UCLA Chooses Violence Over Divestment

Following the example set by Columbia students, students have launched hundreds of Gaza solidarity encampments on college campuses across the country. Following the example of the cops in New York, a bunch of agitators from outside of UCLA showed up on Tuesday to brutalize student protestors.

While the NYPD has earned most of the national attention for the severity of its crackdown, conducting another wave of violent arrests at Columbia and City College of New York on Tuesday night, students and professors have been subject to all manner of harassment, intimidation, and violence wherever they have voiced their opposition to Israel’s genocidal campaign of destruction in Gaza and, where applicable, their institutions’ investments in companies facilitating the campaign. Hours after the NYPD cracked skulls in Manhattan, the LAPD let a frothing crowd of Zionist counter-protestors do their dirty work for them.

USC students set up an encampment on April 24, one week after Columbia students launched theirs and days after USC administrators barred valedictorian Asna Tabassum from making a commencement speech. Within hours of the first tents going up at USC, the LAPD responded by sending in hundreds of riot cops, reportedly using tear gas and rubber bullets on the students, and arresting 93 people.

The next day, students at UCLA followed suit, occupying Dickson Plaza. The cops showed up quickly, and though they did not escalate as they had at USC, groups of counter-protestors began organizing. Over the next few days, the group of non-students instigated a few fights around the encampment, gleefully told protestors “I hope they rape you,” mocked warnings that a student in the encampment had a fatal banana allergy, breached barricades to push a woman to the ground, and released cockroaches and mice. They also began raising money: A GoFundMe launched two days after the encampment’s establishment has raised over $90,000, $5,000 of which came from Jerry Seinfeld’s wife. They used that money to erect a massive stage right across from the encampment.

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UCLA security has mostly tried to keep the groups separate (broadly speaking, the UCs have tried to minimize police response to the encampments), though counter-protestors continued to escalate. Late Monday night, campus security repeatedly deterred groups of counter-protestors who tried to assault the encampment and threatened to fight UCPD. The administration then escalated things further on Tuesday when they declared the encampments unlawful and threatened students with suspension and expulsion if they didn’t clear out. It didn’t work, though the threats deftly set the stage for the counter-protestors, who attacked the encampment with the clear intent to hurt people. Just before midnight, they began setting off fireworks, throwing them into or aiming them at the encampment.

A reporter on the scene said students were attacked with skunk spray and bear mace. While private security barred themselves in a nearby building, and with the LAPD content to stand back, the 150-to-200–strong group of Zionists were allowed to do whatever they wanted. That included spraying students, breaking down barricades, and pulling students out of the encampment to beat them with pipes and other weapons.

Students held the line, and even after the riot cops showed up following a few hours of fighting, at around 1:40 a.m., they reportedly stood by until 3 a.m. before asking counter-protestors to leave. Over 100 people were treated for injuries, including some severe ones that required them to be carried out of the camp, though UCPD reportedly blocked emergency medical services from getting in and helping out injured students. The cops didn’t try to separate the counter-protestors from the protestors until after 3 a.m., and when they did, they didn’t conduct any arrests, merely clearing the area around the encampment and making sure the two sides were separated. The Daily Bruin, the UCLA student paper, reported that four of their reporters were followed and assaulted on their way back home from the violence.

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“The life-threatening assault we face tonight is nothing less than a horrifying, despicable act of terror,” the UCLA Palestine Solidarity Encampment said in a statement. “For over seven hours, Zionist aggressors hurled gas canisters, sprayed pepper spray, and threw fireworks and bricks into our encampment. They broke our barriers repeatedly, clearly in an attempt to kill our community. Campus safety left within minutes, external security the university hired for ‘backup’ watched, filmed, and laughed on the side as the immediate danger inflicted upon us escalated.” The university, they said, “would rather see us dead than divest.”

“It gives people impunity to come to our campus as a rampaging mob,” UCLA professor Ananya Roy told the Los Angeles Times of law enforcement’s non-response. “The word is out they can do this repeatedly and get away with it. I am ashamed of my university.”

UCLA professors have stood with their students, as have many professors at many other schools across the country. On Wednesday, I attended a rally at the UC Berkeley encampment where several professors spoke. The shocking images of a bloodied Wisconsin professor being dragged out of a protest, an Emory professor being wrestled to the ground and arrested, or a Washington University St. Louis professor being surrounded and beaten by cops make clear something that’s often hard to see. One might see students and professors lining up together and wondering what the university even really is, if not its educational apparatus. What even exists outside of those two groups? A useful framing becomes clear: The university is a corporate-legal fiction, essentially a hedge fund and real estate brokerage that provides classes as a marketing tool. Columbia is the largest private landowner in New York City. Its endowment is over $13 billion. Students are an inconvenience with scant leverage, but donors must be kowtowed to. The UC system, which was free to attend for decades, makes as much from real estate transactions as it gets from the state, a mere 10 percent of its budget. The students and professors are getting in the way of the real mission.

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You will see in the coming days the violent attacks on the peaceful encampment characterized as “clashes,” the valence of the assault and the specificity of the violence whitewashed away under the termchaos.” You will be told that the specter of campus antisemitism, which is being taken so seriously that UCLA administrators will have to go to D.C. to get bullied by dead-eyed Republican lawmakers later this month, is a far more imminent threat than actual violence carried out against students. You will be told that protestors, who have made very clear their demands that their universities divest themselves from the death machine in Gaza and have in some cases packed up once those universities engage with them, don’t understand how these complicated things work. You will be told they are motivated by hatred, the desire to fit in, or inscrutable psychosexual frustration. You do not need to listen. Just watch the cops do Columbia’s bidding in New York, or watch the cops and university administration step aside and let a mob do the job for them in Los Angeles. Watch as occupation forces begin bombing Rafah, where the majority of refugees from Israel’s attack have sought refuge. Watch as new horrors are inflicted upon the people of Gaza. That should make it pretty clear why students are putting their lives and their futures on the line.

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