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“People Could Have Died”: Police Raid UCLA Gaza Protest, Waited as Pro-Israel Mob Attacked Encampment

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Image Credit: right: Sean Beckner-Carmitchel

We get an update from the University of California, Los Angeles, where police in riot gear began dismantling a pro-Palestinian encampment early Thursday, using flashbang grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas, and arresting dozens of students. The raid came just over a day after pro-Israel counterprotesters armed with sticks, metal rods and fireworks attacked students at the encampment. The Real News Network reporter Mel Buer was on the scene during the attack. She describes seeing counterprotesters provoke students, yelling slurs and bludgeoning them with parts of the encampment’s barricade, and says the attack lasted several hours without police or security intervention. ”UCLA is complicit in violence inflicted upon protesters,” wrote the editorial board of UCLA’s campus newspaper, the Daily Bruin, the next day. Four of the paper’s student journalists were targeted and assaulted by counterprotesters while covering the protests. We speak with Shaanth Kodialam Nanguneri, one of the student journalists, who says one of their colleagues was hospitalized over the assault, while campus security officers “were nowhere to be found.” Meanwhile, UCLA’s chapter of Faculty for Justice in Palestine has called on faculty to refuse university labor Thursday in protest of the administration’s failure to protect students from what it termed “Zionist mobs.” Professor Gaye Theresa Johnson, a member of UCLA Faculty for Justice in Palestine, denounces the administration’s response to nonviolent protest and says she sees the events as part of a major sea change in the politicization of American youth. “This is a movement. It cannot be unseen. It cannot be put back in the box.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: As we broadcast this morning, Los Angeles police in riot gear are dismantling a pro-Palestinian encampment on UCLA’s campus, after hundreds of police used flashbang grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas in a faceoff with protesters who chanted, “We are not leaving. You don’t scare us.”

PROTESTERS: You don’t scare us! We’re not leaving!

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The police raid at UCLA came a day after pro-Israel counterprotesters attacked the encampment with fireworks, metal rods and tear gas for hours late Tuesday night and into early Wednesday morning. At least 15 people were injured.

This is how UCLA’s student newspaper, the Daily Bruin, described the violence instigated by counterprotesters in an editorial: quote, “It began with ear-piercing screams of wailing babies loudly emitting from speakers. Counter-protesters tearing down the barricades. Laser pointers flashing into the encampment. People in masks waving strobe lights. Tear gas. Pepper spray. Violent beatings. Fireworks sparked at the border of the encampment, raining down on tents and the individuals inside,” the Daily Bruin wrote.

The editorial noted Los Angeles police did not arrive until slightly after 1 a.m. Meanwhile, around 3:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, four UCLA student journalists were attacked by the pro-Israel counterprotesters on campus. One of the journalists was treated for injuries at the hospital and has since been released. There were no arrests after Tuesday night’s attack. Wednesday’s classes were canceled.

The Daily Bruin’s editorial ended with a question: quote, “Will someone have to die on our campus tonight for you to intervene, Gene Block? The blood would be on your hands.”

AMY GOODMAN: University of California President Michael Drake and the UCLA Chancellor Gene Block have launched an investigation into what California Governor Gavin Newsom condemned as the, quote, “limited and delayed campus law enforcement response,” unquote. Meanwhile, the campus police union issued a statement that, quote, “the decisions regarding the response of the UC Police rest firmly in the hands of campus leadership.”

For more, we’re joined by three guests. Shaanth Kodialam Nanguneri is a senior staff writer for the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s student newspaper. They are one of the four reporters who were attacked. Mel Buer is a staff reporter for The Real News Network. She was at the Gaza solidarity encampment Tuesday night when counterprotesters violently attacked it for several hours. And Gaye Theresa Johnson is an associate professor of African American studies and Chicana/Chicano studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, UCLA. She writes and teaches on race and racism, cultural history, spatial politics and political economy, a member of UCLA’s chapter of Faculty for Justice in Palestine, which has called on UCLA faculty to refuse university labor today, the day after May Day, quote, “in protest of the university administration’s egregious failure to protect the student protest encampment from attacks by self-professed and proudly Zionist mobs coming to campus every night to enact violence,” unquote.

Welcome to all of you. We want to begin with Dr. Gaye Theresa Johnson. Before we get into the horrifying details of the attack on the Gaza encampment, if you can explain why you are withholding work today and the overall context of how UCLA is dealing with this protest encampment, and why the issue, so often not talked about in the corporate media, of why the Gaza encampment exists?

GAYE THERESA JOHNSON: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me on.

We are so inspired by our students today. We are refusing our labor to the University of California, Los Angeles because we know that the conditions under which they were arrested, the conditions upon — the conditions that they were subjected to night before last with the counterprotesters, the violence that they have endured night after night after night, the complaints that they have lodged and that have been ignored by the university administration, all of the ways in which they were failed by the university administration, those are also our work conditions. And until our students are supported, we will also be stopping work.

