UCLA protests: Tense scene as police dismantle pro-Palestine encampment

Key things to know:

  • Police moved in overnight on a pro-Palestinian demonstrators’ encampment on the UCLA campus in Los Angeles, detaining over 100.
  • The action comes after officers spent hours threatening arrests over loudspeakers if people did not disperse. 
  • President Biden spoke out for the first time, calling for protests to remain peaceful.
Police and protesters face off on the UCLA campus Thursday, May 2, 2024. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Police and protesters face off on the UCLA campus Thursday, May 2, 2024. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Hundreds of law enforcement officers breached and dismantled a pro-Palestine encampment early Thursday at the UCLA campus in Los Angeles, ending a nearly nine-hour standoff and resulting in at least 132 protesters in custody.

Thursday's clash with police brought an end to a week-long protest calling on University of California officials to divest from Israel.

Police began to move in on pro-Palestine protesters around 3 a.m. local time on UCLA's campus after hundreds of protesters defied police orders to leave.

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Police are seen removing barricades and dismantling a pro-Palestinian demonstrators’ encampment at the UCLA campus in Los Angeles, California, on May 2, 2024. (Credit: FOX 11 Los Angeles)

RELATED: Gaza war university protests: Map and updates

Tensions heightened as officers with the Los Angeles Police Department and the California Highway Patrol worked to dismantle barriers built by demonstrators.

Hundreds of officers advanced on the encampment from both sides of Royce Hall, meeting with heavy resistance on the northwestern corner but successfully reaching the camp's edge on the northeast side, according to FOX 11 Los Angeles. 

Some protesters were seen trying to resist, shining bright flashlights in the eyes of officers. Others remained steadfast and formed a line with their arms linked, facing off with an equally long line of officers.

Here's what to know:

What's happening at UCLA? 

Tent encampments of protesters calling on universities to stop doing business with Israel or companies they say support the war in Gaza have spread across campuses nationwide in a student movement unlike any other this century – including at the UCLA campus in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Westwood.

As police helicopters hovered overhead on Thursday morning, the sound of flash-bangs, which produced a bright light and a loud noise to disorient and stun people, could be heard as police moved in. 

Chants of "where were you last night" could be heard, referring to an attack by counter-protesters the previous night.

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Police are seen removing barricades and dismantling a pro-Palestinian demonstrators’ encampment at the UCLA campus in Los Angeles, California, on May 2, 2024. (Credit: FOX 11 Los Angeles)

Early Thursday morning, police methodically ripped apart the encampment’s barricade of plywood, pallets, metal fences and trash dumpsters and made an opening toward dozens of tents of demonstrators. Police also began to pull down canopies and tents.

Violent clash with counter-protesters at UCLA earlier this week

The law enforcement presence on Thursday morning at UCLA and continued warnings stood in contrast to the scene that unfolded the night before, when counter-demonstrators attacked the pro-Palestinian encampment – throwing traffic cones, releasing pepper spray and tearing down barriers. 

Fighting continued for several hours before police stepped in, though no arrests were made. 

At least 15 protesters suffered injuries, and the tepid response by authorities drew criticism from political leaders like California Gov. Gavin Newsom, as well as Muslim students and advocacy groups.

By Wednesday afternoon, "a small city" sprang up inside the reinforced encampment, according to the Associated Press. 

Some protesters said Muslim prayers as the sun set over the campus, while others chanted "we’re not leaving" or passed out goggles and surgical masks. They wore helmets and headscarves, and discussed the best ways to handle pepper spray or tear gas as someone sang over a megaphone.

A few constructed homemade shields out of plywood in case they clashed with police forming skirmish lines elsewhere on the campus. "For rubber bullets, who wants a shield?" a protester called out.

Outside the encampment, a crowd of students, alumni and neighbors gathered on the campus steps, joining in pro-Palestinian chants. A group of students holding signs and wearing T-shirts in support of Israel and Jewish people demonstrated nearby.

The crowd continued to grow as the night wore on as more and more officers poured onto campus.

Ray Wiliani, who lives nearby, told the AP that he came to UCLA on Wednesday evening to support the pro-Palestinian demonstrators.

"We need to take a stand for it," he said. "Enough is enough."

The ensuing police crackdowns on pro-Palestinian encampments at college campuses have echoed actions decades ago against a much larger movement protesting the Vietnam War.

In the Mideast, Iranian state television carried live images of the police action, as did Qatar’s pan-Arab Al Jazeera satellite network, according to the Associated Press. Live images of Los Angeles also played across Israeli television networks as well.

UCLA classes canceled

Classes at UCLA were canceled on Wednesday after counterprotesters attacked the pro-Palestine encampment on campus.

The university said on its public safety website that people should avoid the area and noted that campus operations would be "limited" on Thursday and Friday. 

"Employees are encouraged to work remotely wherever possible and should consult with their supervisors. Events and research activities are encouraged to go remote or be rescheduled wherever possible," an update from Wednesday reads.

President Biden responds

In his first comments on the topic, President Joe Biden said the demonstrations must remain free of violence and hate speech.

"There’s the right to protest but not to cause chaos," he said in brief remarks from the White House

The president said he did not think it was necessary for the National Guard to intervene, but he warned that activists who forced schools to cancel classes were crossing a line.

"Dissent is essential to democracy but dissent must never lead to disorder or to denying the rights of others so students can finish the semester and their college education," he added.

RELATED: University protests must remain peaceful, Biden says

FOX 11 Los Angeles and the Associated Press contributed to this report.