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'It feels like more of an escalation than a de-escalation': Student as police arrest over 300 protestors

Police have swept through campuses across the US over the last two weeks in response to protests calling on universities to stop doing business with Israel or companies that support the war in Gaza.

Edited By: Ajeet Kumar @Ajeet1994 Los Angeles Updated on: May 01, 2024 19:43 IST
Police clear pro-Palestinian protesters from Columbia University
Image Source : AP Police clear pro-Palestinian protesters from Columbia University

Violent clashes erupted early on Wednesday morning on the campus of the University of California in Los Angeles between pro-Palestinian protesters and a group of counter-demonstrators supporting Israel. Police were deployed to the campus after the Israel supporters tried to tear down a pro-Palestinian protest encampment, according to the UCLA student newspaper Daily Bruin. 

Over 300 students arrested 

As per the latest update, approximately 300 people were arrested when police responded to protests at Columbia and nearby City College of New York. The latest numbers from the NYPD show 282 total arrests, with 109 at Columbia and 173 at City College. It's unclear how many of the arrests were students. 

Footage from broadcaster KABC, an ABC affiliate, showed people wielding sticks or poles to attack wooden boards being held up as a makeshift barricade to protect pro-Palestinian protesters, some of whom held placards or umbrellas. Fabien Lugo, a first-year accounting student who said he was not involved in the protests, said he opposed the university's decision to call in police.

"This is too intense," he said. "It feels like more of an escalation than a de-escalation.” Just blocks away from Columbia, at The City College of New York, demonstrators were in a standoff with police outside the public college's main gate.

A video posted on social media by news reporters on the scene late Tuesday showed officers putting some people to the ground and shoving others as they cleared people from the street and sidewalks.

The October 7 attack on southern Israel by Hamas militants from Gaza and the ensuing Israeli offensive on the Palestinian enclave have unleashed the biggest outpouring of US student activism since the anti-racism protests of 2020.

Why US university students are protesting

As student rallies have spread to dozens of schools across the US in recent days expressing opposition to Israel's war in Gaza, police have been called in to quell or clear protests. About 1,200 people in southern Israel were killed in the October 7 attack but the Israeli retaliatory assault has killed nearly 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health ministry figures, obliterated much of the enclave's infrastructure, and created a humanitarian crisis.

The student protests in the United States have also taken on political overtones in the run-up to the presidential election in November, with Republicans accusing some university administrators of turning a blind eye to antisemitic rhetoric and harassment. The Los Angeles Police Department said on X it was responding to UCLA's request "due to multiple acts of violence within the large encampment on their campus", to restore order and maintain public safety.

Broadcast footage showed a police cordon slowly clearing a central quad beside the encampment. Los Angeles Councilwoman Katy Yaroslavsky, whose district includes UCLA, posted on X: "Everyone has a right to free speech and protest, but the situation on UCLA’s campus is out of control and is no longer safe."

Columbia protestors arrested 

On Tuesday night, New York City police arrested dozens of pro-Palestinian demonstrators holed up in a building at Columbia University and removed a protest encampment that the Ivy League school had sought to dismantle for nearly two weeks.

Officers climbed into Hamilton Hall, which protesters had occupied in the early hours of Tuesday, through a second-storey window. Within three hours, they had cleared the protesters and arrested dozens, a police spokesperson said.

Columbia President Minouche Shafik released a letter asking police to stay on campus until at least May 17 - two days after graduation - "to maintain order and ensure that encampments are not re-established". Students standing outside the hall - the site of various student occupations dating back to the 1960s - jeered at police with shouts of "Shame, shame!".

Police were seen loading dozens of detainees onto a bus, with their hands bound behind their backs by zip-ties, the scene illuminated with the flashing red and blue lights of police vehicles. "Free, free, free Palestine!" protesters chanted outside the building. Others yelled, "Let the students go!".

Sueda Polat of Columbia University Apartheid Divest, the coalition of student groups that organised the protests, said they did not pose a danger and urged police to back down.

Protesters accused of vandalism and trespass

In her letter, Shafik said the Hamilton Hall occupiers had vandalized university property and were trespassing. The university earlier warned that students taking part in the occupation faced academic expulsion. A few hours before police entered Columbia, New York City Mayor Eric Adams and city police officials said the Hamilton Hall takeover had been instigated by "outside agitators" unaffiliated with Columbia.

One student protest leader, Mahmoud Khalil, a Palestinian scholar attending Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs, disputed assertions that outsiders led the occupation.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators also gathered at City College New York in Harlem late Tuesday, with the university ordering individuals off the campus and asking police to assist, New York Police Department Deputy Commissioner Kaz Daughtry said. Dozens of protesters were arrested, the New York Times reported.

UCLA is part of the University of California system. It has about 32,000 undergraduate students and is located in the residential neighbourhood of Westwood just outside of Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles. Last weekend, hundreds of counter-protesters had turned up there chanting support for Israel, hoisting signs and waving blue-and-white Israeli flags.

Supporters of Israel erected a screen that played a video loop of scenes from the Hamas Oct. 7 attack. The two sides taunted one another, pushed, shoved and threw punches while campus police struggled to contain the skirmishes.

(With inputs from agencies)

Also Read: Columbia University threatens to suspend pro-Palestinian protesters who occupy building I VIDEO


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