UCLA's police chief 'reassigned temporarily' after campus protests on Israel-Hamas war

The University of California, Los Angeles, has "temporarily" reassigned the school's police chief following protests and violent clashes on campus over Israel's war in Gaza.

Former Police Chief John Thomas was reassigned Monday, and Gawin Gibson is now acting chief of the UCPD.

UCLA is a public land-grand research university in Los Angeles. The school has over 46,000 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled, per the university's records.

Mary Osako, UCLA's vice chancellor for strategic communications, said in a statement shared with USA TODAY that the reassignment comes as UCLA's Office of Campus Safety examines security processes.

“As we said on May 5, UCLA created a new Office of Campus Safety that is leading a thorough examination of our security processes aimed at enhancing the wellbeing and safety of our community,” Osako said in the statement.

According to the Los Angles Times, Thomas allegedly canceled requests for outside police assistance and failed to provide a safety plan to UCLA before violence broke out April 30 between Israel supporters and pro-Palestinian protesters.

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Police did not intervene as counterprotesters attacked encampment

Early that morning, dozens of counterprotesters, some carrying Israeli flags and wearing black clothes and masks, attacked the encampment at Dickson Plaza, an outdoor quad on the campus.

Video of the scene captured the counterprotesters pulling down the encampment's fence, lobbing fireworks into the camp, and spraying pro-Palestinian protesters with pepper spray. Some in the group carried metal bars and sticks, which they used to beat people who tried to exit the encampment.

Officers on the scene did not intervene for more than an hour while the violent clash continued, sparking heavy criticism of the Los Angeles Police Department and campus police. In a statement the next day, the LAPD said "no arrests were made, no force was used, and no officers were injured."

UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block said in a statement later that morning that a "group of instigators" came to "forcefully attack" the encampment. The "attack on our students, faculty and community members was utterly unacceptable," he added. The university cancelled all classes the next day.

Two days after the clash, at around 4 a.m., police wearing riot gear breached and dismantled the encampment. Officers fired flash bangs as protesters chanted at police to leave. Around 200 people were arrested and at least one person was seriously injured.

The LAPD said it deployed its officers at the request of university administrators and "due to multiple acts of violence within the large encampment."

Block said the "violent clashes" between protesters and counterprotesters put students "in harm’s way and created an environment that was completely unsafe for learning."

Investigations by CNN and The Guardian revealed members of several far-right groups participated in the attack on the encampment.

Campus protests: Amid campus protests, organizers with past ties to Hamas support also emerge

UCLA chancellor to testify before congressional committee on campus antisemitism

In a message to campus posted Monday, Block said he is testifying before a congressional committee this week on the topic of antisemitism on college campuses.

"I will speak honestly, and personally, about the challenges UCLA faces and the impact of this pernicious form of hate," Block wrote. "I will continue to insist that antisemitism – as well as Islamophobia, anti-Arab hate and any form of bigotry, hostility or discrimination – is antithetical to our values, corrosive to our community and not to be tolerated."

Protests against Israel's attack on the Gaza Strip and U.S. military support for Israel have swept college campuses since Oct. 7, when a surprise Hamas attack on Israel's border triggered the largest escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in half a century. Student protesters have demanded that universities divest, or pull their investments, from Israel.

Tension between demonstrators and law enforcement escalated last month, as more university administrations called in outside police to dismantle on-campus encampments and arrest protesters. New York police cleared protesters from Hamilton Hall on Columbia University's campus in mid-April, drawing international attention and sparking more student demonstrations in response.

Thousands have been arrested at campuses across the country.

The protests have impeded and forced modifications to graduation ceremonies this month. Some universities moved their graduation events to other venues in anticipation of interruptions by protesters, while others have canceled ceremonies altogether.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: UCLA police chief John Thomas reassigned after campus protests