UCLA Police Shakeup: Chief Reassigned Amid Campus Unrest Response Criticism

UCLA's police chief, John Thomas, has been temporarily reassigned following criticism of the university's handling of a violent mob attack on pro-Palestinian activists. Captain Gawin Gibson is now acting chief. Officials and police were criticized for their response to the disturbance, leading to multiple investigations and congressional hearings.

Reuters | Updated: 23-05-2024 06:40 IST | Created: 23-05-2024 06:40 IST
UCLA Police Shakeup: Chief Reassigned Amid Campus Unrest Response Criticism

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 named head of the UCLA police force in January after a year as interim chief, has been "reassigned temporarily, pending an examination of our security processes," Vice Chancellor Mary Osako said in a statement on Wednesday.

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 sharp 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 ensued, with both sides trading blows and dousing each other with pepper spray. The encampment occupants said fireworks were also hurled at them. By all accounts the confrontation continued for at least three hours, into the early morning of May 1, before police moved in and restored order. 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 state and local police officers 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 U.S. 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 said a panel of outside experts would conduct a broad review of campus security operations and law enforcement's response to the incident. UCLA Chancellor Gene Block announced a separate investigation to identify and arrest perpetrators of the melee. Reacting to Thomas' removal, the police union representing 250 officers who patrol all 10 UC campuses issued a statement questioning whether university administrators had followed existing protest and crowd-control protocols.

"The UCLA administration owns the failure of any protest response, and the public should reject their attempts to shift blame to law enforcement," said Wade Stern, president of the Federated University Peace Officers Association. The UCLA police shakeup came as Block prepared to testify before a U.S. 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.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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