SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: May 02, 2024

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution | Violence

Institution(s):University of California, Los Angeles

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On May 2, 2024, police officers, primarily from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), forcibly dispersed a pro-Palestinian student encampment at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), using flashbang grenades and rubber bullets. Over 200 protesters were arrested.

Students affiliated with the University of California Divest Coalition and the UCLA branch of Students for Justice in Palestine had established an encampment on April 25. Over the next week, the encampment saw repeated clashes between encampment protesters and pro-Israel counterdemonstrators. On April 30, UCLA declared that the encampment was illegal. Later that evening, a large group of counterdemonstrators attacked the encampment in an act of violence that lasted for 3 hours before police intervened (see report). UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block later cited this violence in a statement explaining the decision to ask the University of California Police Department (UCPD) and outside law enforcement officers to disperse the encampment.

On May 1, following the previous night’s attack, police presence increased on UCLA’s campus over the course of the day. That evening, UCPD ordered the encampment to disperse, following up with a second dispersal notice around 12:30 am on May 2.

Around 1:20 am, police officers began clearing the encampment. The encampment protesters resisted dispersal, locking arms, changing “don’t engage” and “peaceful protest,” but also reportedly throwing projectiles at officers. A group of medics present at UCLA reported treating protesters who had scrapes, bruises, burns from flashbang fragments, acute respiratory failure from smoke inhalation, lacerations, and head trauma from rubber bullets. The LAPD disputed the claims, stating that no rubber bullets or other less-lethal rounds were fired. Video footage from CNN, shows a California Highway Patrol officer firing several rubber bullets into the crowd.

In total, 209 protesters, including an unknown number of students and faculty, were arrested on charges of suspicion of failing to disperse.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of rubber bullets and the forcible arrests of students and faculty members for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, and based on a request by university administration. While university authorities have an obligation to take all reasonable measures to ensure the safety of students and university personnel and should endeavor to prevent disruptions that inappropriately inhibit the functioning of or access to higher education, they must do so consistent with their responsibility to ensure academic freedom and free expression on campus. The punishment of nonviolent student and faculty expression undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.