Pro-Palestinian protesters build new encampment at UCLA as chancellor testifies before Congress

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Friday, May 24, 2024
Protesters take to UCLA campus as chancellor testifies before Congress
On the day the university's chancellor testified before Congress about efforts to combat antisemitism on campus, pro-Palestinian activists established another encampment at UCLA.

WESTWOOD, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- On the day the university's chancellor testified before Congress about efforts to combat antisemitism on campus, pro-Palestinian activists again set up barricades and established another encampment at UCLA Thursday.

Protesters used tables, metal fences, plywood and other materials to block off a section of campus between Kerckhoff and Moore halls, a main walkway used by students traversing the Westwood campus.

The group Students for Justice in Palestine posted on Instagram that it had established "a second encampment at Kerckhoff patio,'' adding, "we need support in numbers ASAP.'' But the group warned the action could lead to arrest.

"Please take the time to assess your risk before coming,'' the group warned.

Campus security took positions around the burgeoning encampment, and eventually university police were joined by officers from the Santa Monica and Los Angeles police departments, along with some Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies. The Los Angeles Police Department went on a citywide tactical alert late Thursday morning as protest supporters began descending on the campus, but the alert was lifted by early afternoon.

Officers at the campus prevented any more people from entering the barricaded encampment, and even prevented people from delivering food or water to the protesters inside.

"We have been told that that directive came from the Office of Campus Safety," said a faculty member. "The Office of Campus Safety is an appalling, new, ostensibly safety-focused, administrative ... I don't even know what to call it ... octopus? That was set up without any faculty oversight, that was set up without any legislative oversight and now, apparently, accountable to no one."

"When asked why, they said apparently, somebody, we don't know who, has declared that this is an unlawful assembly. Well, we disagree. We believe [the students] have the right to peacefully protest, even if it were unlawful, do they not have both the legal and the human rights obligation to give them food and water? You cannot use a torture technique by withholding food and water to force them to do something against their will. Shame on UCLA administration."

Protesters on Thursday morning used tables, metal fences, plywood and other materials to block off a section of campus between Kerckhoff and Moore halls, a main walkway used by students traversing the Westwood campus.

It was unclear how many protesters had been taking part in the encampment within the barricaded area. Early Thursday afternoon, police declared the gathering an unlawful assembly and law enforcement formed a skirmish line between the barricaded area and several hundred supporters who were gathered outside the encampment, pushing the crowd back while issuing repeated orders to disperse.

By about 1 p.m., police made their way into the barricaded encampment area, and the plaza appeared to have been largely vacated. The group that was gathered outside the encampment then backed away from police and began marching en masse across the campus.

The group then amassed outside Murphy Hall, where they stood chanting and blocking Charles E. Young Drive. After that rally, the group appeared to disperse in different directions, but another gathering emerged inside and outside of Dodd Hall, where protesters chanted "Free Palestine'' and eventually began an occupation of the building that continued into early evening Thursday.

Protest organizers on Instagram proclaimed that they will continue to press their demands of divestment from Israel and "severance of ties to the Zionist state.''

"We are here for Palestine. We will not stop until our university ends its complicity in genocide and violence,'' according to the group.

UCLA Administrative Vice Chancellor Michael Beck and Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Safety Rick Braziel issued the following statement Thursday:

"The Office of the Administrative Vice Chancellor, in partnership with the Office of the Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Safety, has withdrawn consent to remain on campus for the demonstrators on Kerckhoff patio, asking them to disperse immediately. There is reasonable cause to find that demonstrators' activities - including erecting barricades, establishing fortifications, and blocking access to parts of the campus and buildings - are disrupting campus operations. Demonstrators have been informed that if they do not disperse, they will face arrest and possible disciplinary action, as well as an order to stay away from campus for 7 days. This order would apply to non-affiliates, as well as students, faculty and staff. Our community members may appeal through the Office of the Administrative Vice Chancellor."

The development occurred as UCLA Chancellor Gene Block was testifying before Congress along with leaders of Northwestern University and Rutgers University.

Leaders of UCLA, Rutgers and Northwestern testify before Congress

The new encampment emerged as Block testified before the House Committee on Education and Workforce about the university's response to an earlier pro-Palestinian encampment -- which was dismantled in early May, leading to the arrests of 209 people.

Block has come under scrutiny for a delayed police response to violence between pro-Palestinian protesters and counterprotesters.

In his opening remarks, Block conceded some shortcomings in the university's response to the original encampment, saying it should have acted to remove the protesters once "the safety of our community was put at risk."

"We will hold accountable all those who engaged in violence or violated our policies," Block said. "No student should be threatened or excluded based on their beliefs or identity. While we will always have to strive hard to meet this obligation, we must also maintain our commitment to academic freedom and free speech."

Earlier Thursday, Block sent a message to the UCLA community saying the university this week is "initiating a broad-based review to address reports of antisemitic and anti-Arab or Islamophobic discrimination and harassment that may have interfered with students* abilities to access the university's educational programs and activities. We will retain an outside firm to support our Civil Rights Office's review of these issues."

Earlier this week, UCLA reassigned university police Chief John Thomas.

Weeks after clashes at a pro-Palestinian protest, UCLA's police chief has been reassigned and the chancellor is set to be grilled by Congress.

There was no immediate word on what position Thomas had been assigned to. He has been the campus police chief since January.

In a statement, UCLA Vice Chancellor for Strategic Communications Mary Osako said Gawin Gibson has been named acting chief.

"John Thomas has been reassigned temporarily, pending an examination of our security processes," Osako said. "As we said on May 5, UCLA created a new Office of Campus Safety that is leading a thorough examination of our security processes aimed at enhancing the wellbeing and safety of our community."

City News Service contributed to this report.