May 25th, 2024

UCLA cancels classes after violence erupts on campus over the war in Gaza

By Stefanie Dazio, Ethan Swope, Jake Offenhartz And Joseph B. Frederick, The Associated Press on May 1, 2024.

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Dueling groups of protesters clashed overnight at the University of California, Los Angeles, shoving, kicking and beating each other with sticks after pro-Israel demonstrators tried to pull down barricades surrounding a pro-Palestinian encampment. Hours earlier, police burst into a building occupied by anti-war protesters at Columbia University, breaking up a demonstration that had paralyzed the school.

After a couple of hours of scuffles between demonstrators at UCLA, police wearing helmets and face shields slowly separated the groups and quelled the violence. The scene was calm as day broke.

UCLA canceled classes Wednesday and urged people to avoid the area where the fighting broke out. The school’s library won’t reopen until Monday and Royce Hall, which authorities said was vandalized, is closed through Friday. UCLA stationed law enforcement officers throughout campus.

Tent encampments of protesters calling on universities to stop doing business with Israel or companies that 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.

There have been confrontations with law enforcement and more than 1,000 arrests. In rare instances, university officials and protest leaders struck agreements to restrict the disruption to campus life and upcoming commencement ceremonies.

The clashes at UCLA erupted as counter-protesters tried to pull down parade barricades, plywood and wooden pallets protecting a tent encampment built by pro-Palestinian protesters. Video showed fireworks exploding over and in the encampment.

People threw chairs and other objects. A group piled on one person who lay on the ground, kicking and beating them with sticks until others rescued them from the scrum.

People outside the encampment, one draped in an Israeli flag, played recordings of a variety of sounds, including a baby crying and sirens.

Authorities have not detailed injuries.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass called the violence “absolutely abhorrent and inexcusable” in a social media post and said city police were on the scene. California Highway Patrol officers also appeared to join. The university said it requested help.

The university tightened security Tuesday after officials reported “physical altercations.”

Late Tuesday, New York City police officers entered Columbia’s campus after the university requested help. They cleared a tent encampment, along with Hamilton Hall where a stream of officers used a ladder to climb through a second-floor window. Protesters had seized the Ivy League school building about 20 hours earlier.

“After the University learned overnight that Hamilton Hall had been occupied, vandalized, and blockaded, we were left with no choice,” the school said in a statement.

A few dozen protesters at Columbia were arrested after shrugging off an earlier ultimatum to abandon the encampment Monday or face suspension, inspiring demonstrations on campuses elsewhere.

Fabien Lugo, a first-year accounting student who said he was not involved in the protests, said he opposed the university’s decision to call in police.

“This is too intense,” he said. “It feels like more of an escalation than a de-escalation.”

Blocks away from Columbia, at The City College of New York, demonstrators were in a standoff with police outside the public college’s main gate. Video posted on social media by reporters late Tuesday showed officers forcing some people to the ground and shoving others as they cleared the street and sidewalks.

After police arrived, officers lowered a Palestinian flag from the City College flagpole and tossed it to the ground before raising an American flag.

Brown University, another Ivy League school, reached an agreement Tuesday with protesters on its Rhode Island campus. Demonstrators said they would close their encampment if administrators consider divestment from Israel in October – apparently the first time a U.S. college has agreed to protester demands to vote on divestment.

Meanwhile, at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, police in riot gear closed in on an encampment late Tuesday and arrested about 20 people for trespassing. University officials had warned that students would face criminal charges if they did not disperse.

First-year student Brayden Lang watched from the sidelines. “I still know very little about this conflict,” he said. “But the deaths of thousands is something I cannot stand for.”

Police also cleared an encampment Wednesday morning at Tulane University in New Orleans and took down all but one tent at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where police with shields shoved protesters, resulting in a scrum and at least a dozen arrests. Four officers were injured, including a state trooper who was hit in the head with a skateboard, according to University of Wisconsin police spokesperson Marc Lovicott.

California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, was tallying damage after police on Tuesday cleared protesters from two halls that they had occupied since early last week. Of those arrested, 13 are students, one is a faculty member and 18 are not students, the university said in a statement.

The nationwide campus protests began at Columbia in response to Israel’s offensive in Gaza after Hamas launched a deadly attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7. Militants killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages. Vowing to stamp out Hamas, Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, according to the Health Ministry there.

As cease-fire negotiations appeared to gain steam, it wasn’t clear whether those talks would lead to an easing of protests.

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

Columbia’s police action happened on the 56th anniversary of a similar move to quash the occupation of Hamilton Hall by students protesting racism and the Vietnam War.

The police department had said officers wouldn’t enter without the college administration’s request or an imminent emergency. Now, law enforcement will be there through May 17, when the university’s commencement events are scheduled to end.

In a letter to senior police officials, Columbia President Nemat Shafik, who uses the first name Minouche, said the administration asked officers to remove protesters from the occupied building and a tent encampment “with the utmost regret.”

New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat and former police captain, insisted that while students were among those who entered Hamilton Hall, “It was led by individuals who were not affiliated with the university.”

Adams provided no evidence to back up this contention, saying revealing those details would be “too sensitive” to an ongoing law enforcement investigation.

Rebecca U. Weiner, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism, said some of the protesters were “known” to the department to have participated in past protests.

The police department’s deputy commissioner for public information, Tarik Sheppard, said 40 to 50 people were arrested at Hamilton Hall and that there were no injuries. Adams said nearly 300 people were arrested at Columbia University and City College in police crackdowns.

Protesters first set up a tent encampment at Columbia almost two weeks ago. The school sent in police to clear the tents the following day, arresting more than 100 people, only for the students to return.

Negotiations between the protesters and the college came to a standstill in recent days, and the school set a deadline for the activists to abandon the tent encampment Monday afternoon or be suspended.

Instead, protesters took over Hamilton Hall early Tuesday, carrying in furniture and metal barricades.


Offenhartz and Frederick reported from New York. Associated Press journalists around the country contributed to this report, including Cedar Attanasio, Jonathan Mattise, Colleen Long, Karen Matthews, Jim Vertuno, Hannah Schoenbaum, Sarah Brumfield, Christopher Weber, Carolyn Thompson, Dave Collins, Makiya Seminera, Philip Marcelo, Corey Williams, Felicia Fonseca and Kathy McCormack.

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