University administrators canceled classes at UCLA on Wednesday, hours after violence broke out at a pro-Palestinian encampment set up on campus.

Just before midnight, a large group of counterdemonstrators, wearing black outfits and white masks, arrived on campus and tried to tear down the barricades surrounding the encampment. Campers, some holding lumber and wearing goggles and helmets, rallied to defend the encampment’s perimeter. The violence occurred hours after the university declared that the camp was “unlawful and violates university policy.”

Videos showed fireworks being set off and at least one being thrown into the camp. Over several hours, counterdemonstrators threw objects, including wood and a metal barrier, at the camp and those inside, with fights repeatedly breaking out. Some tried to force their way into the camp, and the pro-Palestinian side used pepper spray to defend themselves.

A group of security guards could be seen observing the clashes but did not move in to stop them. Authorities cleared the area around 3 a.m.

Some in the camp were being treated for eye irritation and other wounds. The extent of the injuries was unclear, though The Times saw several people who were bleeding and needed medical attention. At least one person, a 26-year-old man suffering from a head injury, was taken to the hospital by paramedics, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.

UCLA administrators and law enforcement are facing scrutiny from students, professors and the broader community for not intervening faster.

“The limited and delayed campus law enforcement response at UCLA last night was unacceptable — and it demands answers,” Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office said in a statement.

UCLA officials decried the violence and said they had requested help from the Los Angeles Police Department. It is not clear whether police made any arrests. UCLA police did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

“Horrific acts of violence occurred at the encampment tonight and we immediately called law enforcement for mutual aid support. The fire department and medical personnel are on the scene. We are sickened by this senseless violence and it must end,” Mary Osako, vice chancellor for UCLA Strategic Communications, said in a statement.

A law enforcement source told The Times on Wednesday that the LAPD reached out to campus police shortly after the violence broke out. They were told not to bring in anti-riot police, but eventually UCLA agreed to accept help from the larger police force. The discussion unfolded over several hours until officers with the LAPD and California Highway Patrol were given the green light to intervene around 1 a.m., the source said.

At around 1:40 a.m., police officers in riot gear arrived, and some counterprotesters began to leave. But the police did not immediately break up the clashes at the camp, which continued despite the law enforcement presence.

One representative of the camp said the counterdemonstrators repeatedly pushed over barricades that outline the boundaries of the encampment, and some campers said they were hit by a substance they thought was pepper spray. As counterprotesters attempted to pull down the wood boards surrounding the encampment, at least one person could be heard yelling, “Second nakba,” referring to the mass displacement and dispossession of Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Daily Bruin News Editor Catherine Hamilton said she was sprayed with some type of irritant and repeatedly punched in the chest and upper abdomen as she was reporting on the unrest. Another student journalist was pushed to the ground by counterprotesters and was beaten and kicked for nearly a minute. Hamilton was treated at a hospital and released.

“I truly did not expect to be directly assaulted. I know that these individuals — at least the individual who initiated the mobilization against us — knew that we were journalists,” she said. “And while I did not think that protected us from harassment, I thought that might have [prevented us from being] assaulted. I was mistaken.”

At around 3 a.m., a line of officers arrived at the camp and pushed the remaining counterprotesters out of the quad area. The police told people to leave or face arrest.

“What we’ve just witnessed was the darkest day in my 32 years at UCLA,” said David Myers, a professor of Jewish history at UCLA who is working on initiatives to bridge differences on campus. He called the situation a “complete and total systems failure at the university, city and state levels.”

“Why didn’t the police, UCPD and LAPD, show up? Those in the encampment were defenseless in the face of a violent band of thugs. And no one, wherever they stand politically, is safer today,” Myers said.

Ananya Roy, a professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography, echoed concerns about the university’s lack of response when faced with a violent counterprotest.

“It gives people impunity to come to our campus as a rampaging mob,” she said. “The word is out they can do this repeatedly and get away with it. I am ashamed of my university.”

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass condemned the violence, saying on X it was “absolutely abhorrent and inexcusable.”

Hours after the violent episode, students on campus were still shaken. Campus security and the CHP were working to fortify all entrances into the encampment area.

Hannah Appel, assistant professor of anthropology at UCLA, stood at a staircase adjacent to Royce Hall where she allowed people bringing medical supplies, clothing and water into the encampment area.

“Because of the escalated violence last night, we have to be very vigilant and careful about who can come in and out,” Appel said behind a makeshift barricade.

Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur, D-Los Angeles, whose district includes the UCLA campus, criticized university administration in a statement Wednesday, saying they had failed to protect their students.

“The horrific acts of violence against UCLA students and demonstrators that occurred on campus last night are abhorrent and have no place in Los Angeles or in our democracy,” Zbur said. “No matter how strongly one may disagree with or be offended by the anti-Israel demonstrators’ messages, tactics, or goals, violence is never acceptable and those responsible must be held accountable.”

The Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, condemned the violence, which it said was carried out by a “mob of pro-Israel extremists.” CAIR-LA Director Hussam Ayloush called on law enforcement to identify and hold accountable those who participated and for Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta to investigate the police response.

“Last night’s attack on UCLA students supporting Palestine was only the latest incident of violence against them. In recent days, pro-Israel extremists directed racial slurs and sexual threats at students, spat on a student and released a pack of mice into the encampment,” Ayloush said in a statement.

The nonprofit organization Jewish Federation Los Angeles said in a statement Wednesday morning that it was “appalled” by the violence on campus overnight and placed blame on campus leaders. The group also called for the chancellor to remove the encampment.

“The abhorrent actions of a few counterprotesters last night do not represent the Jewish community or our values,” the group wrote. “We believe in peaceful, civic discourse.”

UCLA is one of numerous universities where students have erected tents as part of a wave of protests by students, faculty members and staffers demanding an end to Israel’s actions in Gaza and divestment from firms that sell weapons or services to the country.

The Westwood campus became the first in the University of California system to move against an encampment. Others have been set up at UC campuses at Berkeley, Riverside and Irvine along with colleges and universities across the nation.

UC has generally taken a lighter touch in handling protests than USC, Columbia and other campuses that have called in police, who have arrested hundreds of students.

The crackdown came on the same day that the U.S. House committee investigating antisemitism announced UCLA Chancellor Gene Block would appear to testify about his campus actions to stop bias and harassment against Jewish students. The May 23 hearing is also set to include the presidents of Yale and the University of Michigan. The hearings have derailed the careers of the presidents of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard. Block has already announced he is stepping down as chancellor on July 31.

In a statement Tuesday, UC President Michael V. Drake said he “fully” supported UCLA’s action. UC must be “as flexible as it can” in matters of free speech, he said, but must act in cases where student learning and expression are blocked, university functions disrupted and safety threatened.

“The University of California campuses will work with students, faculty and staff to make space available and do all we can to protect these protests and demonstrations,” he said. “But disruptive unlawful protests that violate the rights of our fellow citizens are unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.”

He did not specify what behavior at UCLA he found unacceptable.

On Friday, the UC Board of Regents has scheduled a closed-door meeting to discuss the student protests.

UC guidance — developed after widespread furor involving a 2011 incident at UC Davis, when police pepper-sprayed students who were peacefully protesting social and economic inequality during the Occupy movement — has led campuses to use a flexible approach in allowing protests as long as they are peaceful and don’t impede campus operations, learning or teaching. Police action should be a last resort, the guidance says.

But Block said Tuesday that, while many demonstrators have been peaceful, others have used tactics that have “frankly been shocking and shameful.”

“We have seen instances of violence completely at odds with our values as an institution dedicated to respect and mutual understanding,” Block said in a message to the campus community. “In other cases, students on their way to class have been physically blocked from accessing parts of the campus.

“UCLA supports peaceful protest, but not activism that harms our ability to carry out our academic mission and makes people in our community feel bullied, threatened and afraid,” he wrote. He added that the incidents had put many on campus, “especially our Jewish students,” in a state of anxiety and fear.

High levels of fear also have been reported by pro-Palestinian students, which Block did not mention — an omission that outraged some campus members.

“It is quite shocking and demoralizing that the chancellor notes only the antisemitism faced by Jewish students when in fact there has been a significant number of incidents of racism and violence against Palestinians, Muslims and in fact anyone considered a supporter of Palestinian rights,” said Sherene Razack, a professor of gender studies.

The “Palestinian Solidarity Encampment,” which was set up Thursday, said in a statement that “Zionist aggressors,” most of them not UCLA students, had been “incessantly verbally and physically harassing us, violently trying to storm the camp, and threatening us with weapons.” But campus security did nothing to protect them, the statement said.

The group decried UCLA’s move to end the encampment as a “cowardly intimidation tactic” and a “continuation of a long history of attempts to shut down student activism and silence pro-Palestinian voices.”

Dan Gold, executive director of Hillel at UCLA, supported the university’s action, saying Jewish students have been bullied, harassed and intimidated around the encampment — including at least 10 who said they were denied access to nearby walkways after encampment monitors asked them if they were Zionists. A Star of David with the words “step here” was drawn in the area, he said.

“This encampment violates a long list of university policies, and the result of not enforcing these rules that every other student and student group follows to a T is chaos and unrest — and worse, it allows for even more intense forms of hate to persist and grow,” Gold said.

Block said the campus was aiming to keep all sides safe by “significantly” increasing the security presence with more law enforcement officers, safety personnel and student affairs staff. Law enforcement is investigating recent acts of violence, and barriers that demonstrators used to block access to buildings have been removed, Block said. Students involved could face suspension or expulsion.

UCLA added that it “encouraged” students to use established university procedures to find appropriate locations to gather and protest.


(Times staff writers Melissa Gomez, Colleen Shalby and photographer Michael Blackshire contributed to this report.)


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