Gaza war protests erupt in violence, chaos at some U.S. campuses but remain peaceful in Bay Area

Protests over the war in Gaza erupted in violence and clashes with authorities at some college campuses across the nation Wednesday but continued peacefully at universities in the Bay Area where demonstrators also held May Day rallies in Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose.

A brawl erupted at UCLA after a pro-Palestinian encampment was “forcefully attacked,” the school’s chancellor said Wednesday, while activists at the University of Wisconsin in Madison clashed with police officers who destroyed their tents, and close to 300 protesters were arrested in protest crackdowns at Columbia and The City College of New York, officials said.

An encampment at UC Berkeley that popped up April 22 doubled in size over the weekend to an estimate of 150 tents but the protest remained peaceful Wednesday. University administrators have taken a restrained approach with demonstrators who continued Wednesday with activities including poetry readings, question and answer sessions and speeches.

At Stanford University, where students reestablished a protest encampment on White Plaza, university officials continued to monitor the demonstration and protesters reported receiving warnings and citations from the Office of Community Standards for participating in the overnight sit-in. But there were no clashes with police.

Gaza protesters marched for May Day in downtown San Jose, Oakland and San Francisco.

“We’re here fighting for increased funding for teachers and education in Oakland, protecting immigrants’ rights, while opposing US sponsored war, military aid, and intervention in countries like Haiti, Venezuela, the Philippines and Palestine in particular,” Wassim Hage of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, part of the Oakland Sin Fronteras coalition, said in a statement.

Employers at the Port of Oakland canceled work for the day in anticipation of a shutdown of port traffic organized by groups including Bay Resistance, Anti-Police Terror Project and Palestinian Youth Movement.

Tent encampments of protesters calling on universities to stop doing business with Israel or companies that support the war in Gaza have spread across campuses nationwide in a student movement unlike any other this century.

The ensuing police crackdowns echoed actions decades ago against a much larger protest movement protesting the Vietnam War.

The nationwide campus demonstrations protest Israel’s offensive in Gaza after Hamas launched a deadly attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7. Militants killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages. Vowing to stamp out Hamas, Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, according to the Health Ministry there.

Wednesday’s chaotic scenes unfolded after police burst into a building occupied by protesters at Columbia University on Tuesday night, breaking up a demonstration that had paralyzed the school.

Protesters first set up a tent encampment at Columbia almost two weeks ago. The school sent in police to clear the tents the following day, arresting more than 100 people. But the protesters returned. The school set a Monday deadline for the activists to abandon the tent encampment or be suspended. Instead, protesters took over Hamilton Hall early Tuesday, carrying in furniture and metal barricades.

Blocks away from Columbia at The City College of New York, demonstrators were in a standoff with police outside the public college’s main gate. Video posted on social media by reporters late Tuesday showed officers forcing some people to the ground and shoving others as they cleared the street and sidewalks.

The clashes the University of California-Los Angeles erupted when the pro-Palestinian protesters tried to expand their encampment late Tuesday night. Counter-protesters then tried to pull down the parade barricades, plywood and wooden pallets surrounding the encampment. In the chaos, firecrackers exploded.

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said in a statement that “a group of instigators” came on campus Tuesday to “forcefully attack” the pro-Palestinian encampment, prompting the school to ask for assistance from outside law enforcement.

After a couple of hours of scuffles between dueling demonstrators, police wearing helmets and face shields separated the groups and restored calm. Authorities have not detailed injuries. No one was arrested, and it’s not clear if all the demonstrators were students.

Chancellor Block promised the university will conduct a thorough investigation that he said may lead to arrests, expulsions and dismissals, and said the administration is examining its own security response.

California Governor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass both called for accountability of those involved in the melee.

In Madison on Wednesday, police with shields removed all but one tent and shoved protesters, resulting in a scrum. More than 30 people were arrested, most of them released without charges, but four were charged with battering law enforcement, police said.

Meanwhile, protest encampments were cleared or closed up voluntarily at schools from Flagstaff, Arizona, to New Orleans. At Portland State in Oregon, school officials said some 50 protesters left a library on campus that had been occupied since Monday after administrators offered not to seek criminal charges or other discipline. An unknown number of people remained in the library Wednesday.

___Bay Area News Group staff writers Sierra Lopez, Nollyanne Delacruz, Caelyn Pender contributed to this report. Associated Press journalists around the country also contributed, including John Antzak, Ethan Swope, Jake Offenhartz, Joseph B. Frederick, Cedar Attanasio, Jonathan Mattise, Stefanie Dazio, Jae Hong, Colleen Long, Karen Matthews, Sarah Brumfield, Carolyn Thompson, Philip Marcelo, Corey Williams and Felicia Fonseca.

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