May 23, 2024

Police in riot gear massed on the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) campus and ordered a large group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators inside an encampment to leave the area or face arrest after violence instigated by pro-Israel counter-protesters.

The barricaded encampment was full of hundreds of people and tents. Some protesters prayed as the sun set over the campus, 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.

A few made homemade shields out of plywood in case they clashed with police forming skirmish lines elsewhere on the campus. “For rubber bullets, who wants a shield?” a protester called out.

Meanwhile, a large crowd of students, alumni and neighbours gathered on campus steps outside the tents, sitting as they listened and applauded various speakers and joined in pro-Palestinian chants. A small group of students holding signs and wearing T-shirts in support of Israel and Jewish people demonstrated nearby.

The law enforcement presence and continued warnings stood in contrast to the scene that unfolded the night before, when counter-demonstrators attacked the pro-Palestinian encampment, throwing traffic cones, releasing pepper spray and tearing down barriers. Fighting continued for several hours before police stepped in, though no arrests were made. The tepid response from the authorities drew criticism from political leaders as well as Muslim students and advocacy groups.

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said in a statement that “a group of instigators” perpetrated the previous night’s attack, but he did not provide details about the crowd or why the administration and school police did not act sooner.

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