The necessity for the camp was, I mean, what is going on in Gaza, what is happening here in the United States is linked. And these students, who have done so much study and who have done so much organizing, are clear about the connections between U.S. racism and international imperialism, and they are so clear about their role and purpose in this movement. So many of them have now been politicized, and this will not stop just because of tonight.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Shaanth, if you could explain? You were one of four journalists who was attacked. Tell us what happened.

SHAANTH KODIALAM NANGUNERI: Walking back from that protest where a group of pro-Israel counterprotesters had stormed and seized upon the encampment on campus at Dickson Plaza and near Powell Library, and me and three other journalists —

AMY GOODMAN: Shaanth, if you could speak as loud as you possibly can? We’re hearing — and come closer, yes, to your computer. And also, you’re describing what happened. Tell us what night, about what time it was, you with your four Daily Bruin — the three other Daily Bruin reporters.

SHAANTH KODIALAM NANGUNERI: Yeah, it was about, I want to say, 2 or 3 a.m. It was really late. We had all spent hours being out there on the field reporting, sending messages to our editors, really scared about the scenes that we were seeing on campus towards the protesters in the encampment, the level of violence and vitriol that was in the air. We had documented reporters hearing things like racial epithets. I personally witnessed a counterprotester slam a wooden slab onto an individual who had her hands on the barricade of the encampment and smashing her fingers, and listening to her scream and watching how that changed the environment. And many more harrowing scenes have been discussed by students on this campus, but —

AMY GOODMAN: And who were these people?

SHAANTH KODIALAM NANGUNERI: Yeah, we have been trying our best to be accurate about that. And I think in a Los Angeles Times article, my colleague talks about being attacked by one of these pro-Israel counterprotesters and how they have known who we are on campus. And they know that we report on these issues, and sometimes they know our faces.

And when we were leaving and were vulnerable and were in a small group, we were encircled and attacked. And they started shining lights in our face, spraying us with very strong irritants, circling in particular one of my colleagues and physically harassing and assaulting her. And by the time I had finally managed to help get three of us out of there, we found one of us had turned back. And by the time we had looked back around, they were on the ground being violently assaulted. And we were trying our best, as we ran back screaming their name, to pull them out of that fight, pull them out of the ground, pull people off of them. And we were begging while they were flashing [inaudible] —

AMY GOODMAN: And this was Catherine Hamilton, who was hospitalized?


AMY GOODMAN: How were they beating her?

SHAANTH KODIALAM NANGUNERI: You know, it was a very, very quick scene. I know she got hurt in the stomach. And I know that initially we had been — we had had so much tear gas in our eyes already from the protest that by the end of it, it was just hard to walk back. It was hard to make it back.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Shaanth, could you explain? I know that you said people are being careful about trying to talk about who the counterprotesters are, but could you tell us what you know? Were most of them not students? Were they students? If you could explain what you know?

SHAANTH KODIALAM NANGUNERI: Yeah, I mean, we do see students on, you know, rallies supporting pro-Israel groups. We have a pro-Israel group for Jewish faculty. And they themselves have actually distanced themselves from this behavior. But we do see a lot of non-UCLA students coming onto campus and sparking a lot of these controversies that end up going viral online and on social media and that do require deep, thorough reporting that goes beyond the kind of outrage bait that unfortunately fuels a lot of the conversations.

AMY GOODMAN: Where were the police? Where was security as this attack went on?

SHAANTH KODIALAM NANGUNERI: They were nowhere to be found. We actually walked up to a few campus security afterwards asking for help, as one of my peers was crying and having a breakdown, and I was trying help the other two, as well. And they were not able to help us with anything. They didn’t know what to do. And, in fact, we had documented that campus security, when faced with threats — these are private security guards handled by the campus, before the actual police had even come on campus — they would run away when they — or hide in buildings, and deny reporters access to those buildings, when they were afraid of what they saw on the scene and on the site when they got too violent.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Mel, you were there reporting on what happened. Could you describe where you were and what you witnessed?

MEL BUER: Yeah. So, myself and another reporter showed up around 10 p.m. We found ourselves on a side barricade next to Royce Hall. And we had a pretty good vantage point of the two sets of barricades that were separated by a sidewalk, prior to the confrontation happening.

Around 10:30 or 10:45, there was some sort of altercation, some sort of argument between the private security and the pro-Israel counterprotesters. And they very quickly dismantled the barricades and began ripping flags down from the Gaza encampment, pulling barricades apart, trying to rip apart the wooden barricades behind the metal ones that were installed there. And that continued for about three, four hours. It was a chaos, very scary, very quickly.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it’s fascinating that the corporate media is describing this as just clashes between two different groups, the pro-Palestine groups and the pro-Israel groups. Mel, from your perspective — you’re a reporter with The Real News Network — what we’re hearing here is an assault by one group on the encampment.

