Palestine protests turn violent at UCLA as tension flares across US campuses

Columbia University student describes 'dystopian' atmosphere on campus after hundreds of arrests

Violence erupts on UCLA campus between pro-Palestine protesters and counter-demonstrators

Violence erupts on UCLA campus between pro-Palestine protesters and counter-demonstrators
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Campuses across the US were on edge on Wednesday after pro-Palestine protests at the University of California, Los Angeles, turned violent and police at Columbia University in New York made hundreds of arrests during a raid on a building that demonstrators had occupied.

Arrests and scuffles also broke out at other institutions, including the University of Wisconsin and the City College of New York, as administrators called in the police to deal with demonstrations that have rocked campuses in a mass movement not seen since the Vietnam War protests in the 1960s and 70s.

The violence at UCLA broke out overnight after Israel supporters attacked a camp set up by pro-Palestinian protesters. The university called police, who moved in to restore order.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass called the violence “absolutely abhorrent and inexcusable” in a post on social media platform X and said officers from the Los Angeles Police Department were on the scene.

“Due to the distress caused by the violence that took place on Royce Quad late last night and early this morning, all classes are cancelled today,” UCLA said in a statement.

Officers from the New York Police Department entered Columbia's campus on Tuesday night after the university requested help clearing a tent encampment and reclaiming Hamilton Hall, which protesters had seized hours earlier.

Columbia president Nemat Shafik said she had asked police to clear all encampments and maintain a campus presence through at least May 17. It was the second time the university had requested police assistance in responding to student protests.

Mr Shafik said in statement that seizing the building was a “drastic escalation of many months of protest activity” that “pushed the university to the brink, creating a disruptive environment for everyone and raising safety risks to an intolerable level”.

“Our academic leaders spent eight days engaging over long hours in serious dialogue in good faith with protest representatives,” she said.

“Our efforts to find a solution went into Tuesday evening, but regrettably, we were unable to come to resolution.”

Undeterred by the arrests, students and faculty members regrouped on Wednesday at the main gates of the campus to make their voices heard.

“Honestly, it was very scary to watch what happened and we thought that all the trust had been broken between admin and students before, but now it just decimated it,” one student, who did not wish to be identified, told The National.

“A lot of kids have been describing it as 'dystopian'.”

A faculty member, who asked to be referred to only as Lorraine, told The National: “We know that the administration is misusing the money. This is a trend that we see all over academia. What's happened in the past days is very much linked with financial interest.”

Blocks away at the City College of New York, demonstrators were in a stand-off with police outside the public institution's main gate.

A video posted on social media by reporters on the scene late on Tuesday showed officers putting some people on the ground and shoving others as they cleared the street and pavements.

New York Mayor Eric Adams and police have accused “outside agitators” of radicalising students, with officials pointing to a “change in tactics” used by protesters as evidence that outside actors had been attempting to sow “chaos” during demonstrations.

They did not, however, indicate whether any of these alleged agitators had been arrested, saying only that “certain individuals … well known to us” had been involved in demonstrations.

Almost 300 people were arrested, officials said.

At the University of Wisconsin, police on Wednesday began dismantling a protest encampment at the school in Madison.

And at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, police in riot gear closed in on an encampment late on Tuesday and arrested about 20 people for trespassing.

University officials had warned earlier in the day that students would face criminal charges if they did not disperse.

At George Washington University in the nation’s capital, there was a sense of shock and disbelief at the violence across the country.

“It is extremely disheartening to see how the NYPD and the Columbia administration have resorted to violence and brutalised their students instead of committing to full divestment,” Yaya, who is one of a handful of demonstrators chosen to speak to the media, told The National.

The fourth-year student, who wore a mask to help conceal her identity, said protesters were “always cognisant” of the possibility that such violence may eventually unfold here.

Raf Hawa, a third-year student whose family is from Jerusalem, said what happened at UCLA and Columbia broke his heart.

“To see that these universities don't really stand with their students, which as universities, is their main job to keep us safe, and universities across the globe yesterday did not do that,” he said.

Students at George Washington University start protest camp to support Gaza – video

Students at George Washington University start protest camp to support Gaza

Students at George Washington University start protest camp to support Gaza

Mr Hawa attributes the relative calm that has characterised the encampment at George Washington to the community, which he called “a phenomenal thing”.

A lone pro-Israel supporter protested across the street from the encampment, periodically shouting “Israel has a right to exist”, but it was a peaceful scene.

“They've been chanting for the last week 'from the river to the sea Palestine, will be free,” said Michael Willie, one of the protesters.

“That’s a genocidal phrase.”

He added that Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser should have “cleared this encampment when she had the chance”.

Protesters have spent weeks demanding universities shed any investments in companies or funds that are connected to Israel, as well as asking colleges to cut academic ties with Israeli institutions.

The protests have let to an outcry from politicians, including US President Joe Biden, who have condemned protesters' tactics that have led to campuses being shut down during final exams and weeks before graduation ceremonies.

Republicans accuse the pro-Palestinian protesters of being anti-Semitic and have suggested the National Guard should be deployed to end the movement.

During a Wednesday press conference, Representative Tom Cotton of Arkansas called the encampments “little Gazas” that were full of “terrorist sympathisers”.

On Tuesday, a Republican-backed bill passed the House of Representatives, with the piece of legislation calling for the codification of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism into the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Advocates say the bill is necessary for the protection of Jewish students and provides clarity for agencies that enforce the law, while critics say it will outlaw criticism of Israel as discriminatory and “chill constitutionally protected speech”.

Mr Biden is monitoring “the situation closely”, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

She said that while students have a right to peacefully protest, a “small percentage” of people were making their peers feel unsafe on campus.

Police dismantle student encampment – in pictures

Updated: May 01, 2024, 9:17 PM