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USC encampment cleared in pre-dawn push by LAPD, campus police

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A pro-Palestinian encampment in the middle of USC’s main campus was cleared this morning by officers with the Los Angeles Police Department and USC’s Department of Public Safety, ending a high-profile demonstration that began in April.

No arrests or major confrontations were reported, but the campus remains closed.

“Earlier today, the University of Southern California Department of Public Safety (DPS) successfully removed the illegal encampment rebuilt on the university’s campus,” Joel Curran, USC’s senior vice president of communications said in an early Sunday morning statement. “It was necessary to request the Los Angeles Police Department to respond to provide security as this was carried out peacefully. No arrests have been reported.

“We want to thank LAPD for assisting DPS in clearing the encampment and restoring normalcy for students and community as quickly and safely as possible. We will share more information with our community later today.”

Clean-up of the encampment, which had been rebuilt after previously being cleared on April 24th, began around 4:30 a.m. Sunday.

USC Annenberg Media reported at 3:51 a.m. that university police officers told student reporters they planned to come in around 4 a.m. and had set up a staging area for the media, which they alleged was too far away to witness any arrests.

Protesters shouted “Free Palestine” at 4:17 a.m., as officers began surrounding the encampment, Annenberg Media said. At 4:25 a.m., DPS officers gave protesters in the encampment 15 minutes to leave of face arrest.

The officers started at 4:35 a.m. to remove the banners hung by protesters, moving them to the side of the park, Annenberg Media said.

During this time USC officials alerted students that the campus was temporarily closed.

As the clean-up proceeded, reporters at the Daily Trojan, USC’s student newspaper, reported seeing “at least 50 Los Angeles Police officers … moving down Trousdale Parkway [near the USC campus] at around 4:15 a.m. with zip ties, less-lethal launchers and helmets.” The paper also reported seeing “three police vans, which appear to be used for transporting people who have been arrested.”

A news videographer at the scene said officers pushed 50 to 75 students out of the encampment and off the campus. The officers then cleared out the tents and other gear that was left behind.

The police action came just days after USC President Carol Folt wrote an open letter to the “Trojan Family” stressing the steps the university was taking to ensure that students finish finals “in a quiet, safe academic environment — and that our graduating students can enjoy peaceful and joyous commencement ceremonies.”

Folt also took a firm stand toward protesters who might continue to be disruptive.

“Let me be absolutely clear,” she wrote in the letter released Friday. “Free speech and assembly do not include the right to obstruct equal access to campus, damage property, or foment harassment, violence, and threats. Nor is anyone entitled to obstruct the normal functions of our university, including commencement.

“… When laws and policies that apply to everyone are repeatedly and flagrantly violated — there must be consequences.”

It was unclear when open access would be restored at the campus, which had been restricted to students, faculty and staff for much of the past week, now that the encampment has been removed.

USC became a focal point of Southland pro-Palestinian protests following its decision to cancel valedictorian Asna Tabassum’s commencement speech in response to complaints about online posts that critics called antisemitic. USC officials insisted the move was solely a security issue, not a political decision.

As tensions continued mounting — leading to the mass protest April 24 that resulted in 93 arrests — the university eventually opted to cancel its May 10 main stage commencement in Alumni Park altogether, but vowed to move forward with the usual array of smaller satellite graduation ceremonies for the school’s individual colleges.

Those ceremonies are set to begin Wednesday.

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