Police Dismantle New Encampment at UCLA; Chancellor Testifies to Congress on Anti-Semitism

Police Dismantle New Encampment at UCLA; Chancellor Testifies to Congress on Anti-Semitism

LAPD officers keep watch after they cleared a new encampment of pro-Palestinian protestors on the UCLA campus in Los Angeles on May 23, 2024. The protest coincided with the congressional hearing on campus protests where UCLA Chancellor Gene Block testified. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

City News Service

City News Service

5/23/2024

Updated: 5/23/2024

0

On the day the chancellor of the University of California–Los Angeles (UCLA) testified before Congress about efforts to combat anti-Semitism on campus, pro-Palestinian activists again set up barricades and established another encampment at the school May 23, but it was quickly dismantled and later moved into a classroom building.
Protesters on Thursday morning used tables, metal fences, plywood, and other materials to block off a section of campus between Kerckhoff and Moore halls, a main walkway used by students traversing the Westwood campus.
The group Students for Justice in Palestine posted on Instagram that it had established “a second encampment at Kerckhoff patio,” adding, “we need support in numbers ASAP.” But the group warned the action could lead to arrest.
“Please take the time to assess your risk before coming,” the group warned.
Campus security took positions around the burgeoning encampment, and eventually university police were joined by officers from the Santa Monica and Los Angeles police departments, along with some Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies.
The Los Angeles Police Department went on a citywide tactical alert late Thursday morning as protest supporters began descending on the campus, but the alert was lifted by early afternoon. Officers at the campus prevented any more people from entering the barricaded encampment, and even prevented people from delivering food or water to the protesters inside.
It was unclear how many protesters had been taking part in the encampment within the barricaded area. Early Thursday afternoon, police declared the gathering an unlawful assembly, and law enforcement formed a skirmish line between the barricaded area and several hundred supporters who were gathered outside the encampment, pushing the crowd back while issuing repeated orders to disperse.
By about 1 p.m., police made their way into the barricaded encampment area, and the plaza appeared to have been largely vacated. The group that was gathered outside the encampment then backed away from police and began marching en masse across the campus.
The group then amassed outside Murphy Hall, where they stood chanting and blocking Charles E. Young Drive. After that rally, the group appeared to disperse in different directions, but another gathering emerged inside and outside of Dodd Hall, where protesters chanted “Free Palestine” and eventually began an occupation of the building that continued until early evening Thursday.
The group began dispersing and leaving the building around 5:30 p.m. There were no reports of arrests or injuries.
Protest organizers on Instagram proclaimed that they will continue to press their demands of divestment from Israel and “severance of ties to the Zionist state.”
“We are here for Palestine. We will not stop until our university ends its complicity in genocide and violence,” according to the group.
Among those who had gathered in support of protesters were a small group of unionized academic workers who held picket-line-type pro-Palestinian signs. Their union—United Auto Workers Local 4811—has called for a strike of academic workers to begin at UCLA and UC Davis on Tuesday. It will be the second wave of a strike that began this week at UC Santa Cruz, protesting the dismantling of pro-Palestinian protests.
Academic workers at the University of California–Santa Cruz walked off the job to strike in protest of the UC system’s handling of pro-Palestinian demonstrations, in Santa Cruz, Calif., on May 20, 2024. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Academic workers at the University of California–Santa Cruz walked off the job to strike in protest of the UC system’s handling of pro-Palestinian demonstrations, in Santa Cruz, Calif., on May 20, 2024. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The union is demanding amnesty for employees and students who took part in protests and are facing disciplinary actions, along with guarantees of free-speech protections and the right to political expression on campus. The UC system, meanwhile, insists that any strikes based on such demands would be illegal, since they are non-labor issues that fall outside the scope of the union’s labor agreement.
The action at UCLA unfolded as university Chancellor Gene Block testified before the House Committee on Education and Workforce about the university’s response to an earlier pro-Palestinian encampment—which was dismantled in early May, leading to the arrests of 209 people. The committee questioned Mr. Block and the leaders of Northwestern and Rutgers universities about their handling of protests and alleged failures to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitism on campus.
In his opening remarks, Mr. Block conceded some shortcomings in the university’s response to the original encampment, saying it should have acted to remove the protesters sooner.
“With the benefit of hindsight, we should have been prepared to immediately remove the encampment if and when the safety of our community was put at risk,” Mr. Block told the committee. “We’ve since taken decisive action. I’ve created a new office of campus safety that reports directly to me.
“Finally, we will hold accountable all those who engaged in violence or violated our policies,” Mr. Block said. “No student should be threatened or excluded based on their beliefs or identity. While we will always have to strive hard to meet this obligation, we must also maintain our commitment to academic freedom and free speech.”
During the hearing, the committee played a video that went viral during the original encampment, showing a group of masked pro-Palestinian protesters blocking a Jewish student from using a campus walkway to reach a class. Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-Calif.) questioned Mr. Block about whether any of the protesters involved had been disciplined, and when Mr. Block gave a non-committal answer, Mr. Kiley noted, “We have the evidence right here on video, a student being blocked from entering your campus based on his Jewish identity, and there’s been no consequence whatsoever, is that what you’re telling us?”
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) criticized Mr. Block for failing to protect the pro-Palestinian protesters during the assault that took place the night before the encampment was cleared, saying, “You should be ashamed.”
UCLA Chancellor Gene Block introduces a new addition to the University's properties in Los Angeles, Calif., on Jan. 3, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block introduces a new addition to the University's properties in Los Angeles, Calif., on Jan. 3, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Earlier Thursday, Mr. Block sent a message to the UCLA community saying the university this week is “initiating a broad-based review to address reports of antisemitic and anti-Arab or Islamophobic discrimination and harassment that may have interfered with students’ abilities to access the university’s educational programs and activities. We will retain an outside firm to support our Civil Rights Office’s review of these issues.”
Earlier this week, UCLA removed and reassigned university police Chief John Thomas, according to the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s campus newspaper. There was no immediate word on what position Mr. Thomas had been assigned to. He has been the campus police chief since January.
In a statement, UCLA Vice Chancellor for Strategic Communications Mary Osako said Gawin Gibson had been named acting chief.
UCLA received national attention in early May when a group of largely masked counter-protesters launched a violent attack on the pro-Palestinian encampment on campus, leading to criticism of a slow police response to the assault that left several people injured. Witnesses contended the assault was allowed to continue unfettered by police for several hours before officers ultimately intervening.
The next night, hundreds of law enforcement officers from various agencies descended on the campus and cleared the encampment, arresting 209 people. The university was forced to close for a day, and temporarily shift to remote learning in the aftermath of the unrest.
Days after the encampment clearing, Mr. Block, the chancellor, announced that he had appointed Vice Chancellor Rick Braziel—who formerly served as chief of police for Sacramento—as the head of a newly created Office of Campus Safety, with oversight of the police department.
Mr. Block is set to retire at the end of July.
Counter-protesters strike a barricade at a pro-Palestinian encampment on the University of California, Los Angeles campus, amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, in Los Angeles on May 1, 2024. (Reuters/David Swanson)

