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Home / News / Politics / USC closes amid protests at Shrine Auditorium for Pomona College graduation

USC closes amid protests at Shrine Auditorium for Pomona College graduation

by Joe Taglieri
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Hundreds of pro-Palestine demonstrators went to the relocated Pomona College graduation ceremony Sunday at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, prompting the adjacent USC campus to close.

A now weeklong protest encampment on the Pomona College campus led to the venue change for 2024 graduates.

At least one person was arrested Sunday after a “group of protesters charged at the responding police officers, and one protester attempted to strike an officer,” according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

The Shrine is across Jefferson Boulevard from USC. Shortly before the 6 p.m. graduation ceremony, USC announced closures were in place on Royal Street at Jefferson.

The protest received a sizable response from the LAPD, resulting in confrontations with demonstrators that included shoving matches and water bottles thrown at officers, according to published reports.

Police arrived in the area around 5:30 p.m. where “protesters attempted to block the entrance of the venue from the Pomona College students and their guests,” according to the LAPD. Officers attempted to push the protesters back from their former positions and declared the gathering an unlawful assembly, KCAL News reported.

Last week Pomona College officials announced the commencement would move to the Shrine Auditorium, which is about 40 miles from the college’s main campus in Claremont, after pro-Palestine protesters set up an encampment in the area of campus designated for the graduation ceremony.

In line with campus protests throughout Southern California and nationwide, the activists are calling for Pomona College to divest from Israeli-tied companies and weapons makers.

“By converging at (the Shrine Auditorium), student organizers aim to amplify their demands and expose the interconnected nature of their struggles, linking the fight for Palestinian liberation to broader struggles for social justice and the dismantling of oppressive systems,” George Smith from Pomona Divest from Apartheid said in a statement. “Their message will be impossible to ignore: Complicity in the oppression of Palestinians will not be tolerated, and the fight for justice will continue to escalate.”

Meanwhile, civil rights groups have filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of eduction alleging Pomona College and Occidental College have allowed severe discrimination and harassment of Jewish students in violation of federal law.

“The hostile environment on campus forces Jewish and Israeli students to conceal their identities and precludes them from participating in Pomona’s social, educational and extracurricular activities unless they disavow their Jewish ancestral and ethnic heritage connected to Israel,” said the complaint filed by the Arnold & Porter law firm.

“Jewish students on these campuses are hiding in their dorms and avoiding their own campus rather than risk verbal and physical attacks,” Kenneth L. Marcus, founder and chairman of the Brandeis Center, said in a statement. “Pomona and Occidental know full well this is happening. But instead of enforcing the law and their own policies, they are caving to the anti-Semitic mob and letting them bully, harass, and intimidate Jewish students. Anti-Semitism … will only snowball and escalate until the problem is faced head on as the law requires.”

Pomona College spokeswoman Patricia Vest said in a statement to the Claremont Courier, “Pomona College is committed to confronting antisemitism in a sustained and comprehensive manner. We will continue to enforce our policies, promote safety and actively challenge this destructive form of hate.”

Individual departments at Pomona College were held Saturday at various locations on the campus to avoid the graduation stage and reception area where dozens of protesters remain encamped.

Protest organizers said they refuse to meet with college officials until they agree to “preconditions,” including disclosure of the college’s Israel-related investments and full amnesty for negotiators and other protesters, City News Service reported.

On April 5, 19 students were arrested while doing in a sit-in at the Pomona College President Gabrielle Starr’s office.

Following the sit-in, Starr said some activists at refused to identify themselves and verbally harassed school staff, “even using a sickening, anti-Black racial slur in addressing an administrator.”

Starr said the protest encampment violated Pomona College policies, but “as we have expressed in the past, we work with students who are exercising their right to protest unless that protest impedes on the rights of others. In addition, we require all individuals on campus to identify themselves upon request by campus administrators or Campus Safety. This is imperative for the safety of our community, especially when these individuals are masked.”

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