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Bruins in Paris

‘I thought I was going to die’: UCLA encampment protesters recall April 30 attack

An encampment protester and counter-protester engage in a fight using objects that were lying on the ground. (Zoraiz Irshad/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Catherine Hamilton

May 7, 2024 10:57 p.m.

Editor’s note: This article describes instances of violence that may be disturbing to some readers. In addition, this article contains four anonymous sources – Students A, B, C and D – who were granted anonymity for fear of retaliation from the university regarding their participation in the Palestine solidarity encampment.

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

UCLA’s campus echoed with screams and bangs amid violence.

“I’d seen something like I’ve never seen before and something that I never would expect to happen – not in the United States, not in California and certainly not in Los Angeles and on campus,” said Ismael Sindha, an alumnus who was in the Palestine solidarity encampment at UCLA on April 30. “I saw people bleeding from their heads. I saw people on the floor. I saw people crying.”

From late in the evening of April 30 to early May 1, the Palestine solidarity encampment in Dickson Plaza was attacked by more than 100 counter-protesters and aggressors who sprayed aerosol irritants, launched fireworks, tore away the encampment’s barricades and hit those inside with metal poles and wooden planks. At 12:12 a.m. on May 1, UCLA released a statement that it had immediately called law enforcement to campus, but LAPD officers did not begin directing the aggressors out of the area until 3 a.m.

“At first, I could understand why there weren’t police officers immediately,” said Student A, who was in the encampment. “But an hour in, and then two hours in, and then three hours in, it just reached the point where I was like, ‘UCLA knows this is happening, and they don’t care enough to protect their students.’”

Student A, who arrived at the encampment around 10 p.m. April 30, said they helped individuals sprayed with the aerosol irritants and worked to fortify the encampment’s barriers. They added that they saw student protesters who could not move, were unable to see, had difficulty breathing and had been physically beaten.

From the encampment, Student A only saw some individuals throwing water bottles back at the aggressors, they said. They added that many other protesters said not to engage because it went against the encampment’s purpose.

Student B, who was also in the encampment that night, said they felt Dickson Plaza had turned into a war zone as they watched the number of injured students increase.

“I heard some screaming, and I turned around, and one of my really good friends was on the floor rolling in agony,” they said. “I’ve never heard any of my friends scream like that before. … It’s still traumatizing until now, that I saw him go through that kind of pain.”

Student C said they were hit in the head twice while trying to protect both the encampment’s barricade and their fellow students. They said they were taken to the hospital by their classmates, where they ultimately received medical treatment, including stitches and staples.

“I thought I was going to die. I thought I’d never see my family again,” they said. “The only thing that kept me moving forward was my … classmates who were brave enough to protect the encampment from these terrorists. The same classmates that courageously brought me back inside the encampment after my attack. The same classmates who I relied on to save my life.”

Sindha, who briefly left the encampment to go to the hospital after a counter-protester sprayed him with an irritant, said he could still recall the threats the counter-protesters made against those in the encampment. He said these threats included, “I’ll kill you,” “I’ll rape your sister” and “What Israel does to Gaza, we’ll do to you.”

He added that when he asked a security officer why security was not helping, he was told that what the encampment protesters were experiencing was their fault.

Following Sindha’s visit to the hospital, where he said he deferred treatment to those he felt needed it more, he returned to help protect the encampment. He said he quickly realized only the encampment protesters would protect themselves from the aggressors – who wore masks he likened to those in “The Purge” movies.

“Making the decision to come back was not an easy one, knowing that I was putting myself in danger again,” Sindha said. “But ultimately, in that situation, there was no other option for me – because how can I leave when I know people are being attacked violently?”

Sindha said even days after the attack, he could still feel burning sensations from the aerosol irritant. Student D, who was also in the encampment, said being sprayed felt like experiencing a sunburn but “1,000 times worse.”

Student D also said they lost their vision for around an hour because of the irritant and were scared they would never be able to see again, adding that it was the worst pain they have ever felt.

Student B estimated that police were called more than 100 times throughout the night, both by people inside the encampment and concerned friends and family members. They added that the operators told callers the situation was under control and to only call if it was an emergency, hanging up on multiple people.

“You can’t continue calling unless you have an emergency,” said a UCPD operator in a recording of a phone call obtained by the Daily Bruin.

The following day, as students prepared for the police sweep of the encampment, many people were scared but doing anything they could to help, Student A said. At one point, they said students asked Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Darnell Hunt, who had entered the encampment earlier in the day to talk with the students, to stay with them – but he declined.

“Most people were just in disbelief that after everything that happened the night before, and after a majority of UCLA students were assaulted on their own campus by foreign entities, that the university would come and destroy our peaceful protest,” Student A said. “It was just really hard to wrap our minds around.”

Multiple students noted what they felt was a hypocritical response between the nights of April 30 and May 1 by the UCLA administration and police. No one was arrested the night of April 30 despite the violence by counter-protesters, but on the evening of May 1 and the morning of May 2, more than 200 encampment participants were detained in the police-led sweep of the encampment.

Sindha, who returned to the encampment May 1, said he spoke with a police officer who told him to go home. Following his response that the protesters were there to stay peacefully, he said the officer hit him in his stomach twice – which left a bruise days later.

Student D said they want to see better support for peaceful protests on campus.

“As an international student, I didn’t expect to go to a new country and see something like that happen,” they said. “I thought (in) the USA, … everybody gets to say what they want. But apparently they only get to say what they want if the police like it or if the government likes it or if Gene Block likes it.”

Despite the violence of the two nights, many of the students in the encampment said they would participate in and protect the encampment again.

“Unequivocally, yes,” Student B said when asked whether they would behave the same as the night of April 30. “I don’t even have to think about that answer.”

Many students also said while the violence at UCLA was horrible, they want the focus to remain on what they were fighting for – UCLA’s divestment from Israel and a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

“I had the luxury of getting sedated as they stapled my head back together. Currently, in Gaza, there are zero fully functioning hospitals,” Student C said. “The UCLA community deserves justice. The people of Gaza deserve justice.”

Student B said they would never be able to forgive UCLA for the actions of the past week and that they wished the campus community had been able to see what the encampment was like before it was swept.

“I wish people had come inside the encampment before and seen what a beautiful environment it was. I was, the entire time, amazed by the beauty of our diversity, of how everybody was from different walks of life and different backgrounds,” they said. “We all united for this one cause.”

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Catherine Hamilton
Hamilton was the 2023-2024 News editor and a Copy staff member. She was previously the 2022-2023 national news and higher education beat editor and a national news contributor.
Hamilton was the 2023-2024 News editor and a Copy staff member. She was previously the 2022-2023 national news and higher education beat editor and a national news contributor.
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