Fights break out during dueling pro-Palestinian, pro-Israel demonstrations at UCLA

Eric Resendiz Image
Monday, April 29, 2024
Fights break out during dueling demonstrations at UCLA
Demonstrators got into physical confrontations after breaching barriers separating dueling causes in support of Israel and for the Palestinian people.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Dueling demonstrations on the UCLA campus Sunday resulted in skirmishes between groups showing support for an encampment of pro-Palestinian protesters and counter-protesters rallying around the university's Jewish students.

A group of demonstrators "breached a barrier that the university had established separating two groups of protestors on our campus, resulting in physical altercations," according to a statement from Mary Osako, vice chancellor of UCLA strategic communications. "UCLA has a long history of being a place of peaceful protest, and we are heartbroken about the violence that broke out."

The Westwood campus protests followed similar demonstrations on the campus at the University of Southern California, amid a controversy over the school's decision to cancel the valedictorian's speech. The USC protests also experienced some minor clashes in the crowd, along with dozens of arrests.

It's unclear if anybody was arrested at UCLA on Sunday. Video showed most of the confrontations involved pushing and yelling. Some minor injuries were reported.

Members of the Harriet Tubman Center for Social Justice planned their demonstration to support students' right to protest. The group's gathering comes in response to a request from pro-Palestine protesters at the campus.

A group called Stand With Us was set to hold a "Stand in Support of Jewish Students" rally to "stand up against hatred and antisemitism." The rally was being co-sponsored by the United Jewish Coalition in partnership with the Israel American Council and several related organizations.

Overnight, pro-Palestine protesters expanded their campus encampment outside to stretch from the top of the Janss Steps to the east end of Royce Hall.

As of Sunday morning, groups supporting the counter-protesters had raised around $65,000 on GoFundMe, to support Bruins for Israel, more than twice the initial $26,000 goal.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said she hopes protesters at UCLA and USC can express themselves peacefully.

"People have the right to free speech," Bass said in an interview on CNN. "But hate speech, antisemitism, all of that is unacceptable. All students on campus need to feel safe."

Similar demonstrations at USC

Meanwhile, across town at USC, pro-Palestinian protesters returned to the campus Saturday to once again denounce the Israel-Hamas war, and things got heated through the night.

Hundreds of students began gathering at Alumni Park in the afternoon, reigniting a protest that abruptly ended on Wednesday when police were called to evict demonstrators. More than 90 people were arrested that day.

Though Saturday's protest was mostly calmer and quieter, there was still that same frustration, some of it targeted at USC itself. Someone even spray-painted the words "Say no to genocide" on the base of the Tommy Trojan statue. The statue was fenced off on Sunday.

The protest drew a large police presence and someone even spray-painted the words "Say no to genocide" on the base of the Tommy Trojan statue.

"They rekindled it," said Elias Gerald, a USC student about Saturday's protest. "Students got together and put up tents and signs and colorful messages."

"There are the usual chants and protests that are calling for the liberation of Palestine, and the student organizers are very peaceful, very content. They have rules for the encampment in order to keep everyone safe and protected," said a USC alumnus named Melanie.

The campus was restricted to only students and staff and the few entrances that were left open required ID checks. Vehicles were carefully vetted before being let in.

All of the demonstrators at Saturday's protest were affiliated with USC, students said.

"I think even if you want to protest at USC, you should be a USC student," said freshman Kamal Mallandighal. "I wasn't a big fan of all the other random adults from the L.A. area coming on campus."

Later at night, around 11 p.m., video showed dozens of LAPD patrol vehicles moving onto the USC campus. Police had issued a tactical alert in the area earlier in the day, which was ultimately canceled. It's unclear if any arrests were made but Eyewitness News captured at least one person being detained.

Joel Curran, USC's senior vice president of communications, issued the following statement late Saturday:

"Earlier Saturday, campus property - including the Tommy Trojan statue and a fountain in Alumni Park - was vandalized by individuals who are part of the group that has continued to illegally camp on our campus. Despite repeated warnings, this group has also continued to disrupt our campus operations and harass students and others, in violation of numerous university policies. While the university fully supports freedom of expression, these acts of vandalism and harassment are absolutely unacceptable and will not be tolerated. President Carol Folt has made numerous attempts to meet with the students but they have declined these offers. We are hoping for a more reasonable response Sunday before we are forced to take further action. This area is needed for commencement set up early this week."

Saturday's protest comes days after USC decided to cancel the commencement speech by valedictorian Asna Tabassum. She had generated criticism after linking to online posts by Palestinian groups that were seen as antisemitic. USC said it canceled her speech because of safety and security concerns.

The school later released all of its outside speakers and honorees from attending the main commencement ceremony and then on Thursday - the day after the protest - decided to cancel the main commencement ceremony altogether.

"It doesn't feel as if the university is supporting its students, its freedom of speech," said Melanie. "I think we've seen that with the valedictorian and I think we're seeing it now with the protests."

With the police presence and the locked gates, some students think it's all gone too far.

"There's a level of frustration for us because its inconvenient to have the campus closed, and not be able to get to certain places," said one student. "I think a lot of the students are disappointed in their response because the protest was intentionally peaceful."

City News Service contributed to this report.