Pro-Palestinian protesters occupy Alumni Park

More than 90 protesters were arrested for trespassing. One was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon.

By BIANCA B. ARZÁN-MONTAÑEZ & DAVID RENDON

Student organizers gathered in Alumni Park at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday to set up an encampment to protest the University’s financial ties to Israel, convocated by the USC Divest from Death Coalition. Participants brought painted banners, Palestinian flags, sleeping bags and tents to begin their “Gaza Solidarity Occupation.” 

In addition to demanding the University divest from Israel, the coalition wrote in a release that it would not end its occupation on campus until it saw financial transparency of USC’s endowments and investments, an academic boycott of Israel and protection of free speech, following the cancellation of Valedictorian Asna Tabassum’s commencement address.


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By the end of the demonstration, Los Angeles Police Department Headquarters reported 93 arrests and no injuries. As most protesters face a trespassing misdemeanor offense, the department has not decided whether they will be cited or booked, Captain Kelly Muniz said in a press conference Wednesday night. There was one arrest for assault with a deadly weapon.

After hours stationed by the Downey Way Entrance, dozens of Los Angeles Police Department officers in riot gear marched into campus at around 5:30 p.m., armed with 40-millimeter less-lethal launchers, sponge batons and zip ties. 

At the same time, Department of Public Safety Chief Lauretta Hill made her way to Alumni Park in a patrol car, which officers parked in front of protesters, to announce that DPS would soon begin arresting demonstrators for trespassing. Another officer warned participating students they were subject to expulsion or suspension.

“This is private property,” Hill told demonstrators. “We are requesting people at Alumni Park and adjacent to Alumni Park to leave. You have 10 minutes to leave the park.”

Protesters divided into two groups, as some linked arms at the center of Alumni Park, bracing to be arrested, and roughly one hundred more moved to the steps of the Crow Center for Public and International Affairs. Those at Alumni Park penned phone numbers onto their arms for identification purposes and stocked milk in case of a tear gas attack. LAPD officers slowly moved into the area.

The first arrest came at around 6:20 p.m. as LAPD escorted a protester from the steps of Crow Center into a provisional booking station at Hahn Plaza. Protesters had moved there after being told to go there to avoid arrest. Protesters threw a liquid at officers — presumably water — while chanting, “LAPD, KKK, IDF, they’re all the same” and “Let them go.”  

Around 50 protesters in two rings with linked arms remained at the center of Alumni Park while police officers slowly closed their perimeter around them. A crowd outside the perimeter chanted, “Hands off Gaza. Hands off students.” 

Eventually, protesters stepped forward one by one and stood with their arms behind their back as they turned themselves over to the LAPD. As police escorted those arrested down Trousdale Parkway to the Hahn Plaza booking station, people cheered and called them heroes, chanting, “Free Palestine.” 

In a statement to the Daily Trojan, the University could not clarify whether arrested students faced suspension or expulsion.

“Any violation of the Student Handbook can be addressed with a range of outcomes that could include suspension and expulsion,” the statement read. 

Half an hour into the protest, in the early morning, Department of Public Safety officers sent by the Office of Student Affairs approached the protesters’ police liaison to tell the students they had to take down the posters they tied to the trees in the park, as they violated a University policy of hanging posters on trees and lampposts. 

Roughly an hour later, DPS returned and said students had half an hour to take down their banners. Five minutes later, DPS returned saying Student Affairs wanted the banners down immediately.

Students then took down the banners and instead took to standing on buckets and holding the banners by hand, taping posters to themselves, and tying the posters to poles in between the trees they were originally attached to. 

Passersby stopped to observe and take photos of the encampment as they headed to their morning classes.

At around 10:15 a.m., DPS spoke to protesters again, informing them the megaphone they were using for chants went against the University’s policy for amplified sound. After the DPS left, protesters resumed using the megaphone.

DPS officers returned roughly five minutes later to inform protesters that an unspecified event had been scheduled at Alumni Park. Officers recommended protesters move their encampment to the Jefferson Boulevard-Hoover Street intersection. 

DPS officers entered the encampment and began to remove the tents and other belongings protesters had set up at around 11:30 a.m., snapping the tents’ poles and folding them. Protesters responded by marching away with the tents and canopies they had set up to evade DPS. 

Department of Public Safety officers detained a student in the back of a vehicle parked on Trousdale Parkway at around 11:30 a.m. Crowds of protesters swarmed the car, preventing it from leaving until the student was released. (Henry Kofman / Daily Trojan)

Protesters and DPS officers engaged in physical altercations, with some officers pushing protesters to the ground and placing one in a headlock. During the altercations, officers detained a student in the back of a DPS vehicle parked on Trousdale Parkway. Crowds of protesters swarmed the car, preventing it from leaving, and banged on it, demanding the student’s release, chanting “Let him go.” After over 10 minutes, DPS released the student and protesters chanted, “The people united will never be defeated.” 

After their victory, protesters began marching and chanting around Alumni Park. Students held up a series of signs that read “LET GAZA LIVE.” The scene calmed as protesters continued with their scheduled itinerary, which included speeches. 

Protesters also showed up in support of Asna Tabassum, who the University barred from speaking at commencement May 10, citing safety concerns.

“By silencing Asna, it’s not just silencing one student, it’s silencing so many students,” said a junior attending the protest who requested anonymity for fear of retribution. “By shutting that down and not letting her speak, it silenced all of us and it really sends a message that USC isn’t gonna fight for its students when they’re being harassed and isn’t gonna fight for the students when something happens to them.” 

After the arrests, a group of Muslim students began their evening Maghrib prayer by Hahn Plaza. The students prayed outside, with one prayer saying they wanted to be in an area where all Muslim students could congregate.

“I’m just disappointed,” said a senior majoring in biochemistry who requested anonymity, citing safety concerns. “Disappointed in the institution for calling the police on its own students … How safe do you really feel when as a student, you’re being told ‘Don’t come to class?’ You’re seeing police officers that are engaging with students, arresting them. [It] doesn’t necessarily make me feel good as a student here.”

DPS did not respond to the Daily Trojan’s multiple requests for comment. 

The University gates will remain closed to those without USC identification “at least through the weekend,” a communitywide email sent Wednesday night read. Although some classes moved online at faculty members’ discretion, “all campus functions will be fully operational again” today.

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