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UCLA: Police Arrive As Student Gaza War Protesters Clash

NEW YORK — Violence broke out at UCLA overnight between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli protesters, and police in riot gear arrived but did not immediately intervene.

People threw chairs and shoved and kicked one another. Some armed with sticks beat others. Before the riot police arrived, a group piled on one person who lay on the ground, kicking and beating them until others pulled them out of the scrum.

“Horrific acts of violence occurred at the encampment tonight and we immediately called law enforcement for mutual aid support,” Mary Osako, a senior UCLA official, told the campus newspaper the Daily Bruin.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass spoke to the university’s chancellor and said police would respond to the school’s request, according to a post on social media platform X from her spokesperson Zach Seidl.

The clashes took place just outside a tent encampment, where pro-Palestinian protesters erected barricades and plywood for protection — and counter-protesters tried to pull them down.

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

Meanwhile, the pro-Palestinian demonstration that paralyzed Columbia University ended in dramatic fashion, with police carrying riot shields bursting into a building that protesters took over the previous night and making dozens of arrests. On the other side of the country, clashes broke out early Wednesday between dueling groups at the University of California, Los Angeles.

New York City officers entered Columbia’s campus late Tuesday 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 calling on the Ivy League university to stop doing business with Israel or companies that support the war in Gaza seized the hall about 20 hours earlier.

“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.”

Police spokesman Carlos Nieves said he had no immediate reports of any injuries. The arrests occurred 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.

Fabien Lugo, a first-year accounting student who said he was not involved in the protests, said he opposed the university’s decision to call in police.

“This is too intense,” he said. “It feels like more of an escalation than a de-escalation.”

Police have swept through other campuses across the U.S. over the last two weeks, leading to confrontations 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.

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 news reporters on the 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.

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.

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.”

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.

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 Joe 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 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.

On Columbia’s campus, protesters first set up a tent encampment almost two weeks ago. The school sent in police to clear the tents the following day, arresting more than 100 people, only for the students to return.

Negotiations between the protesters and the college came to a standstill in recent days, and the school set a deadline for the activists to abandon the tent encampment Monday afternoon or be suspended.

Instead, protesters defied the ultimatum and took over Hamilton Hall early Tuesday, carrying in furniture and metal barricades.

Ilana Lewkovitch, a self-described “leftist Zionist” student at Columbia, said it’s been hard to concentrate on school for weeks. Her exams have been disrupted with chants of “say it loud, say it clear, we want Zionists out of here.”

Lewkovitch, who is Jewish, said she wished the current pro-Palestinian protests were more open to people like her who criticize Israel’s war policies but believe there should be an Israeli state.

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