UCLA faces criticism for failure to act to stop attack on pro-Palestinian encampment

Apr 30, 2024, 10:48 PM | Updated: May 1, 2024, 6:52 pm

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Administrators and campus police at UCLA faced intense criticism Wednesday for failing to act quickly to stop an attack on a pro-Palestinian encampment on campus by counter-demonstrators who threw traffic cones and chairs, released pepper spray and tore down barriers.

Some pro-Palestinian demonstrators fought back, and skirmishes continued for hours before outside law enforcement agencies were called to intervene. No one was arrested, and at least 15 protesters suffered injuries in the confrontation, part of a recent spate of escalating violence that’s occurring on some college campuses nationally over the Israel-Hamas war.

“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.

The call for more police intervention at UCLA stood in stark contrast to other campuses across the U.S., where officers’ actions were strongly condemned. At the University of Wisconsin in Madison, activists clashed with police officers who destroyed their tents early Wednesday.

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

An Associated Press tally counted at least 38 times since April 18 where arrests were made at campus protests across the U.S. 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 attack, but he did not provide details about the crowd or why the administration and school police did not act sooner.

“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 and the Los Angeles mayor denounced the delays.

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. In the evening, hundreds of supporters of the pro-Palestinian protesters, including students and alumni, stood on campus steps beyond the encampment while law enforcement presence grew. A small group of students holding signs and wearing T-shirts in support of Israel and Jewish people gathered nearby.

Metal and wooden barriers had been restored around the tent encampment after the scuffle hours earlier. Overhead TV cameras showed people within the enclosure distributing goggles, helmets and other gear as well as medical assistance tents that had been set up later in the day.

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.

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. More tents sprang up within hours. More than 30 people were initially detained, but police said only four were charged with battering law enforcement.

This is all playing out in an election year in the U.S., raising questions about whether young voters — who are critical for Democrats — will back 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, demonstrators closed their encampment Tuesday after administrators agreed to consider a vote to divest from Israel in October — apparently the first U.S. college to agree to such a demand.

The nationwide campus demonstrations began at Columbia on April 17 to protest 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.

Late Tuesday, New York City police officers entered Columbia’s campus and cleared a tent encampment, along with Hamilton Hall, where a stream of officers used a ladder to climb through a second-floor window, and police said protesters inside presented no substantial resistance.

The demonstrators had seized the Ivy League school building about 20 hours earlier, ramping up their presence on the campus from a tent encampment that had been there for nearly two weeks.

They encountered police clearing tents early on, as well as more than 100 arrests and threats of suspension unless they abandoned the encampment Monday. Instead, protesters took over Hamilton Hall early Tuesday, carrying in furniture and metal barricades.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams blamed “outside agitators” on Wednesday for leading the demonstrations and repeatedly cited the presence of a woman on Columbia’s campus whose husband Adams said had been “convicted for terrorism.” The woman, Nahla Al-Arian, wasn’t on Columbia’s campus this week and isn’t among the protesters who were arrested.

Al-Arian, a retired elementary school teacher, told The Associated Press that Adams misstated both her role in the protests and the facts about her husband, Sami Al-Arian, a prominent Palestinian activist. Nahla Al-Arian said she did go to Columbia for one day on April 25 to see the protest encampment there but left after she got tired.

Blocks away from Columbia, at The City College of New York, video footage showed officers forcing some protesters to the ground late Tuesday and shoving others as they cleared the street and sidewalks.

Close to 300 protesters were arrested in the crackdowns at Columbia and City College, officials said.

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

Israel and its supporters have branded the university protests 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.


An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that New York City Mayor Eric Adams said a woman on Columbia’s campus had been “convicted for terrorism.” Adams said that about the husband of a woman who had been on campus.


Offenhartz and Frederick reported from New York. Associated Press journalists around the country contributed to this report, including Christopher L. Keller, Lisa Baumann, Cedar Attanasio, Jonathan Mattise, Stefanie Dazio, Jae C. Hong, Colleen Long, Karen Matthews, Sarah Brumfield, Carolyn Thompson, Philip Marcelo, Corey Williams and Felicia Fonseca.

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UCLA faces criticism for failure to act to stop attack on pro-Palestinian encampment