WACD Faculty Response to Violent Removal of Student Encampment

Statement of the UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance in response to the May 2 violent removal of the Student Encampment

Solidarity Statement in response to the violent removal of the Student Encampment

May 4, 2024

The Senate Faculty of the UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance is outraged at the University’s failure to protect its students from vigilante and police violence and its refusal to uphold its stated values, as made evident in the forcible removal and arrest of peacefully protesting students, faculty, and staff in the Royce Quad. As a department that centers decoloniality, anti-racism and movement work as core values, we condemn the University’s failure to support our students’ right to a nonviolent protest.

The decisions that emboldened vigilante mobs to assault students, staff, and faculty on April 30, and law enforcement to make mass arrests of students and faculty in the early morning of May 2, are inexcusable. In the name of “safety,” defending property was prioritized over people. These actions render Chancellor Gene Block unfit for his role.

We demand:

  • Amnesty for all. No student, faculty, or staff member should face any repercussions — suspensions, expulsions, or threats to employment — as a result of involvement in peaceful protests and for exercising their first amendment rights.
  • That the university pay for any and all legal and medical fees that our students, staff, and faculty incur as a result of the violence they faced from police arrests and mob attacks.
  • The immediate resignation of Chancellor Gene Block and a vote of no-confidence from the UCLA Academic Senate.
  • UCLA’s disclosure of and divestment from holdings connected to genocidal military attacks against the people of Gaza.

On Thursday April 25, UCLA students formed a Palestinian Solidarity Encampment, which was then met with the University’s recognition of the student community’s right to free expression. UCLA then granted a permit for a “counter-protest” for Sunday April 28, directly next to the encampment. The vast majority of these so-called “counter protestors” were not UCLA students. They proceeded to aggressively taunt and harass peaceful student protestors. They positioned a jumbotron blaring images of rape, sounds of children crying, and ear-splitting music by day and throughout the night, depriving them of sleep. In short, they terrorized our students, who de-escalated at every turn. UCLA did nothing to quell this violence.

On the afternoon of April 30, Chancellor Gene D. Block released an email that misrepresented the interfaith coalition of students involved in the encampment, alluding to unspecified “instances of violence” and the “tactics” on site as “shocking and shameful,” labeling the encampment “unauthorized.” He highlighted the Jewish students' right to safety and ignored the threats to Palestinians, other racialized students, as well as all protestors, including Jewish protestors. He called on law enforcement to secure the area and remove the protective barriers, and threatened suspension and expulsion of those in the encampment. Later that night, a mob of violent right-wing extremists, most of whom were outside agitators, attacked UCLA students in the encampment while university leadership watched without meaningful interference. These “counter-protestors” bombarded our students with racist, sexist, and homophobic epithets while pelting them with objects and chemical weapons, striking them, and spitting on them. Yet again, UCLA did nothing to quell this violence.

Several UCLA faculty were present to witness the abdication of the university’s basic responsibility to protect students from a raging mob. Security personnel who were present on site watched the siege and did nothing. Additional reserves of police were called and did nothing. They did not protect our students. They did not protect faculty and staff who were supporting our students. Not a single agitator has yet been held accountable, despite being captured on camera in the very act of violence. UCLA administration has been condemned in the media and by the mayor of Los Angeles and the governor of California for their failure to ensure the safety of unarmed protestors. We await the results of an external inquiry into the appalling incidents of that night.

On the following night of May 1, instead of pursuing criminal conviction of the violent agitators, the UCLA administration then turned against its own community. The deployment of militarized police (with snipers, flashbangs, tear gas, stun grenades, batons, zip-ties, rubber bullets) is unforgivable. Hundreds of concerned Angelenos flocked to campus to put their bodies between the encampment and the police in solidarity and protection, and delayed the encampment’s sweep for eight hours. People around the world watched live-streams of Royce Quad as police forces (UCPD, CHP, LAPD, SRT, and university-paid private security), armed with riot gear, hid their badges and body cams and unleashed a violent crackdown on the encampment. Setting hordes of police in riot gear on peaceful student, faculty, and staff protestors fundamentally counters the values of our university.

Protecting the first amendment rights of its students, faculty, and staff is an integral mission of UCLA as a public university. UCLA stakes its reputation on our students’ intelligence, commitment, and steadfastness of spirit, all of which has guided their organizing. The university cannot then turn around and punish them for the very same qualities it claims to foster. UCLA should be at the forefront of the national student movement for divestment against genocide, rather than turning our campus into a display of unchecked extremist violence and police brutality. We have witnessed our students in the encampment learn from each other, practice mutual aid, and keep each other safe. This is the very best of what we have asked our students to do, to agitate for better worlds.

Because our department values the safety of our community members, this statement was agreed upon by an majority vote among WACD’s Academic Senate faculty.