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Police in riot gear break up protests at UCLA as hundreds are arrested at campuses across U.S.

Police in riot gear dismantle UCLA encampment
Police in riot gear dismantle UCLA encampment, more than 200 arrested 02:43

Police removed barricades and began dismantling a fortified encampment of pro-Palestinian demonstrators early Thursday at the University of California, Los Angeles after hundreds of protesters defied police orders to leave and about 24 hours after counter-protesters attacked the tent encampment on the campus. A total of 210 people were arrested at UCLA, Los Angeles Police Chief Dominic Choi said on social media.

Officers in riot gear spent hours threatening arrests over loud speakers if people didn't disperse. Hundreds of people had gathered on campus, both inside a barricaded tent encampment and outside of it in support.

As police helicopters hovered overhead, the sound of flash-bangs, which produce a bright light and a loud noise to disorient and stun people, pierced the air. Protesters chanted "where were you last night?" as the officers approached.

Scuffles among UCLA protesters, police as flashbangs deployed 01:50

California Highway Patrol officers wearing face shields and protective vests stood with their batons protruding out to separate them from demonstrators, who wore helmets and gas masks and chanted, "you want peace. We want justice."

Pro-Palestinian students stand their ground after police breached their encampment the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) early on May 2, 2024.  ETIENNE LAURENT / AFP via Getty Images

Police methodically ripped apart the encampment's barricade of plywood, pallets, metal fences and trash dumpsters and made an opening toward dozens of tents of demonstrators. Police also began to pull down canopies and tents. Demonstrators held umbrellas like shields as they faced off with dozens of officers.

In the Mideast, Iranian state television carried live images of the police action, as did Qatar's pan-Arab Al Jazeera satellite network. Live images of Los Angeles also played across Israeli television networks as well.  

Police make an arrest as they face off with pro-Palestinian demonstrators, destroying part of their encampment's barricade on the UCLA campus early on May 2, 2024. ETIENNE LAURENT / AFP via Getty Images

The police action occurred a night after the UCLA administration and campus police waited hours to stop the counter-protesters' attack. The delay drew condemnation from Muslim students and California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Demonstrators rebuilt the makeshift barriers around their tents on Wednesday while state and campus police watched.

When counter-demonstrators attacked the pro-Palestinian encampment Tuesday night, they threw traffic cones, released pepper spray and tore down barriers. Fighting continued for several hours before police stepped in, though no arrests were made. At least 15 protesters suffered injuries.

By Wednesday afternoon, a small city sprang up inside the reenforced encampment, full of hundreds of people and tents on the campus quad. Some protesters said Muslim prayers 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 constructed 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.

Outside the encampment, a crowd of students, alumni and neighbors gathered on campus steps, joining in pro-Palestinian chants. A group of students holding signs and wearing T-shirts in support of Israel and Jewish people demonstrated nearby.

The crowd continued to grow as the night wore on as more and more officers poured onto campus. 

Officials react

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said in a statement that "a group of instigators" perpetrated Tuesday night's attack, but he didn't provide details about the crowd or why the administration and school police did not act sooner.

"However one feels about the encampment, this attack on our students, faculty and community members was utterly unacceptable," he said. "It has shaken our campus to its core."

Block promised a review of the night's events after California Gov. Gavin Newsom denounced the delays.

The head of the University of California system, Michael Drake, ordered an "independent review of the university's planning, its actions and the response by law enforcement."

"The community needs to feel the police are protecting them, not enabling others to harm them," Rebecca Husaini, chief of staff for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said in a news conference on the Los Angeles campus later Wednesday, where some Muslim students detailed the overnight events.

Speakers disputed the university's account that 15 people were injured and one hospitalized, saying the number of people taken to the hospital was higher. One student described needing to go to the hospital after being hit in the head by an object wielded by counter-protesters.

Several students who spoke during the news conference said they had to rely on each other, not the police, for support as they were attacked, and that many in the pro-Palestinian encampment remained peaceful and did not engage with counter-protesters. UCLA canceled classes Wednesday.

