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    Slow police response at violent UCLA protest under investigation
    • May 2, 2024

    University of California President Michael Drake and UCLA Chancellor Gene Block have pledged to investigate the slow response from campus and outside law enforcement agencies during a violent protest that injured at least 15 people, officials said Wednesday, May 1.

    In a statement, Drake said he has requested a “detailed accounting from the campus about what transpired” in response to criticism from civil rights groups and the governor’s office over UCLA’s poor handling of the overnight clash between pro-Palestine and pro-Israel protesters.

    “Therefore, we are also ordering an independent external review of both UCLA’s planning and actions, and the effectiveness of the mutual aid response,” Drake stated. “Such a review will help us address many immediate questions but also help guide us in possible future events.”

    The Federated University Police Officers’ Association, the union representing campus police, laid the blame on UCLA’s administration and welcomed the probe requested by Drake.

    “In the University of California system, the Police Departments on each campus are entrusted with the critical responsibility of maintaining law and order,” the union stated. “However, it’s paramount to recognize that when protests erupt on campus, the decisions regarding the response of the UC Police rest firmly in the hands of campus leadership.”

    Violence erupted Tuesday just hours after UCLA declared the pro-Palestinian protesters’ days-long encampment “unlawful.” Gathered counter-protesters began firing fireworks at the other side, flashing strobe lights and blaring the amplified sounds of babies crying about 11 p.m., according to social media reports.

    First officers retreated

    A small group of campus police officers arrived to attempt to control the scene a few minutes later, but they retreated after they, too, were attacked while trying to help an injured person, according to the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s student-run newspaper.

    Though UCLA had acknowledged the potential for violence and promised an increased “security presence” that included a “greater number of law enforcement officers,” UCPD Chief John Thomas told the Bruin he had only five to six officers on duty that night.

    Meanwhile, the LAPD didn’t arrive to quell the clash between opposing protesters until help was requested hours later.

    The situation deteriorated into beatings, pepper-spraying and other violence as the counter-protesters attempted to dismantle the encampment. The lack of any police presence became more and more apparent to those on scene as the violence escalated.

    One recording posted to social media showed groups of masked men smacking an individual with sticks and kicking him as he fell to the ground. In others, counter-protesters wearing white masks smashed the wooden barricades set up around the encampment, pulling and kicking at the makeshift walls.

    ‘Where are the police?’

    “Somebody is being dragged and beaten in front of that plywood wall,” said an ABC7 reporter following the scene from a helicopter about 12:30 a.m. “Where are the police? Where is security? Where are these people? Just — where’s authority here? It is something I have never covered without any sign of enforcement, law enforcement, security, whatsoever. This has gone on now for over an hour and a half.”

    UCLA seemingly did not call for assistance from outside law enforcement for hours. Zach Seidl, deputy mayor of communications for Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, confirmed on X at 12:51 a.m. that Bass, Block and LAPD Chief Dominic Choi had spoken and the LAPD would respond “immediately to Chancellor Block’s request for support on campus.”

    The Los Angeles Police Department, with assistance from the California Highway Patrol, did not arrive until after 1 a.m. and spent more than an hour assembling before they took action, according to social media reports.

    The Daily Bruin published a scathing editorial condemning Block’s inaction later that morning. The editorial stated Block had promised an increased security presence.

    “Will someone have to die on your campus tonight for you to intervene, Gene Block?” the editorial board asked. “The blood would be on your hands.”

    Newsom critical

    Gov. Gavin Newsom similarly questioned the delayed response times in a statement Wednesday.

    “The limited and delayed campus law enforcement response at UCLA last night was unacceptable — and it demands answers,” he stated. “As soon as it became clear that state assistance was needed to support a local response, our office immediately deployed CHP personnel to campus.”

    In a Tuesday press conference on UCLA’s campus, the pro-Palestinian protest organizers at UCLA shared a statement describing the attack on the encampment and condemning the university’s failure to keep students safe.

    They did not share their names with the media.

    “For over seven hours Zionist aggressors hurled gas canisters, sprayed pepper spray and threw fireworks and bricks into our encampment,” the organizers stated. “They broke barriers repeatedly, clearly in an attempt to kill our community.”

    Campus public safety and hired security officers did not intervene when conflict erupted, organizers said. And when law enforcement first arrived on scene, they simply stood at the edge of the lawn, they said.

    “For all the school’s pretense of student safety, we have experienced an unprecedented amount of violence and hatred while they stood by,” the statement continued. “The university’s hypocrisy is all too apparent as signs of this escalation were reported, documented and indicated early on.”

    AG probe requested

    The Greater Los Angeles office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA) has demanded that California Attorney General Rob Bonta “investigate the lack of response of UCPD and LAPD as the pro-Israel mob brutalized and terrorized students at the encampment.”

    “Across our nation, students who have launched peaceful marches, sit-ins, and encampments to protest their institution’s financial investments in the Israeli government have been met with a campaign of disinformation, discrimination, and now disturbing violence,” stated Hussam Ayloush, director of CAIR-LA. “This must end. UCLA and other schools must ensure that students can continue to peacefully protest the genocide in Gaza without facing attacks by violent pro-Israel mobs.”

    Both the LAPD and the CHP referred questions about their response times to UCLA as the “lead agency.”

    The LAPD later released a statement saying its officers responded to the campus once UCLA “requested mutual aid after reports of violent clashes between protesters” and now would “remain in the area to ensure public safety until the situation is resolved.”

    No arrests were made and no officers were injured, according to the LAPD.

    Mayor vows follow-up

    That may change. Both UCLA and Mayor Bass have called for investigations — and arrests — related to the incident.

    “Those involved in launching fireworks at other people, spraying chemicals and physically assaulting others will be found, arrested, and prosecuted, as well as anyone involved in any form of violence or lawlessness,” Bass stated. “I want to make sure the message I delivered to law enforcement and other officials earlier today is clear: Free speech will be protected. Violence and bigotry will not.”

    UCLA did not respond to questions about when it requested assistance or why it had not staged more officers in advance.

    Related links

    Here’s what happened at UCLA before pro-Israel counter protesters attacked pro-Palestinian protesters
    UCLA cancels classes, vows investigation after violence erupts at pro-Palestinian encampment
    UCLA declares Palestine encampment unlawful, USC president in talks with protesters
    UCLA issues dispersal order as pro-Palestinian demonstrators rally in front of encampment

    A spokesperson provided a statement Block sent to UCLA community that morning.

    “Late last night, a group of instigators came to Royce Quad to forcefully attack the encampment that has been established there to advocate for Palestinian rights,” Block stated. “Physical violence ensued, and our campus requested support from external law enforcement agencies to help end this appalling assault, quell the fighting and protect our community.”

    Block described the attack on students protesters by “a group of instigators” as “unacceptable” and as a “dark chapter in our campus’ history.”

    “We are still gathering information about the attack on the encampment last night, and I can assure you that we will conduct a thorough investigation that may lead to arrests, expulsions and dismissals,” Block stated. “We are also carefully examining our own security processes in light of recent events.”

    ​ Orange County Register