Protesters arrested at UCLA speak out after being released from custody

More than 200 people were arrested, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Friday, May 3, 2024
Despite being arrested, UCLA protesters say they feel sense of pride
Meanwhile, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block released a statement Thursday afternoon, saying the clashes between demonstrators and counter-demonstrators have "put too many Bruins in harm's way."

WESTWOOD, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Several protesters who were arrested early Thursday morning at UCLA are speaking out after being released from custody, sharing details of their experience.

Demonstrations - and arrests - have occurred in almost every corner of the nation. But in the last 24 hours, they've drawn the most attention at UCLA, where chaotic scenes played out as officers in riot gear surged against a crowd of demonstrators as they cleared their encampment.

More than 200 people were arrested, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

About 135 of them were processed in the parking lot of the Central Arraignment Court House, the sheriff's department said. LASD buses transported other people to the LAPD Metropolitan Detention Center. In total, there were 209 people arrested and booked.

"Individuals were given food, water and had access to public restrooms as they were being processed," said LASD in a statement. "They were also offered reentry services and transportation services. The majority of the individuals were cited and released for unlawful assembly and will have to appear in court at a later date."

UCLA police will determine what if any charges to seek.

"It was pretty intense"

Four protesters, who identified themselves as UCLA students, spoke with Eyewitness News after their release and shared details of their experience.

"It was pretty intense," said Isaac Shih. "There was a lot of moments where we stood, basically, line to line, parallel to the officers and they were just kind of trying to push us back. We just had to hold our ground."

He also said it seemed like the officers "had no remorse or sympathy" for the protesters.

Another student, who only identified herself as Illahe, said it was "pointless" for officers to arrest them only to be released "right away."

"We've been trying our best to stay peaceful as an encampment, but at the end of the day, we knew the cops would have this type of response, that the school would have this type of response," she said. "We're not done. We're not done. We're not going to leave this at that. We're not going to let people forget what happened, what's happening, currently, in Gaza."

More than 200 people were arrested after a UCLA Pro-Palestinian encampment was cleared Thursday. Some protesters are speaking out after being released: "We're not done."

Another student said the process was "a lot at once" while another said "it was fine."

DA expects most charges will be misdemeanors

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón spoke with Eyewitness News Thursday and said most of those people who were arrested are likely going to face misdemeanor charges, which will be handled by the city attorney's office.

"Primarily, I think you're going to see charges that are going to be unlawful assembly," said Gascón. "There may be some misdemeanor battery cases, and those cases would go straight to the city attorney's office."

The more serious cases, he said, like assault with a deadly weapon, for example, would go Gascón's office.

"We have to ensure that we protect the safety of our entire community and our campus," he said. "I'm very committed and so is everyone in my office to make sure that people that harm others are held accountable for that."

He said no cases have been presented to the county's district attorney's office so far.

"I think it's important to send a message to both the campus community and the community at large that expressing your views is important as part of a democracy, but also respecting the rights of others, respecting the rights of kids that are going to school," the DA said. "They need to finish their college education or certainly, they need to finish their finals. I don't subscribe to the idea that you have to use violence or you have to destroy property in order to express your First Amendment rights."

UCLA chancellor responds: "Our community is in deep pain"

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block released a statement Thursday afternoon, saying the clashes between demonstrators and counter-demonstrators have "put too many Bruins in harm's way."

He said about 300 protesters voluntarily left Thursday morning but more than 200 "resisted orders to disperse" and were arrested.

Block said over the past few days, his administration made a formal request to meet with protest leaders to talk about a "peaceful and voluntary disbanding" of the encampment but no agreement was met.

"I also want to recognize the significance of the issues behind the demonstrators' advocacy," wrote Block in the statement. "The loss of life in Gaza has been truly devastating, and my administration has and will continue to connect with student and faculty leaders advocating for Palestinian rights to engage in discussions that are grounded in listening, learning and mutual respect. Similarly, we will continue to support our Jewish students and employees who are reeling from the trauma of the brutal Oct. 7 attacks and a painful spike in antisemitism worldwide."

You can read the full statement here.

UCLA encampment cleared

Later Thursday morning, workers removed the barricades and dismantled the protesters' fortified encampment. Bulldozers scooped up bags of trash and tents. Some buildings were covered in graffiti.

Tent encampments of protesters calling on universities to stop doing business with Israel or companies they say support the war in Gaza have spread across campuses nationwide in a student movement unlike any other this century.

The demonstrations began at Columbia University on April 17, with students calling for an end to the Israel-Hamas war, which has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, according to the Health Ministry there. Israel launched its offensive in Gaza after Hamas militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages in an attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7.

California Highway Patrol officers poured into the UCLA campus by the hundreds early Thursday. Wearing face shields and protective vests, they held their batons out to separate them from demonstrators, who wore helmets and gas masks and chanted: "You want peace. We want justice."

For hours, officers warned over loud speakers that there would be arrests if the crowd of more than 1,000 people did not disperse. Protesters and police shoved and scuffled as officers encountered resistance. With police helicopters hovering, the sound of flash-bangs pierced the air. Police pulled off protesters' helmets and goggles as they made arrests.

Police methodically ripped apart the encampment's barricade of plywood, pallets, metal fences and dumpsters, then pulled down dozens of canopies and tents. The number of protesters diminished through the morning, some leaving voluntarily with their hands up and others detained by police.

The law enforcement presence and continued warnings contrasted with the scene Tuesday night, when counterdemonstrators attacked the pro-Palestinian encampment, throwing traffic cones, releasing pepper spray and tearing down barriers. Fighting between the two sides continued for hours before police stepped in. No one was arrested, but at least 15 protesters were injured. Authorities' tepid response drew criticism from political leaders, Muslim students and advocacy groups.

By Wednesday afternoon, a small city sprang up inside the reenforced encampment, with hundreds of people and tents on the quad. Demonstrators rebuilt the makeshift barriers around their tents while state and campus police watched.

Some protesters said Muslim prayers as the sun set, while others chanted "we're not leaving" or passed out goggles and surgical masks. They wore helmets and headscarves, and discussed the best ways to handle pepper spray or tear gas as someone sang over a megaphone.

The crowd grew as the night wore on and as more officers poured onto campus.

Ray Wiliani, who lives nearby, said he went to UCLA on Wednesday evening to support the pro-Palestinian demonstrators.

"We need to take a stand for it," he said. "Enough is enough."

California Gov. Gavin Newsom denounced the delayed law enforcement response on Tuesday and UCLA Chancellor Gene Block promised an investigation. The head of the University of California system, Michael Drake, ordered an "independent review of the university's planning, its actions and the response by law enforcement."

"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 during a news conference Wednesday.

Iranian state television carried live images of the police action at UCLA, as did Qatar's pan-Arab Al Jazeera satellite network. Live images of L.A. also played across Israeli television networks.

Israel has branded the 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, protest organizers - some of whom are Jewish - call it a peaceful movement to defend Palestinian rights and protest the war.

President Joe Biden on Thursday defended the students' right to peaceful protest but decried the disorder of recent days.

On Thursday, California Republican leaders blasted university administrations for failing to protect Jewish students and allowing protests to escalate into "lawlessness and violence."

They're calling for the firing of leaders at universities such as UCLA and Cal Poly Humboldt and are pushing for a proposal that would cut pay for university administrators.

"We've got a whole lot of people in these universities drawing six figure salaries and they stood by and did nothing," Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher told reporters. "There does need to be accountability."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.