MEL BUER: Right. You know, I’ve been to the UCLA encampment on the first day, when they were setting up. And from the jump, there have been individuals who have tried to agitate these demonstrators, these students. They’ve tried to get a rise out of them. They’ve tried to provoke some sort of violent reaction. And, you know, to their serious credit, these disciplined students have spent a lot of time and energy and effort not responding to that, or trying to deescalate situations, trying to keep each other safe, trying to keep the integrity of the encampment safe, because the point is not to get into an argument with counterprotesters, right? The point is to continue to pressure UCLA to divest from the various relationships that they have with Israel and to boycott these programs that are funding an occupation and a genocide.

So, to see what happened the other night was, essentially, these counterprotesters, many of them riled up and angry and throwing slurs over the fences, getting a chance to try and rip their way into the encampment. And this had been — tensions had been growing for multiple days, right? This was not the first instance of violence where pro-Israel counterprotesters were knocking over students, were trying to provoke fights. Some fights broke out even two nights before. So, from my assessment, as I was there, these groups, this giant group, probably 150, 200 or so counterprotesters — some of the were university age, some of them were much older and did not appear to be UCLA students — launching assaults on this barricade. And, you know, this was consistent for many hours. The bear mace was in the air. I mean, you know, I witnessed a lot of folks getting bludgeoned by parts of the barricades, by wooden sticks, batons, whatever they could bring. And that was a constant for the four-and-a-half, five hours that I was there.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Professor Gaye Theresa Johnson, if you could describe what you know is happening right now on campus at UCLA, and what the response of the administration has been to the encampment since it went up?

GAYE THERESA JOHNSON: This is something that so many of us feel disgusted by. We are — many of the faculty who I spoke to, as late as just about 45 minutes ago, were feeling shocked. They were feeling so disillusioned by the response of the university. This is a university administration that has for weeks, for months equivocated the experience of people who are proclaimed Zionists to those Muslim students who have been doxxed and harassed every day, and faculty, as well.

And so, this is a situation in which students have been subjected by the university to a complete negation of their experience, not only here at UCLA, but across the world, the idea that there are, as Amy said earlier, clashes between protesters or that there are fights that are breaking out between these two people. We’re talking about a nonviolent protest. We’re talking about students who have been organizing for months, who are trained, have taken it upon themselves to educate themselves on tactics of nonviolence, and the incredible and brave way in which they defended themselves all of these nights. But, of course, in the culminating violence of night before last, and then, of course, of the violence of this night, as well, as they’ve been gassed, flashbangs that have been set off by the LAPD, and it’s just been incredible, the way that they have responded in the face of the gaslighting that the university has done against them. They are just — they have just done such an incredible and brave job.

And many of us, while we are shocked, we are also understanding, as faculty, that thousands and thousands of students across the nation, across the world have been politicized today, and there is no way, just because the LAPD and UCLA have mandated the dispersal of these students, that this is the end. It is only the beginning, because there are so many people now who understand that this is a movement. And it cannot be unseen. It cannot be put back in the box.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And finally, if you could explain: Where do negotiations stand? Has the administration been speaking with students about their demands that UCLA divest from Israel?

GAYE THERESA JOHNSON: The other day, the university offered the students three options. One was negotiations, which we saw yesterday there was no negotiation. There was an offer of absolutely nothing. Students had demands that were completely ignored, that wasn’t even in the discussion once administrators came to the camp. They were offered absolutely nothing.

The second option was to continue in a sort of long-term action with encampment. But it wasn’t a real, legitimate choice that the university was giving these students, because they were going to make them adhere to policies that they call time, place and manner that would have evicted them from the encampment and forced them into other places that would have been completely ineffective as far as protest and visibility.

And the third action that administrators — third choice that they gave students was police action. And they said, you know, “If you don’t take the first two,” — which were, in effect, completely false — “then we will assume that you want the police action.”

And in the end, they didn’t care. They didn’t ask what students wanted yesterday. They just simply went into what was already scheduled, what was already planned, which, one, I will say, many of us think that it’s almost as if, like, we’ve seen this many times over history — in Katrina, for example, in New Orleans, where politicians said, “Let the hurricane do for New Orleans what we couldn’t do.” This was the same thing that was echoing for us as we watched these counterprotesters so violently attack our students, is the “We’ll just sit back and let that happen instead.”

And the irony of these counterprotesters attacking these vulnerable students, who are also incredibly strong and brave and organized, in an enclosed space, the analogy that we can make to what’s happening in Gaza is obviously lost on all of these counterprotesters. They have no regard for the lives, just as the UCLA administration. People could have died the night before last and this night, as well. And these are the conditions under which students are trying to enact free speech.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Gaye Theresa Johnson, I want to thank you for being with us, UCLA professor of African American studies and Chicana/Chicano studies. We also want to thank Mel Buer of The Real News Network and Shaanth Kodialam Nanguneri. Shaanth is one of four reporters, a senior reporter, with the Daily Bruin, the UCLA paper, who was attacked by the counterprotesters.

Coming up, we’ll speak to the former president of Brandeis University, founded by the American Jewish community in the wake of the Holocaust. What he says about today’s student protests may surprise you. Back in 20 seconds.

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Former Brandeis President on Gaza Protests: Schools Must Protect Free Expression on Campus

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