U.C.L.A. Tries to Reconcile a Week of Turbulent Events


On Thursday morning, the campus at the University of California, Los Angeles, reflected the aftermath of a protest in defeat. Littered across the lawn was a mass of trampled tents, sleeping bags, pizza boxes, blankets and poles.

Just hours earlier, as protesters chanted and sprayed fire extinguishers, police officers in riot gear tore down the pro-Palestinian encampment that had dominated a signature quad at the university for a week.

About 200 people were arrested and booked after a standoff with the authorities, according to Nicole Nishida, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Most were charged with misdemeanors such as unlawful assembly, she said, and the majority had been released by midmorning.

About 300 protesters left voluntarily, according to the university.

Law enforcement officers with cameras documented the aftermath of the early morning raid on Thursday, while other officers were posing for pictures in front of protest signs about Gaza.

Students and faculty were struggling with days of disorder that disrupted what initially had been seen as a tolerant campus.

Earlier this week, a violent overnight brawl between those in the encampment and dozens of counterprotesters ended only after Los Angeles authorities finally arrived. In that case, there were no arrests.

“We’d like some transparency from within the administration and within law enforcement, given the delays and inconsistencies in reaction,” said Jeremy Zwick, a third-year history major at U.C.L.A. who was not an active protester but went inside the encampment briefly on Wednesday night to observe the scene. “It was a frustrating strategy to witness, and it definitely caused a lot of confusion.”

Mr. Zwick, however, also believed the police intervention early Thursday was somewhat warranted.

“From a public health perspective, there was excrement, urine everywhere,” he said. He also saw, he said, “an obvious potential for violence.” But his biggest issue was with how protesters had blocked public walkways.

The events forced the cancellation of in-person classes and various events through Friday.

“I obviously support the right to gather,” Mr. Zwick said. “But we paid for a full semester, and at least in the past week, we aren’t getting it. At the end of the day, this isn’t a space for activism. It’s a space for students.”

By early afternoon, Gene Block, the U.C.L.A. chancellor, had sent a lengthy email to the campus community saying that the university’s approach to the encampment had been guided by the need to support both free expression and the safety of the community, while minimizing disruption to learning.

“The events of the past several days, and especially the terrifying attack on our students, faculty and staff on Tuesday night, have challenged our efforts to live up to these principles,” Mr. Block said.

Administrators communicated with protest leaders but could not come to an agreement about voluntarily disbanding the encampment, he said.

Mr. Block said that when the violence broke out on Tuesday, campus leaders immediately directed the U.C.L.A. Police Department chief to call for the support of outside law enforcement. He said that the university was investigating the “violent incidents of the past several days” and was also examining its security processes.

“The past week has been among the most painful periods our UCLA community has ever experienced,” he said. “It has fractured our sense of togetherness and frayed our bonds of trust, and will surely leave a scar on the campus.”

The university administration had at first followed a University of California practice to avoid calling in law enforcement unless “absolutely necessary to protect the physical safety of the campus.”

U.C.L.A. leaders abruptly changed their tune on Tuesday afternoon, calling the encampment an unlawful assembly.

When authorities arrived Wednesday night, they issued a warning to pro-Palestinian demonstrators: Leave the encampment or face arrest.

At around 3 a.m. Thursday, officers breached one of the barricades at the encampment and began to pull apart plywood and other materials that demonstrators had used to build a wall. A line of students linked arms to take its place.

Officers gave another dispersal warning to protesters. They corralled those who refused to leave and began arresting them, zip-tying their wrists and leading them away.

Police officers pulled up tents, and one removed a Palestinian flag, tossing it aside. Officers were equipped with a variety of what the police call “nonlethal” tools, including flash-bang devices, and several officers used them to fire at demonstrators at various points.

Bharat Venkat, a professor of human biology and society at U.C.L.A. who expressed support for the pro-Palestinian protesters, was on campus when violence broke out between those in the encampment and counterprotesters — which included fistfights, chemicals sprayed into the air and people being kicked or beaten with poles.

The events over the last two days were stunning, said Mr. Venkat, who added that some of his colleagues had been arrested and released. He said faculty members who supported the protesters were already discussing a response, including a work stoppage or refusing to submit grades to the university.

“There has to be consequences for this,” he said. “You can’t brutalize faculty and students and think it’s okay.”

Reporting was contributed by Emily Baumgaertner, Shawn Hubler and Jill Cowan.

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