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USC closes campus as anti-war protesters return; LAPD is on alert

Pro-Palestinian protests continue at college campuses nationwide
Pro-Palestinian protests continue at college campuses nationwide 04:47

Campus protests over the war in Gaza are intensifying at the University of Southern California as the LAPD Saturday declared a tactical alert. 

Pro-Palestinian protesters returned to the school. A few hours after the protest started, dozens of police squad cars responded to the school with lights and sirens on, resulting in the LAPD issuing a tactical alert, which is used by police to beef up its force and presence in anticipation that an event may grow in strength or pose a risk to public safety.

Dozens of protesters gathered near a vandalized fountain, which included graffiti, and the Tommy Trojan statue was also covered with graffiti. It seemed that fireworks were lit near the campus during the protest. 

USC said on Saturday it had temporarily closed its University Park Campus to nonresidents, without providing details of the closure or possible enforcement measures.

Paul McQuiston of USC Media Relations said in a statement that USC property was vandalized by members of a group "that has continued to illegally camp on our campus." 

Students declined numerous attempts by university President Carol Folt to meet, and the administration hopes for "a more reasonable response Sunday before we are forced to take further action," McQuiston said.

"While the university fully supports freedom of expression, these acts of vandalism and harassment are absolutely unacceptable and will not be tolerated," McQuiston said.

The university announced Thursday that it will cancel its main graduation ceremony, planned for May 10, 2024, due to "new safety measures."

The announcement comes amid the controversy surrounding the valedictorian address and pro-Palestinian demonstrators on campus. USC drew criticism after refusing to allow the valedictorian, Asna Tabassum, who has publicly supported Palestinians, to make a commencement speech. Administrators then scrapped the keynote speech by filmmaker Jon M. Chu. 

Over 50 student organizations signed a letter written in support of Tabassum, who last week accused USC of caving to hatred. 

"I'm just as committed to the lives of Jews as I am to Muslims or to Christians, or to any other sort of identity," she said.  A petition demanding Tabassum be allowed to speak at commencement has gathered nearly 4,000 signatures.

A week after the decision to cancel the valedictorian's speech, protesters gathered in USC's Alumni Park following a trend of pro-Palestinian demonstrations at college campuses nationwide.

The protest lasted most of the day but began to end at about 5 p.m. Wednesday after the LAPD ordered demonstrators to move off the campus. 

Many stayed in the area, locking arms as LAPD officers in riot gear marched closer to them. Others took out their phones and appeared to record what was happening as police started to surround the remaining demonstrators. 

After a few hours, the LAPD managed to move the protesters off campus, arresting at least 93 people for trespassing in the process.

Protesters lock arms as police approach their demonstration. KCAL News

A day later, the school on Thursday announced the cancellation of its main graduation event. Folt, the university president, made her first public statement late Friday, addressing the controversies as "incredibly difficult for all of us."

"No one wants to have people arrested on their campus. Ever. But, when long-standing safety policies are flagrantly violated, buildings vandalized, Department of Public Safety directives repeatedly ignored, threatening language shouted, people assaulted, and access to critical academic buildings blocked, we must act immediately to protect our community," Folt said.

USC is not the only institution of higher education where students have been protesting the Israel-Hamas war, as demonstrations have been held across the country, including at UCLA where the protests have remained peaceful. According to the Associated Press, protesters nationwide are demanding schools cut financial ties to Israel and divest from companies they say enable the conflict. Some Jewish students say the protests have veered into antisemitism and made them afraid to set foot on campus, the AP reported.

On Sunday, students at UCLA were expected to hold a demonstration in support of Israel, starting at 11 a.m. That protest will be held near an area where pro-Palestinian protesters have been peaceably gathering. 

In a Bruin alert, UCLA said: 

"UCLA is following University of California systemwide policy guidance, which directs us not to request law enforcement involvement preemptively, and only if absolutely necessary to protect the physical safety of our campus community. We've taken several steps to help ensure people on campus know about the demonstration so they can avoid the area if they wish. This includes having student affairs representatives stationed near Royce quad to let Bruins and visitors know about the encampment, redirect them if desired and to serve as a resource for their needs. We also have safety teams who are wearing Student Affairs Mitigators (SAMs), Public Safety Aides (PSAs) and CSC security uniforms throughout the demonstration site. You may also hear helicopters dispatched by news media who are covering the demonstration."  

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