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Pro-Israel counter-protesters attempt to storm encampment, sparking violence

A counter-protester dressed in black sprays an aerosol from a cannister as they run past the metal barricade surrounding the ongoing Palestine solidarity encampment. Around 100 counter-protesters attempted to storm the encampment Tuesday night, leading to violent fights and some injuries. (Zoraiz Irshad/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Anna Dai-Liu and Dylan Winward

May 1, 2024 1:13 a.m.

This post was updated May 1 at 7:26 p.m.

For the Daily Bruin’s full coverage of the UC Divest Coalition and Students for Justice in Palestine encampment, see here.

Fireworks, tear gas and fights broke out just after 10:50 p.m. Tuesday night and continued early Wednesday morning as around 100 pro-Israel counter-protesters attempted to seize the barricade around and storm the ongoing Palestine solidarity encampment in Dickson Plaza.

The chaos comes as Chancellor Gene Block faces criticism for improper handling of the encampment and the same day the university deemed the encampment to be unlawful, threatening students inside with suspension and expulsion. Security and UCPD both retreated as pro-Israel counter-protesters and other groups attacked protesters in the encampment – led by Students for Justice in Palestine and UC Divest Coalition at UCLA – that followed similar ones across the country. 

There has been a minimal police presence on campus despite multiple events of counter-protesters antagonizing the encampment since Thursday.

UC President Michael Drake released a statement Tuesday evening supporting the university’s decision to label the encampment as unlawful, adding that “when it threatens the safety of students, or anyone else, we must act.” 

In an emailed statement sent at 12:40 a.m., Mary Osako – the vice chancellor of strategic communications – said the university had called law enforcement personnel for immediate support.

Horrific acts of violence occurred at the encampment tonight,” she said in the statement. “The fire department and medical personnel are on the scene. We are sickened by this senseless violence and it must end.”

At around 10:50 p.m., counter-protesters – who had been gathering around the encampment since that afternoon – began wrestling with protesters inside and CSC security hired by UCLA over the metal barricades surrounding the Gaza solidarity encampment. The barriers came down shortly afterward, and counter-protesters wearing masks then began shoving the wooden boards surrounding the encampment, attempting to topple them onto the protesters inside.

“If they can be there, so can we,” a counter-protester shouted through a megaphone as they tore down the metal barriers. Just before the barriers came down, another yelled, “You guys are going to want to get this. This is history being made.”

CSC security officers hired by the university retreated into Kaplan Hall shortly after, refusing to allow entrance into the building to anyone, including Daily Bruin reporters. The Daily Bruin had previously been pledged 24-hour access to Haines Hall by UCLA Media Relations to protect the safety of its staff, but when reporters attempted to access the building, they found it locked. No immediate remedy was provided, and Media Relations only said that they were working on providing a solution.

After the barricades came down, counter-protesters and protesters inside the encampment began to fight. Counter-protesters shot fireworks into the encampment just after 11 p.m., and irritant gasses were released from both sides. A Daily Bruin reporter was indirectly sprayed in the face.

Green fireworks shoot up in front of Royce Hall as counter-protesters look on. Fireworks were released from outside the encampment toward the inside of it. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

In a statement sent over text message around 11:40 p.m., a UC Divest spokesperson who was granted anonymity said that the encampment members do not possess tear gas. They added that they believed the violence Tuesday evening was one sided, and encampment members were using community defense and eye goggles to attempt to keep themselves safe.

“The lack of response from a school that claims to care about the safety of its students and the framing of unsafety as an issue of the encampment is hypocritical and abhorrent especially after tonight’s attacks,” the spokesperson said in the statement.

In another statement released at 3:30 a.m., protesters inside the encampment said the university has not done enough to protect students, and they repeated earlier calls for the university to meet their demands.

“The life-threatening assault we face tonight is nothing less than a horrifying, despicable act of terror,” they said in the statement. “Law enforcement simply stood at the edge of the lawn and refused to budge as we screamed for their help.”

