Violence breaks out at some pro-Palestinian campus protests

Chaos on the UCLA campus as protestors break down the walls of pro-Palestine encampment

Chaos on the UCLA campus as protestors break down the walls of pro-Palestine encampment


Dueling groups of protesters clashed Wednesday at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), grappling in fistfights and shoving, kicking and using sticks to beat one another. Hours earlier, police burst into a building at Columbia University that pro-Palestinian protesters took over to break up a demonstration that had paralyzed the school while inspiring others.

In addition, police and protesters clashed at the University of Arizona’s Tucson campus, according to the Arizona Daily Star.  

After a couple of hours of scuffles between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli demonstrators at UCLA, police wearing helmets and face shields formed lines and slowly separated the groups. That appeared to quell the violence.

Tent encampments of protesters calling on universities to stop doing business with Israel or companies that support the war in Gaza have spread across the country in a student movement unlike any other in the 21st century, reaching from New York to Texas and California. The ensuing crackdown by police on some college campuses has stirred echoes of the much larger student protest movement during the Vietnam War era.

There have been confrontations with law enforcement and more than 1,000 arrests. In rarer instances, university officials and protest leaders struck agreements to restrict the disruption to campus life and upcoming commencement ceremonies. 

The clashes at UCLA took place around a tent encampment built by pro-Palestinian protesters, who erected barricades and plywood for protection – while counter-protesters tried to pull them down. Video showed fireworks exploding over and in the encampment. People threw chairs and at one point a group piled on a person who lay on the ground, kicking and beating them with sticks until others pulled them out of the scrum.

Counter protesters attack a pro-Palestinian encampment set up on the campus of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) as clashes erupt on May 1, 2024.

ETIENNE LAURENT / AFP via Getty Images

It wasn’t clear how many people might have been injured.

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. Officers from the California Highway Patrol also appeared to be there. The university said it had requested help.

Security was tightened Tuesday at the campus after officials said there were “physical altercations” between factions of protesters.

Late that same day, New York City officers entered Columbia’s campus after the university requested help, according to a statement released by a spokesperson. A tent encampment on the school’s grounds was cleared, along with Hamilton Hall where a stream of officers used a ladder to climb through a second-floor window. Protesters seized the hall at the Ivy League school about 20 hours earlier.

Police officers intervene the pro-Palestinian student protesters in Columbia University
New York Police Department officers enter the Columbia University building and detain pro-Palestinian demonstrators who’d barricaded themselves in iconic Hamilton Hall on April 30, 2024.

Selcuk Acar / Anadolu via Getty Images

“After the University learned overnight that Hamilton Hall had been occupied, vandalized, and blockaded, we were left with no choice,” the school said. “The decision to reach out to the NYPD was in response to the actions of the protesters, not the cause they are championing. We have made it clear that the life of campus cannot be endlessly interrupted by protesters who violate the rules and the law.”

A few dozen people were arrested at the building after protesters shrugged off an earlier ultimatum to abandon the encampment Monday or be suspended and unfolded as other universities stepped up efforts to end demonstrations that were inspired by Columbia.

Just blocks away from Columbia, at The City College of New York, demonstrators were in a standoff with police outside the public college’s main gate. Video posted on social media by reporters on-scene late Tuesday showed officers putting some people to the ground and shoving others as they cleared people from the street and sidewalks. Many detained protesters were driven away on city buses.

After police arrived, officers lowered a Palestinian flag atop the City College flagpole, balled it up and tossed it to the ground before raising an American flag.

Just hours after both universities were cleared, a new encampment was launched at Fordham University in the Bronx.   

Brown University, another member of the Ivy League, reached an agreement Tuesday with protesters on its Rhode Island campus. Demonstrators said they would close their encampment in exchange for administrators taking a vote to consider divestment from Israel in October. The compromise appeared to mark the first time a U.S. college has agreed to vote on divestment in the wake of the protests.

The Arizona Daily Star says officers in riot gear and gas masks fired what they called non-lethal chemical munition weapons as they moved in on demonstrators at the University of Arizona’s Tucson campus. The paper says some arrests were made, as ordered by UA President Robert C. Robbins, and shoving matches broke out between some protesters and advancing officers. “A barrage of items” was thrown in the air toward officers “in the loud, chaotic scene” before protesters retreated and the encampment was broken up.

Some other protest sites

Police broke up an encampment on the Tulane University campus early Wednesday morning that had been set up Monday evening after a march, CBS New Orleans affiliate WWL-TV reports. The school said in a statement that the “overwhelming majority of the protestors are unaffiliated with our community. … Police have reported that at least 14 protestors have been arrested, including two Tulane students.”

CBS Boston reports that Tufts University is now warning students to shut down their pro-Palestinian encampment or face consequences. Those who don’t leave could be suspended or banned from graduation ceremonies, the school says.

Columbia’s past something of a prologue

Columbia’s police action happened on the 56th anniversary of a similar move to quash an occupation of Hamilton Hall by students protesting racism and the Vietnam War.

The police department earlier Tuesday said officers wouldn’t enter the grounds without the college administration’s request or an imminent emergency. Now, law enforcement will be there through May 17, the end of the university’s commencement events.

In a letter to senior NYPD officials, Columbia President Minouche Shafik said the administration made the request that police remove protesters from the occupied building and a nearby tent encampment “with the utmost regret.”

Columbia campus limited to residential students as protesters occupy building



Shafik also referenced the idea, first put forward by New York City Mayor Eric Adams earlier in the day, that the group that occupied Hamilton was “led by individuals who are not affiliated with the university.”

Neither provided specific evidence to back up that contention, which was disputed by protest organizers and participants.

NYPD officials made similar claims about “outside agitators” during the huge, grassroots demonstrations against racial injustice that erupted across the city after the death of George Floyd in 2020. In some instances, top police officials falsely labeled peaceful marches organized by well-known neighborhood activists as the work of violent extremists.

White House weighs in  

Before officers arrived at Columbia, the White House condemned the standoffs there and at California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, where protesters had occupied two buildings for more than a week until officers with batons intervened early Tuesday and arrested 25 people.

President Biden believes students occupying an academic building is “absolutely the wrong approach,” said National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby.

Later, former President Donald Trump called into Sean Hannity’s show on the Fox News Channel to comment on Columbia’s turmoil as live footage of police clearing Hamilton Hall aired. Trump praised the officers. “But it should never have gotten to this,” he told Hannity.

The nationwide campus protests began at Columbia in response to Israel’s offensive in Gaza after Hamas launched a deadly attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7. Militants killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages. Vowing to stamp out Hamas, Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, according to the local health ministry.

As cease-fire negotiations appeared to gain steam, it wasn’t clear whether those talks would inspire an easing of protests.

Israel and its supporters have branded the university protests as 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, organizers of the protests, some of whom are Jewish, say it is a peaceful movement aimed at defending Palestinian rights and protesting the war.

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