UCLA police chief reassigned after violent mob attack on pro-Palestinian activists

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The police chief for the University of California at Los Angeles has been removed from his post three weeks after campus officials came under fire for their handling of a violent, overnight mob attack on pro-Palestinian activists encamped at UCLA.

John Thomas, who was formally appointed UCLA police chief in January, has been “reassigned temporarily, pending an examination of our security processes,” Vice Chancellor Mary Osako said in a statement on Wednesday.

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Campus police Captain Gawin Gibson was named UCLA’s acting chief of police effective on Tuesday, Osako said.

Thomas and other university officials, as well as the Los Angeles Police Department, drew criticism for their response to violence that flared at UCLA between pro-Palestinian activists and a group who attacked them late on the night of April 30.

The masked assailants, later described by university officials as “instigators,” stormed the tent camp with clubs and poles. A pitched skirmish between the two sides lasted for at least three hours before police intervened.

Both sides traded blows and doused each other with pepper spray and bear repellant. Members of the pro-Palestinian side said firecrackers were thrown at them.

By all accounts, the confrontation dragged on into the early morning hours before police moved in and restored order, but no arrests were immediately made.

A spokesperson for California Governor Gavin Newsom later criticized the “limited and delayed campus law enforcement response” to the unrest as “unacceptable.”

Newsom himself and Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass each issued statements condemning the violence and calling for an investigation.

The following night, hundreds of officers led by the California Highway Patrol raided the encampment and removed the tents, arresting 210 people.

The two days of disturbances thrust UCLA to the center of mounting weeks of tensions at dozens of US college campuses, where protests of Israel’s conduct of its war in Gaza led to students clashing with each other and with law enforcement.

Campus activists protesting the dire humanitarian crisis faced by Palestinians in Gaza have been accused by pro-Israel supporters of fomenting antisemitism and creating a hostile environment for Jews.

The pro-Palestinian side, including many Jews, counter that political opponents have unfairly equated their message of support for human rights and condemnation of the Israeli government with anti-Jewish hatred.

Days after the UCLA upheaval, university officials announced a broad review by outside experts of campus security and law enforcement’s response to the incident, including questions about public safety planning, coordination and communications.

A separate investigation was mounted to identify perpetrators of the May 1 melee.

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block also announced formation of a new campus safety office, with Rick Braziel, former Sacramento police chief, named to head the operation.

The UCLA police shakeup came as Block prepared to testify before a US House of Representatives committee, the latest in a series of congressional hearings called by Republicans to focus on campus unrest and allegations of antisemitism stemming from pro-Palestinian protests.

The presidents of Rutgers and Northwestern universities are also due to appear for Thursday’s hearing.

It was not clear what role Thomas would occupy while reassigned. He had served as UCLA’s interim police chief from December 2022 until January of this year, when he was appointed to the post on a permanent basis.

Read more:

Pro-Palestine US campus protests grow as police crack down

UCLA to resume in-person classes after crackdown on Gaza protest

Police move in after pro-Israel supporters attack pro-Palestinian camp at UCLA

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