President Biden addressed the protests in unscheduled remarks late Thursday morning, saying that "order must prevail" on college campuses but adding that the National Guard should not intervene. 

"Vandalism, trespassing, breaking windows, shutting down campuses, forcing the cancellation of classes and graduations — none of this is a peaceful protest," said Mr. Biden, before departing the White House to travel to North Carolina. "Threatening people, intimidating people, instilling fear in people is not a peaceful protest. It's against the law. Dissent is essential to democracy, but dissent must never lead to disorder or to denying the rights of others so students can finish the semester and their college education."

Former President Donald Trump commended police as he arrived in court Thursday morning for another day of his criminal "hush money" trial.

"It's a shame. I'm so proud of the New York's finest. They're great," Trump told reporters. "They did a job in Columbia and likewise in Los Angeles they did a really good job at UCLA."

Demonstrations around the U.S.

The chaotic scenes at UCLA came just hours after New York police burst into a building occupied by anti-war protesters at Columbia University on Tuesday night, breaking up a demonstration that had paralyzed the school and arresting more than 100 people. 

Two law enforcement sources told CBS News on Thursday that no firearms were found in a sweep of Columbia University, but weapons including pocket knives, baseball bats and clubs were discovered scattered on floors.

Those arrested at Columbia were charged with either trespassing, burglary, criminal mischief or reckless endangerment, the sources said. Police said about 29% of those arrested were not affiliated with the school.

A spokesperson for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office confirmed to CBS News that one officer inside Hamilton Hall on Columbia's campus Tuesday night fired their gun, although nobody was hurt. That story was first reported by The City.

In a statement late Thursday, the NYPD said that an Emergency Services United officer was searching the first floor of the occupied building, Hamilton Hall, and was "attempting to access a barricaded area" when the shot was "accidentally" fired.

"The ESU officer has a firearm that is equipped with a flashlight, and he was illuminating the area to find the best way to navigate through the barricaded area," the statement read. "The officer accidentally discharged his firearm causing a single round to be discharged."

The round struck a frame in a "wall a few feet away," police said, and no one was struck by the round.

Police said only other officers were around when the shot was fired.

There is also policy body camera footage of the incident, police added, although it had not been shared with CBS News as of Thursday night.

Police in New Hampshire said they made 90 arrests and took down tents at Dartmouth College and officers in Oregon came onto the campus at Portland State University as school officials sought to end the occupation of the library that started Monday. 

In Madison, Wisconsin, a scrum broke out early Wednesday after police with shields removed all but one tent and shoved protesters. Four officers were injured, including a state trooper who was hit in the head with a skateboard, authorities said. Four were charged with battering law enforcement.

Protest encampments elsewhere were cleared by the police, resulting in arrests, or closed up voluntarily at schools across the U.S., including The City College of New York, Fordham University in New York, Portland State in Oregon, Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona and Tulane University in New Orleans.

The big picture 

Tent encampments of protesters calling on universities to stop doing business with Israel or companies they say support the war in Gaza have spread across campuses nationwide in a student movement unlike any other this century. The ensuing police crackdowns echoed actions decades ago against a much larger protest movement protesting the Vietnam War.

An Associated Press tally counted at least 38 times since April 18 where arrests were made at campus protests across the U.S. More than 1,600 people have been arrested at 30 schools.

In rare instances, university officials and protest leaders struck agreements to restrict the disruption to campus life and upcoming commencement ceremonies.

At Brown University in Rhode Island, administrators agreed to consider a vote to divest from Israel in October - apparently the first U.S. college to agree to such a demand.

This is all playing out in an election year in the U.S., raising questions about whether young voters - who are critical for Democrats - will back President Biden's reelection effort, given his staunch support of Israel.

The nationwide campus demonstrations began at Columbia on April 17 to protest Israel's offensive in Gaza, which followed Hamas launching 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 Health Ministry there.

Israel and its supporters have branded the university protests 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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