USC campus remains closed to public after mass arrests of pro-Palestinian demonstrators

Thursday, April 25, 2024
USC campus remains closed to public after mass arrests of protesters
USC's campus will remain closed to the general public until further notice, although classes will go on as scheduled, one day after more than 90 protesters were arrested.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- USC's campus on Thursday remained closed until further notice, although classes will go on as scheduled, one day after more than 90 people were arrested when police cleared an "occupation" of USC's Alumni Park by pro-Palestinian protesters demanding that the university end ties with Israel and Israeli-tied investments.

"The protest on the UPC has ended. However, the campus remains closed until further notice. Students, faculty, staff, and people with business on campus may enter with proper identification," USC said in a statement issued shortly before 11 p.m. Wednesday.

Earlier in the evening, 93 people who refused to leave the park after multiple dispersal orders were arrested peacefully, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

The demonstration added USC to a growing list of college campuses across the nation that have seen encampments and protests over the Israel-Hamas war, most notably Columbia University. USC's Alumni Park is scheduled to host the university's already headline-making commencement ceremony on May 10.

Organizers of the USC occupation issued a statement saying the action is "in solidarity with the people of Palestine as they resist genocide and continue in their struggle for liberation."

"The occupation is also in resistance to attempts by USC and other universities to suppress the student movement for Palestine on its campuses, in resistance to the silencing of students that criticize the State of Israel, in resistance to the university administrators and boards of trustees who profit off the genocide of Palestinians," organizers said.

In part, the group demanded university divestment from organizations that "profit from Israeli apartheid, genocide and occupation in Palestine."

Dozens of police officers and state troopers, including some on horseback and holding batons, forcefully arrested more than two dozen student protesters and a local news photographer at the University of Texas at Austin after university officials and the governor called authorities.

As the crowd swelled throughout the morning, USC closed the gates to campus and barred access for any unauthorized visitors and non-students or staff.

Chaos erupted around midday when the USC Department of Public Safety moved in to confiscate prohibited items, such as microphones and tents. Some shouting matches between protesters and officers ensued, and some protesters picked up their tents and carried them around the park to prevent them from being confiscated.

As the standoff intensified and officers tried to detain a protester, hundreds of people amassed around a DPS patrol vehicle, chanting and shoving forward. The group ultimately moved back into Alumni Park and began marching and shouting slogans, while some DPS officers formed a small skirmish line on the outskirts of the park. The person who had been detained was released.

USC Provost Andrew Guzman wrote in a message to the campus community Wednesday afternoon that protesters' "actions have escalated to include acts of vandalism, defacing campus buildings and structures, as well as physical confrontation that threatens the safety of our officers and campus community."

By mid-afternoon, the gathering was again mostly peaceful, with about 200 protesters marching through and later sitting in the park.

In his statement Wednesday afternoon, Guzman noted that the university has a ban on erecting tents or other encampments on the campus, along with a ban on the "use of loudspeakers, signs on poles or stakes and the disruption of classes and other essential functions of the university."

Guzman said the protest participants -- "many of whom do not appear to be affiliated with USC" -- were repeatedly asked to adhere to the campus rules by removing tents and other prohibited items.

A rally by pro-Palestinian demonstrators turned chaotic at USC's Alumni Park, as police confronted protesters.

"We want to be clear that we reject speech that is hateful and that causes harm to others," Guzman wrote in his statement. "In these challenging times, we call on the Trojan Family to remember that every member of our community is deserving of respect, has the right to be safe on campus, take classes, and participate in other campus activities without fear of harassment or bullying.

"It should be everyone's priority to treat each other with kindness and care."

The provost's statement did not directly address any of the demands put forth by protest organizers. Those demands included a complete academic boycott of Israel, including an end to study-abroad programs and cutting ties with Israeli universities; protection of free speech of students voicing support for Palestine; and demanding the university issue a public statement "calling for an immediate, permanent ceasefire in Gaza, denouncing the ongoing genocidal campaign against the Palestinian people and call on government officials to do so too."

Shortly after 5 p.m., campus security began issuing dispersal orders to the group, saying anyone who did not vacate the area would be arrested for criminal trespassing. Hundreds of LAPD officers who had been amassing outside the campus then began marching toward the park, establishing a perimeter around the area.

As the police presence escalated, many people cleared out of the park, but continued to linger around the perimeter, leading to some isolated skirmishes with groups of officers.

A core group of about 50 or more people remained in Alumni Park, prepared to be arrested. Some of them sat in a circle, wearing masks and goggles -- with bottles of what appeared to be milk nearby in apparent anticipation of being pepper-sprayed. Others in the group stood with their arms linked.

Around 6:30 p.m., police began moving in and arresting people in the park. The core group of protesters surrendered peacefully one-by-one.

Hundreds of people continued to linger on the outskirts of Alumni Park while police completed the arrests. It was unclear how many people who took part in Wednesday's demonstration were actually USC students.

Although classes were set to resume as usual Thursday, officials noted that the university's individual college deans can exercise their discretion in determining whether to hold courses in person or online.

City News Service contributed to this report.