for two or three hours into early Wednesday morning before police restored order. A spokesperson for California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, later criticised the “limited and delayed campus law enforcement response” to the unrest as “unacceptable”.

Taylor Gee, a 30-year-old pro-Palestinian protester and UCLA law student, said the police operation on Thursday felt “especially galling” to many protesters given the slow police response a night earlier.

“For them to come out the next night to remove us from the encampment, it doesn’t make any sense, but it also makes all the sense in the world,” he said.

UCLA officials said the campus, with nearly 52,000 students, would remain shuttered except for limited operations on Thursday and Friday.

The police action at UCLA came after police in New York City on Tuesday arrested pro-Palestinian activists who occupied a building at Columbia University and removed a tent city from the campus of the Ivy League school.

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