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Police make arrest at UCLA camp: College protests live updates and news

It was an example of a tolerant campus where a growing pro-Palestinian camp may have been left alone, even as student protesters across the country were arrested. Free speech will be supported as long as everything remains peaceful, officials said last week.

But on Wednesday morning, the peace at the University of California, Los Angeles, was shattered. The university canceled classes for the day, postponed midterm exams and scrambled to combat a nighttime outbreak of bloody violence fueled by dozens of counter-protesters.

The melee, which lasted for hours without any intervention, was a display of intense hostility as fist fights broke out, chemicals were sprayed into the air and people were kicked or hit with poles. Many participants did not appear to be students.

“They had bear spray, they had mace, they threw wooden-like spears and water bottles,” said Marie Salem, 28, a graduate student and pro-Palestinian protester who was part of the camp. “They set off fireworks directly towards our camp. And so we were all on deck just guarding our barricades.”

Student demonstrators who were in front of the camp on Tuesday said they felt attacked by counter-demonstrators.Credit…Mark Abramson for The New York Times
Campus security officers and eventually police officers were on site but did not intervene for hours.Credit…Mark Abramson for The New York Times

Now there is widespread frustration over how UCLA handled the incident, and the university is facing criticism for its delayed response to the protracted chaos. Many critics were incredulous that there were no arrests or suspensions even after Los Angeles Police Department officers arrived.

Campus officials on Wednesday evening asked protesters to leave the camp or face arrest. A stream of students left, but hundreds stayed, donning helmets, masks and goggles. Dozens of police officers were stationed around the protest site.

In the early hours of Thursday morning, police began trying to disperse the camp. Their first attempts to enter were repelled by protesters with improvised wooden shields and flashing lights. Eventually, police began dismantling the camp's main barricade and arresting protesters, while some demonstrators shouted, “Don't attack students!” and “Where were you yesterday?”


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UNIVERSITY

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The school adheres to a University of California policy that avoids involving law enforcement unless “strictly necessary to protect the physical safety of our campus community.” The coming days will test UCLA as it comes to terms with its ideals, the presence of the city's newly established police force on its campus, and rising tensions.

“You get the feeling that the other side has immunity,” Ms. Salem said as a police helicopter hovered overhead. Around them, the landscape was littered with trash, splintered wood, and trampled clothing. A large Palestinian flag waved in the air. Students and faculty were asked to stay away from the area.

“The general reaction from the student body is just frustration,” said Aidan Woodruff, 19, a freshman cello major. He said he knows at least 50 students who spent the last two days studying for midterm exams, only to learn that the exams have been postponed. The last week has already been a source of irritation for those who tried to focus on academics but were confronted by protesters using metal gates and human walls to control access to campus sidewalks.

“There are definitely students who care about the issues, but a large portion of them are people who come from the greater Los Angeles area and are having a demonstration here that is causing so much unrest,” Mr. Woodruff said.

A group of counter-protesters attacked a pro-Palestinian camp at the University of California, Los Angeles on Tuesday evening.Credit…Mark Abramson for The New York Times
Camp at UCLA on Wednesday.Credit…Philip Cheung for The New York Times

Tensions at the university, where Jewish activists were more prominent than at other demonstrations, had been simmering since Sunday, when a pro-Israel rally set up about 20 feet from the camp.

A day later, tensions rose after it was reported that a Jewish student had been prevented from getting to the nearby library by the pro-Palestinian group. Campus police had to intervene when about 60 pro-Israel protesters tried to enter the camp and a fight broke out.

At 4 p.m. on Tuesday, the government's approach changed abruptly. Gene Block, the chancellor of UCLA, declared the encampment an unlawful assembly and closed the library and Royce Hall, the two main buildings nearby.

“UCLA supports peaceful protest, but not activism, that interferes with our ability to fulfill our academic mission and makes people in our community feel harassed, threatened and afraid,” Mr. Block said in a statement. “These incidents have left many on our campus, particularly our Jewish students, in a state of fear and anxiety.”

A warning informed students and staff that if they remained, they would face serious sanctions, including disciplinary action and possible student dismissal.

