UCLA protests: 'I was caught between students and police – a dispersal order feels imminent'

By John Mercury May 2, 2024

Violent clashes engulfed the campus of a university in Los Angeles as tensions bubbled up nationwide over the pro-Palestinian student protests.

An encampment of dozens of tents had occupied the main lawn at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) campus for almost a week, as pro-Palestinian students sought to highlight their cause – but when it was suddenly designated “illegal” by university administrators the mood turned.

That change in messaging seemed to spark activity from counter-protesters, who are pro-Israel.

At around 11pm local time counter-protesters started to face off with the pro-Palestinian students, using fireworks, rocks and makeshift weapons in an attempt to breach the encampment.

For at least two hours, physical fights erupted, barricades were thrown, and pepper spray was used.

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Pro-Palestinian protesters hold their ground as CHP officers try to clear an area near an encampment, on the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) campus, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., May 1, 2024. REUTERS/David Swanson
Pro-Palestinian protesters hold their ground as officers try to clear an area on the UCLA campus. Pic: Reuters

“Where are the f****** police?” one woman could be heard screaming into the void. It was the question on almost everyone’s lips.

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Inside US protests as police move in

Some say the police were far too slow to stop it. They didn’t arrive on the scene until 2am – at least three hours after the first fights had begun.

When they eventually did arrive, they were a forceful presence. Hundreds of officers, from various jurisdictions, intent on restoring order, they said. We watched as they cleared the counter-protesters out, gas masks on, zip ties and tear gas at the ready. LAPD helicopters swirled overhead.

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Police move into UCLA protest

As we started to film the police advance, my team and I were caught in a haze of pepper spray between the encampment and police. Everyone around us was coughing their lungs up to get it out. One man tried to flush out his eyes with a bottle of water.

As police continued to push the crowds back, one pro-Palestinian student kneeled down, refusing to move; she was praying. “Quite the show,” a counter-protester shouted from behind us.

As dawn started to break, calm was restored. Police erected more barricades around the pro-Palestinian encampment, to further separate the warring factions.

No dispersal order had been issued for the camp “yet”, a police officer told me.

But after last night, it feels like only a matter of time before one is.


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