The Jewish Faculty Resilience Group at UCLA, which had previously been involved in organizing counter-protesters, said in a statement on X – formerly known as Twitter – at 12:13 a.m. that it condemns clashes on campus and is urging respect for community safety.

The UC Divest spokesperson also said that as of midnight, they had not seen or heard from any police on site. LAPD did not respond to a request for comment, and UCPD said it was not able to offer comment because all officers were tied up dealing with protesters.

The university had previously said that the encampment would be shut down if violence occurred. As events escalated, a CSC officer told a reporter around 10:55 p.m. to “be a good Samaritan and call them (LAPD).” Another said that LAPD was called when the first firework was released.

Two UCPD cars and one UCLA EMT showed up at 11:13 p.m. in an attempt to break up the conflict, but all left the scene at 11:21 p.m. UCPD Chief of Police John Thomas said to the Daily Bruin that the force only had around five to six officers on duty. Officers came under attack while trying to help an injured person, and so they left, Thomas said.

“We called several different agencies. Right now, they’re preparing to go in and render the location safe,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the encampment, but I do want to render the situation safe and take care of those that may have been injured at this point – to possibly make arrests if that opportunity presents.”

A spokesperson from Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass’ office said in an emailed statement that Bass spoke to both Block and LAPD Chief of Police Dominic Choi and that LAPD were responding to a request for support from Block. A spokesperson from the office of District 5 Councilmember Katy Young Yaroslavsky said in a separate emailed statement that they appreciated LAPD and Bass stepping in.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office also said in a post on X that it was monitoring the situation, and that it is in contact with law enforcement.

A firework explodes in front of the wooden boards surrounding the encampment, releasing a cloud of smoke. (Catherine Hamilton/Daily Bruin senior staff)

A participant in the encampment, who was granted anonymity for safety reasons, said there were at least five injuries inside the encampment, most with eye injuries and some temporarily unresponsive. They claimed that CSC security was still present outside the encampment as of shortly before midnight but that security did not engage with protesters or counter-protesters. 

As counter-protesters pushed forward, some began aggressively hitting those inside the encampment with sticks, and others continued to break down the metal fences. Individuals also threw wooden planks, cones, a Bird scooter and water bottles at the encampment while chanting “USA, USA.” 

Counter-protesters continued to spray noxious gasses at around 12:10 a.m. Another large round of gas from an unknown source was released at 12:23 a.m., and another at 12:37 a.m. The UC Divest representative said in a text message statement that the tear gas originated from counter-protesters, and encampment participants had only thrown back the canisters. However, a Daily Bruin reporter witnessed a hand inside the encampment spraying an aerosol out of a can toward the counter-protesters. 

A counter-protester smashed the finger of a protester inside using a wooden slab at around 12:28 a.m. Counter-protesters also shouted an anti-Black racial slur at around the same time.

Around 70 police officers were on the scene as of 3 a.m.

This is a developing story. The Daily Bruin will continue to provide updates as they become available. 

Contributing reports by Joseph Crosby, Max Davis-Housefield, Gabrielle Gillette, Catherine Hamilton, Zoraiz Irshad, Shaanth Kodialam, Sharla Steinman, Shiv Patel, Matthew Royer and Abigail Siatkowski, Daily Bruin staff.

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Anna Dai-Liu | Science and health editor
Dai-Liu is the 2023-2024 science and health editor and Copy staff member. She was previously a News staff writer and is currently a third-year neuroscience and comparative literature student.
Dai-Liu is the 2023-2024 science and health editor and Copy staff member. She was previously a News staff writer and is currently a third-year neuroscience and comparative literature student.
Dylan Winward | News editor
Winward is the 2023-2024 features and student life editor. He was previously a News reporter for campus politics and features and student life. He is also a second-year English literature and statistics student.
Winward is the 2023-2024 features and student life editor. He was previously a News reporter for campus politics and features and student life. He is also a second-year English literature and statistics student.
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