Police Disperse UCLA Protest as Biden Calls for Lawful Demonstrations

President Joe Biden has called for pro-Palestinian demonstrators on college campuses to respect the rule of law, emphasizing civil society and the need for order amid a wave of student unrest.

“We are a civil society, and order must prevail,” Biden stated from the White House in his first direct comments regarding the recent surge in student protests.

Law enforcement authorities have detained over 2,000 individuals nationwide in the last two weeks during rallies and protests at colleges and university campuses. Among these, 209 arrests were made early Thursday at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

In a predawn operation, hundreds of riot police officers descended on UCLA’s main campus, employing flash bangs and flares to disperse a pro-Palestinian encampment that had been erected a week prior. They dismantled makeshift barriers and tents, loading demonstrators onto buses.

UCLA labeled the encampment as “unlawful” and a “breach of policy,” citing safety concerns and disruptions to campus activities. The university reported that demonstrators obstructed students’ access to classrooms and engaged in clashes with pro-Israeli counter-protesters.

Addressing the nationwide protests later in the day, Biden affirmed, “We are not an authoritarian nation where we silence people or squash dissent… But neither are we a lawless country.” He stressed the right to protest without causing chaos and the importance of ensuring campus safety.

However, the Uncommitted National Movement, representing Arab-American voters opposed to Biden’s re-election, criticized him for “smearing” anti-war protesters, alleging a failure to listen to the concerns of young people and uncommitted voters.

The campus demonstrations in support of Gaza have now spread to nearly 140 colleges across at least 45 states and six other countries, according to a BBC tally. Protesters are advocating for a Gaza ceasefire and urging academic institutions to divest financially from Israel and related companies.

Despite the protests, violence has erupted on several campuses, and reports of antisemitic harassment against Jewish students have risen. At UCLA, tensions escalated when a masked pro-Israeli group attacked the tent camp on Tuesday night, prompting a police response.

Following the incident, UCLA limited campus operations on Thursday and Friday, transitioning all classes to remote instruction. Several universities, including Northwestern, Brown, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Vermont, have engaged in discussions with protesters over divestment issues, while arrests have been reported at other institutions in the past 24 hours.