As campus arrests rose to over 2,000 nationwide in the last 2 weeks on more than 80 campuses, student organizers at UCLA say the violence on campus is due to the administration’s failure to protect students. 

Tensions began to rise on Sunday, April 28 as counter-protestors violently attacked protestors at the student-led Palestine Solidarity Encampment just days after its setup. 

An organizer going by “Bear Jews Of Truth” created a GoFundMe and raised over $93,000 for the counter-protest, more than triple the fundraiser’s goal of $26,000. According to the campus newspaper the Daily Bruin, the funding was meant to bring a “huge screen and big loudspeakers” to Dickson Plaza for the counter-protestors in an event called Bruins for Israel. The school approved permits for the event, a move that has been heavily criticized since.

The tensions between both groups escalated once the Bruins for Israel event ended and counter-protestors supporting Israel clashed with the anti-war protestors who came in support of Palestine. 

Counter-protestors verbally and physically attacked protestors who wore keffiyehs and carried Palestinian flags. One counter-protester began spitting at the anti-war crowd as private security officers wearing Contemporary Services Corporation (CSC) uniforms used their bicycles as barricades to hold off the two crowds. Some counter-protestors yelled Islamaphobic and racist hate speech towards the Palestine Solidarity Encampment. Some called for them to be sexually assaulted.

Meanwhile, anti-war protestors chanted, “Free, free Palestine.” They held signs that read, “Anti-zionism is not anti-semitism.” There were banners that read, “Unity in confronting Zionism.” The crowd was largely peaceful, with organizers in neon-colored vests de-escalating altercations between the hostile counter-protestors.

UCLA security stood by and did not attempt to de-escalate or step in when things got violent, even when protestors requested for them to remove specific violent individuals. By 2:30 p.m., LAPD was on campus and began dispersing the crowd, which took over an hour to do.

Over the next two days, students in the encampment began posting on their Instagram accounts about the aggressions the counter-protestors made against them and the encampment. Agitators breached the encampment several times, they claimed, in an attempt to attack students.

On Tuesday, April 30, violence against the students escalated again. That afternoon UCLA sent students in the encampment a statement that said, “The established encampment is unlawful and violates university policy.” They asked students, staff, and faculty who joined the encampment to leave the area, threatening sanctions on those who remained. 

“This is just an intimidation tactic, and a cowardly intimidation tactic, to force students to leave,” Samuel Ahmed, a master’s student at the university and an encampment organizer, told LA Public Press. 

In response to the administration’s statement, the protesting students released their own statement that said, “Over the past six days, zionist aggressors, the vast majority of whom are not UCLA students (including ex-iOF soldiers), have been incessantly verbally and physically harassing us. […] Now, the UCLA administration is attempting to clear us because they refuse to protect us.”

By Tuesday night, the situation became extremely violent. Videos show a mob of agitators dressed in black and wearing masks attacking the encampment with fireworks and pepper spray, and beating students with sticks according to Al Jazeera reporting

The mob of around 100 men was not dispersed until after 3:00 a.m., almost two hours after the LA Police Department arrived, according to The Guardian. In another statement, students said, “For over seven hours, zionist aggressors hurled gas canisters, sprayed pepper spray, and threw fireworks and bricks into our encampment.”

In the statement, the students said despite the university’s claims of prioritizing campus safety, they have not fulfilled that promise. The statement said, “Campus safety left within minutes, external security the university hired for ‘backup’ watched, filmed, and laughed on the side as the immediate danger inflicted upon us escalated. Law enforcement simply stood at the edge of the lawn and refused to budge as we screamed for their help.”

“Horrific acts of violence occurred at the encampment tonight,” said Mary Osako, the vice chancellor of strategic communications at UCLA, in a statement to the Daily Bruin. “We are sickened by this senseless violence and it must end.” However no members of the mob were arrested, and by early Thursday morning May 2, the administration called the LAPD once again, this time against the student encampment.

Videos and photos of the brutal police raid circulated online, showing police using pepper spray and shooting rubber bullets at the students. More than 200 students, faculty, and protestors were arrested [day] morning by the LA Police Department. 

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block released a letter to the campus community Thursday afternoon.“Our community is in deep pain,” Block said.” We are reeling from days of violence and division. And we hope with all our hearts that we can return to a place where our students, faculty, and staff feel safe and, one day, connected again.”

But student organizers told LA Public Press that administrators had consistently ignored violence against them for days. 

“There was a litany of sexual abuses that happened that I witnessed. I witnessed a lot of physical harassment from Zionists directed at women.” said one 23-year-old student organizer at UCLA, who asked not to be named due to fear of retaliation. Before the mob attacks the encampment was peaceful, after the attack twenty-five members of the encampment were hospitalized overnight according to the school paper the Daily Bruin.

The mental health toll of the arrests and mob attacks have also negatively affected students. 

“I feel as though I definitely am experiencing symptoms of trauma,” said the organizer.) “I’ve been having a really difficult time sleeping. Every time there’s a lot of noise, I kind of am brought back like ‘is this a cop firing a flashbang over my head?’” she says.

Even with all these experiences, students told LA Public Press they want to make sure the core message isn’t lost by the media coverage. 

“That is only a fraction of what people are experiencing in Gaza,” the organizer said.“Specifically the women who are experiencing sexual harassment, sexual assault at the hands of IDF soldiers.”

During a ceremony to remember holocaust victims on Tuesday, May 7, President Biden stated there’s been a “ferocious surge of antisemitism in America and around the world,” and went on to condemn university student protestors “on college campuses, Jewish students blocked, harassed, attacked while walking to class.” Biden did not clarify where this claim comes from.

Prior to the police raid on the encampment at UCLA student organizers remained committed. 

“We are sure that we will meet our goals through the power of solidarity,” said Samuel Ahmed. “Through the power of community, through the power of students who come together to reach the same goals of divestment and ending the genocide in Gaza.”

“It shows the power that we have and the fear that they have of our calls for divestment, of our calls for ending occupation and ending genocide,” Ahmed said.

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