Police disperse, arrest pro-Palestinian student protesters at USC

Police disperse, arrest pro-Palestinian student protesters at USC

By early Wednesday evening, 93 people were arrested
/ 01:31 AM April 25, 2024

USC Protest

A University of Southern California protester is detained by USC Department of Public Safety officers during a pro-Palestinian occupation at the campus’ Alumni Park on Wednesday, April 24, 2024 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

LOS ANGELES – Hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters held an “occupation” of USC’s Alumni Park Wednesday, issuing demands for the university to end ties with Israel and Israeli-tied investments, and the gathering devolved into chaos late in the day when police began working to disperse the crowd.

By early evening, 93 people who refused to leave the park after multiple dispersal orders were arrested peacefully, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

The occupation action added USC to a growing list of college campuses across the nation that have seen encampments and protests over the Israel-Hamas war, most notably Columbia University. USC’s Alumni Park is scheduled to host the university’s already headline-making commencement ceremony on May 10.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

Organizers of the USC occupation — identifying themselves as the USC Divest from Death Coalition — issued a statement saying the action is “in solidarity with the people of Palestine as they resist genocide and continue in their struggle for liberation.”

“The occupation is also in resistance to attempts by USC and other universities to suppress the student movement for Palestine on its campuses, in resistance to the silencing of students that criticize the State of Israel, in resistance to the university administrators and boards of trustees who profit off the genocide of Palestinians,” organizers said.

In part, the group demanded university divestment from organizations that “profit from Israeli apartheid, genocide and occupation in Palestine.”


As the crowd swelled throughout the morning, USC closed the gates to campus and barred access for any unauthorized visitors and non-students or staff.


Some unrest developed around midday when the USC Department of Public Safety moved in to confiscate prohibited items, such as microphones and tents.

Some shouting matches between protesters and officers ensued, and some protesters picked up their tents and carried them around the park to prevent them from being confiscated.


As the standoff intensified and officers tried to detain a protester, hundreds of people amassed around a DPS patrol vehicle, chanting and shoving forward. The group ultimately moved back into Alumni Park and began marching and shouting slogans, while some DPS officers formed a small skirmish line on the outskirts of the park. The person who had been detained was released.

USC Provost Andrew Guzman wrote in a message to the campus community Wednesday afternoon that protesters’ “actions have escalated to include acts of vandalism, defacing campus buildings and structures, as well as physical confrontation that threatens the safety of our officers and campus community.”

By mid-afternoon, the gathering had returned to a mostly peaceful posture, with about 200 protesters marching through and later sitting in the park.

“We want to be clear that we reject speech that is hateful and that causes harm to others,” Guzman wrote in his statement. “In these challenging times, we call on the Trojan Family to remember that every member of our community is deserving of respect, has the right to be safe on campus, take classes, and participate in other campus activities without fear of harassment or bullying.”


Guzman’s statement did not address any of the demands put forth by protest organizers.

Those demands included a complete academic boycott of Israel, including an end to study-abroad programs in the area and cutting ties with Israeli universities; protection of free speech of students voicing support for Palestine; and demanding the university issue a public statement “calling for an immediate, permanent ceasefire in Gaza, denouncing the ongoing genocidal campaign against the Palestinian people and call on government officials to do so too.”

Shortly after 5 p.m., campus security began issuing dispersal orders to the group, saying anyone who did not vacate the area would be arrested for criminal trespassing. Hundreds of LAPD officers who had been amassing outside the campus then began marching toward the park, establishing a perimeter around the area.

As the police presence escalated, many people cleared out of the park, but continued to linger around the perimeter, leading to some isolated skirmishes with groups of officers.

Around 6:30 p.m., police began moving in and arresting people in the park. The core group of protesters surrendered peacefully one-by-one.

Valedictorian’s speech canceled

USC has made national headlines in recent weeks over its decision to bar pro-Palestinian valedictorian Asna Tabassum from speaking during the May 10 commencement ceremony. The move came following complaints about some of Tabassum’s online posts, including a link to a website advocating the abolition of Israel.

University officials insisted the decision was done not for political reasons, but due to security concerns, given the “alarming tenor” of the discourse over the issue of Tabassum.

Organizations including the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Los Angeles and the ACLU of Southern California have denounced the decision and demanded the university reverse course and allow Tabassum to speak.

On Friday, USC announced that it is “redesigning the commencement program,” and it will no longer include any outside speakers or honorees.

Filmmaker Jon M. Chu had been scheduled to be the main commencement speaker during the May 10 event. Honorary degrees were expected to be presented to Chu, National Endowment for the Arts chair Maria Rosario Jackson, tennis legend Billie Jean King and National Academy of Sciences President Marcia McNutt.

The university said it will “confer these honorary degrees at a future commencement or other academic ceremonies.”


Also on Friday, 11 members of the university’s Advisory Committee on Muslim Life at USC resigned in protest over the Tabassum issue. The group is scheduled to hold a news conference Thursday.

Last Thursday, hundreds of people – including students and some university staff – took part in a march and rally on the USC campus to protest the decision not to allow Tabassum to speak at commencement.

Tabassum said in a statement that “anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian voices have subjected me to a campaign of racist hatred because of my uncompromising belief in human rights for all.”

“… I am both shocked by this decision and profoundly disappointed that the university is succumbing to a campaign of hate meant to silence my voice,” she said. “I am not surprised by those who attempt to propagate hatred. I am surprised that my own university — my home for four years — has abandoned me.”

Excessive force

CAIR-LA, meanwhile, issued another statement Wednesday condemning what it called “excessive force” being used against protesters.

“It is deeply concerning that USC’s response to students demonstrating peacefully in solidarity with Palestine is forcible suppression of free speech and assembly,” CAIR-LA legal director Amr Shabaik said in a statement.

“This mirrors a nationwide trend of colleges and universities attempting to censor pro-Palestine advocacy on campuses. All students should feel safe while expressing their views and engaging in their right to assemble peacefully. We demand USC immediately cease any further acts of repression against the protesters and take action to respect and protect the speech of its students.” (CNS)

Don't miss out on the latest news and information.
TAGS: arrest, protest, USC
For feedback, complaints, or inquiries, contact us.
Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.