Counter-protesters strike a barricade at a pro-Palestinian encampment on the University of California, Los Angeles campus, amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, in Los Angeles on May 1, 2024. (Reuters/David Swanson)

University of California President Michael Drake said the university system has begun an independent investigation of the UCLA response to the violence. The UC hired 21st Century Policing Solutions—a police-tactics consulting firm—to lead the university system’s probe of actions taken at UCLA.
Mr. Block, meanwhile, said Mr. Braziel was leading a high-tech investigation in an effort to identify the people who attacked the encampment the night before it was cleared.
The Federated University Police Officers Association, the union that represents UC police officers, has laid blame for failures in the response to campus unrest on university administrators. Union president Wade Stern reiterated that point Wednesday in response to news of Mr. Thomas’s reassignment.
“The UCLA administration owns the failure of any protest response, and the public should reject their attempts to shift blame to law enforcement,” Mr. Stern said in a statement.
He said the university’s guidelines require “a trained senior administrator at UCLA to decide how to respond to protests, guided by an existing plan that had been rehearsed and scenario planned with both UCLA PD and outside law enforcement agencies.”
“What unfolded at UCLA calls into question whether UCLA complied with the guidelines to have in place senior administrators trained in crowd control response, with written plans for response that were the product of scenario training and consultation with its police department and outside law enforcement agencies,” he said.
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