According to city officials, pro-Israel counter-protesters began trying to tear down a camp barricade made of metal gates, plywood and umbrellas around 11 p.m. Shortly afterwards they set off fireworks directly above the camp. Videos on social media showed fireworks exploding near protesters and people spraying each other with what appeared to be chemical irritants.

At this point, campus police were on site and other people and university paramedics arrived. But UCLA appeared to wait too long to call the Los Angeles police, whose officers didn't arrive until after midnight.

Shortly before 1 a.m. Wednesday, Mayor Karen Bass' office issued a statement saying city officials would respond to a request for assistance from the school. An hour later, she posted on social media that non-campus police had arrived at the scene. Counter-protesters chanted “Back the Blue.”

According to Officer Michael Nasir, a spokesman, California Highway Patrol officers arrived on campus around 1:15 a.m.

At around 3:30 a.m. the authorities had joined the fight and the situation began to de-escalate.

California Highway Patrol officers are securing the campus.Credit…Philip Cheung for The New York Times
The students brought supplies to the camp.Credit…Philip Cheung for The New York Times

In a statement 12 minutes after midnight on Wednesday, Mary Osako, vice-chancellor of the university, said law enforcement agencies were immediately called for mutual aid. “This senseless violence is making us sick and it must end.”

But UCLA's Palestinian Solidarity Camp, which says it is made up of students, faculty and community members, condemned in a statement the school's “pretense of student safety,” saying that campus police, external security and law enforcement failed to protect them from counter-protesters when “we screamed for their help.”

And Katy Yaroslavsky, the city councilwoman who represents the neighborhoods surrounding UCLA, called the campus police response “too slow and ineffective in protecting student safety.”

“Our failure to control the situation left students and others on campus at risk of violence that has no place on our college campus,” she said in a statement.

While the mayor called for a full investigation and the UC system president ordered an independent review, authorities searched through footage recorded on cellphones and additional cameras. Others made it their mission to identify the worst perpetrators by distributing footage with enlarged stills.

Major Jewish and Muslim organizations condemned the attack. The Los Angeles metropolitan area is home to the second largest concentration of Jews in the country, with significant Jewish communities centered around the West Side region, which includes UCLA

Beverly Hills, for example, has one of the largest communities of Iranian Jews in the country, while the Fairfax District has such a large community of Orthodox Jews that in the 1970s the city created a special, non-contact “Sabbatical” streetlight for them to be religious Commandments against the activation of electricity would not have to be ignored.

The Jewish Federation Los Angeles said it was “appalled” by the violence on campus and that the counter-protesters did not represent the Jewish community or its values. The association criticized Mr. Block, the UCLA chancellor and school administrators for creating an environment in which students felt unsafe and called on him to meet with Jewish community leaders to discuss safety measures.

Hussam Ayloush, the director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Greater Los Angeles office, called on Rob Bonta, the attorney general, to investigate what he described as a lack of response from campus police and the Los Angeles Police Department.

“UCLA and other schools must ensure that students can continue to peacefully protest the genocide in Gaza without facing attacks from violent pro-Israel mobs,” Ayloush said in a statement.

The extreme change on campus was difficult for many to understand, and students who followed what was happening on social media or were in contact with people on the ground found it devastating to watch things escalate.

“I think I was lulled into a false sense of good vibes and that people were getting along with themselves,” said Benjamin Kersten, 31, an art history graduate student who organizes with Jewish chapters in Los Angeles and UCLA Vote for peace. He noted that the university's hands-off approach ultimately proved to be a double-edged sword.

On Wednesday morning, Bella Brannon, the editor-in-chief of the university's Jewish news magazine, tried to make sense of the footage she had seen.

“What happened was clearly and simply wrong, immoral and intentional acts of violence against students,” she said. “I am particularly concerned that their actions will tarnish dialogue with the pro-Israel community.”

Ms. Brannon, 21, is studying public affairs and religion and has friends who protest for Palestine. In recent days, she has found the protests on both sides of the conflict worrying.

“The college campus is a continuous place for discourse, even when it is inflammatory. I can’t go home, take a bath, relax and forget everything,” she said. “For us, there is no separation between school and home – it’s all at once.”

Reporting was contributed by Jill Cowan, Shawn Hubler, Livia Albeck-Ripka, Claire Fahy, John Yoon And Yan Zhuang.

Anna Harden

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