Police clear encampment at UCLA and arrest over 100 pro-Palestine protesters


As the sun rose on a campus littered with wreckage, pro-Palestine protesters at the University of California, Los Angeles, were still facing off with lines of riot cops and chanting “We’re not leaving!”

Police had cleared UCLA’s student encampment in a late-night operation, and arrested at least 200 pro-Palestine demonstrators early on Thursday morning . The school’s student newspaper said “hundreds” had been arrested, including students and faculty.

The police operation on Wednesday night followed a brutal hours-long attack on the encampment on Tuesday night by masked “instigators” who came to campus and assaulted students with projectiles and chemical agents, while campus security and police retreated or stood by without intervening.

“Where were you last night?” protesters chanted on Wednesday, as multiple law enforcement agencies worked to clear the pro-Palestine encampment students had erected on campus. California highway patrol spokespeople told reporters at least 250 officers had been sent to campus to participate in the operation.

At least 1,000 people had gathered on UCLA’s campus Wednesday night to protect the pro-Palestine encampment, as demonstrators had warned police were arriving to clear it. The chaotic operation lasted into the early hours of the morning. There were reports of law enforcement using flash bangs on the student protesters. An investigative reporter for CalMatters documented police firing impact munitions on protesters, and aiming one at a woman at point-blank range.

The UCLA arrests early Thursday morning pushed the estimated total of campus protest arrests to more than 2,000, according to a tally by the Associated Press.

UCLA students began an encampment in their quad in late April to protest the killings of over 30,000 Palestinians since 7 October, and to demand that their university “divest from companies which profit off of the occupation, apartheid and genocide in Palestine.”

David Myers, a UCLA professor of Jewish history, said on Wednesday afternoon that the student protesters at the encampment had been non-violent, though they had been criticized for some things some protesters had said, and for instances in which they “denied passage to people trying to make their way around the encampment”.

Some UCLA alumni spoke out out about the school’s treatment of students, with the Hollywood actor Gabrielle Union sharing a post by the school’s student journalists about being threatened with arrest during the night. “What don’t they want the public to know?” she asked.

UCLA’s administration announced that classes would be held virtually on Thursday and Friday, and urged people to “avoid campus”, particularly the area where the encampment had been located. By late morning, the campus was in full clean-up mode, and the area near the encampment was quiet, except for the helicopters overhead.

For Noah, a 24-year-old law student at UCLA the violence of the past couple of days could have been avoided had UCLA been better prepared to respond the initial encampment.

“I’m not surprised,” he said of the creation of the encampment. “But I am shocked at UCLA for being completely unaware of what the situation was and I’m shocked by the way the Los Angeles community has reacted.”

Another student, Lauren Brown, returned to campus today after spending last night elsewhere to escape the noise of helicopters directly over her dorm building.

On Tuesday night, she heard the firecrackers and yelling and assumed it was coming from nearby frat houses. Instead it was the sound of fighting between pro-Israel protesters and people at the encampment.

Watching news coverage the next day was hard, she said. “I wondered where police were,” Brown, a 19-year-old first-year student said.

She said she wasn’t sure whether she would return to her dorm room due to the constant sound of helicopters. And while her parents are worried and want her to come home, she doesn’t feel unsafe or that her school year has been disrupted.

“I wouldn’t say [the protests] are an inconvenience but it’s a big reality check that this is real stuff going on. I respect the protesters showing their freedom of speech because people in Gaza can’t do that because they’re being attacked.”

The arrests and eviction of demonstrators are in response to a nationwide protest movement pushing universities to divest from businesses that support the war in Gaza, a military campaign Israel has carried out since Hamas militants killed more than 1,200 people on 7 October.

Israel’s stated mission, to dismantle Hamas, has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza health ministry, and pushed thousands more to the brink of starvation as the nation blocks international humanitarian aid.

Ask yourself why reporters would need to be arrested for reporting on what's happening at UCLA? What dont they want the public to know? Asking as a UCLA alum class of 1996 https://t.co/Q6RK79xgGW

— Gabrielle Union (@itsgabrielleu) May 2, 2024

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Ask yourself why reporters would need to be arrested for reporting on what’s happening at UCLA? What dont they want the public to know? Asking as a UCLA alum class of 1996 https://t.co/Q6RK79xgGW

— Gabrielle Union (@itsgabrielleu) May 2, 2024

The protests at UCLA appeared to be getting the most attention. Iranian state television carried live images of the police action, as did Qatar’s pan-Arab Al Jazeera satellite network. Live images of Los Angeles also played across Israeli television networks as well.

California highway patrol officers poured into the campus by the hundreds early on Thursday. Wearing face shields and protective vests, they stood with their batons protruding out to separate them from demonstrators, who wore helmets and gas masks and chanted: “You want peace. We want justice.”

Royce Hall was left covered in graffiti after police cleared the encampment. Phrases painted on the walls included "Divest from genocide" and "Free Gaza." pic.twitter.com/tK1ZzVt7Te

— Daily Bruin (@dailybruin) May 2, 2024

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Royce Hall was left covered in graffiti after police cleared the encampment. Phrases painted on the walls included “Divest from genocide” and “Free Gaza.” pic.twitter.com/tK1ZzVt7Te

— Daily Bruin (@dailybruin) May 2, 2024

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. Officers also began to pull down canopies and tents. The number of protesters appeared to diminish through the morning as some voluntarily left with their hands up and police detained others.

Meanwhile, demonstrators told a local reporter that police were “creating chaos” as they attempted to peacefully demonstrate with “hands up”, and video footage showed chaotic scenes of police used flash-bang stun grenades to disperse protesters.

Police were criticized on Wednesday for allowing counter-protesters to violently attack students, including shooting fireworks into the encampment. 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.

UCLA’s student newspaper the Daily Bruin posted pictures on social media of a campus building covered in graffiti, scrawled with the words, “Free Palestine”, “Fuck Israel” and a sign in Spanish that said “bendita la resistencia” (blessed the resistance). In spite of the police presence, protesters still appeared on the campus on Thursday morning.

Student protests have sprung up across the country since mid-April, when an encampment began at Columbia University in New York. In many cases, the protesters have been met by police and hundreds of arrests have been made.

Brown University was apparently the first to de-escalate protests by ceding to some of protesters’ demands. The university agreed to a divestment vote in October.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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