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Officers clear tents from protest encampment on USC campus

What to Know

  • Unrest began last month after USC announced it canceled the graduation speech from its pro-Palestinian valedictorian.
  • After the LAPD clashed with pro-Palestinian protesters on campus on April 24, more than 90 demonstrators were arrested.
  • USC has restricted the public’s access to its main campus, allowing only students, faculty and staff with valid ID inside.

Law enforcement officers in protective gear arrived on the campus of USC before dawn Sunday to clear out an encampment that went up last month at Alumni Park in protest of the war in Gaza.

The USC public safety department said at about 4:30 a.m. that anyone who does not leave the tent encampment on the campus in Los Angeles’ Exposition Park area could be arrested in the early morning police operation. Several people could be seen leaving the area as officers formed a perimeter at the site of dozens of tents. Other people remained in the area around the encampment, beating drums and chanting in the darkness and light rain.

“The Los Angeles Police Department is clearing the center of UPC,” the campus department of public safety said. “If you are in the center of campus, please leave. People who don’t leave could be arrested.”

Officers said early Sunday after entering the encampment that none of the tents appeared to be occupied. No arrests were reported as of 5:30 a.m.

The tents were cleared later Sunday morning, but the campus remained closed.

The police operation involving officers with zip ties, less-lethal launchers and helmets comes three days after a much larger pro-Palestinian encampment was cleared on the campus of UCLA. That operation resulted in hundreds of trespassing arrests.

Joel Curran, Senior Vice President of Communications at USC, said the removal was peaceful.
“Earlier today, the University of Southern California Department of Public Safety (DPS) successfully removed the illegal encampment rebuilt on the university’s campus,” Curran said. “It was necessary to request the Los Angeles Police Department to respond to provide security as this was carried out peacefully. No arrests have been reported. We want to thank LAPD for assisting DPS in clearing the encampment and restoring normalcy for students and community as quickly and safely as possible. We will share more information with our community later today.”

Tensions remained high on the campus as graduation nears, resulting in the cancelation of the university’s main commencement ceremony, the arrests of more than 90 people late last month and restricted access to the school that bars the public from entering it.

Social events have been limited on the USC campus while pro-Palestinian protesters remained in their encampment on Alumni Park. The group had been calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The campus unrest began last month after the university canceled the speech from its pro-Palestinian valedictorian Asna Tabassum, a fourth-year student from Chino Hills with a major in biomedical engineering and a minor in resistance to genocide. Citing “safety concerns,” the school said in a community message that the decisions “is not only necessary to maintain the safety of our campus and students, but is consistent with the fundamental legal obligation – including the expectations of federal regulators – that universities act to protect students and keep our campus community safe.”

In response, some USC students and community members protested the university’s decision to show support for Tabassum and called on the campus to cut financial and education ties with Israel amid the ongoing war in Gaza.

Tensions escalated on campus April 24 when the Los Angeles Police Department clashed with pro-Palestinian protesters who set up encampments on the campus. The confrontation resulted in the arrests of 93 demonstrators and the school to cancel its “main stage graduation ceremony.”

University President Carol Folt addressed the protest encampment on campus in a May 3 update.

“Freedom of expression is one of our foundational values, and throughout the year, faculty, staff, and students have held lawful marches, vigils, and peaceful demonstrations,” Folt said. “But let me be absolutely clear: free speech and assembly do not include the right to obstruct equal access to campus, damage property, or foment harassment, violence, and threats. Nor is anyone entitled to obstruct the normal functions of our university, including commencement.

“The university is legally obligated to ensure that students, faculty, and staff can move freely throughout our campus while pursuing their studies, work, and research. Every part of our campuses, including Alumni Park, must be fully accessible and free from vandalism and harassment.”

The unrest at USC comes as universities across the nation are met with pro-Palestinian protests — a movement that calls for a ceasefire in Gaza and puts pressure on higher education institutions to divest educational and financial ties with Israel.

USC’s cross-town rival, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), also had its share of protests. On May 1, counter-protesters violently attacked pro-Palestinian demonstrators and attempted to tear down their encampment. Police cleared out the encampment the following day and arrested more than 200 people who refused their order to disperse.

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Source: NBC Los Angeles

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