University protests must remain peaceful, Biden says

As police continue to clash with protesters on college campuses, President Joe Biden says the demonstrations must remain free of violence and hate speech.

"There’s the right to protest but not to cause chaos," Biden said Thursday morning in brief remarks from the White House. 

The president's statement came as officers in Los Angeles cleared out the week-old protest encampment at UCLA, where at least 132 demonstrators were detained in a dramatic overnight raid. 

Biden said he did not think it was necessary for the National Guard to intervene, but he warned that activists who forced schools to cancel classes were crossing a line.

"Dissent is essential to democracy but dissent must never lead to disorder or to denying the rights of others so students can finish the semester and their college education," he added.


Police officers clash with pro-Palestinian protesters as a fire extinguisher is deployed at UCLA early Thursday morning, May 2, 2024. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Though the White House had said the president was getting regular updates on the protests, these were his first public comments on the topic in over a week. 

Last week, House Speaker Mike Johnson visited the campus of Columbia University – the site of another large protest – and called on the university’s president to resign. 

"We just can’t allow this kind of hatred and enemy antisemitism to flourish on our campuses, and it must be stopped in its tracks," Johnson said at the time.

Biden echoed those sentiments Thursday, warning specifically that there is "no place in America" for anti-Semetism or Islamophobia. 

What is the latest on the protests?

Protest encampments have formed on at least 40 major college campuses across the country.

Much of the attention Thursday was on UCLA, where police moved in overnight to dismantle a pro-Palestinian protest encampment after hundreds of protesters defied orders to leave. 

Over 100 protesters were detained after officers with the Los Angeles Police Department and the California Highway Patrol worked to dismantle makeshift barriers built by demonstrators. Video from FOX 11 showed officers firing tear gas and noisemakers as they tore at the plywood, fences, and pallets.

RELATED: UCLA protest: Tense scene as police dismantle pro-Palestine encampment

On the East Coast, over 100 people were arrested Tuesday after police in New York moved in to clear a building at Columbia University that had been occupied by protesters.

Those protests had spilled over to other New York schools Thursday, including Fordham, NYU and Stony Brook.

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What are the protests about?

Many of the demonstrators are calling for their schools – some of which have large endowments – to sever financial ties with Israel or Israeli-linked firms in the wake of Israel's response to the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas.

Other demonstrators are going further, calling for a ceasefire or even an independent Palestinian state.

The protests became violent in some locations when counter-protesters showed up to voice support for Israel, though not all have ended with clashes. 

As he finished his comments Thursday, President Biden responded simply "no" to a reporter who asked if the demonstrations had impacted his Middle East policies.

RELATED: Gaza war university protests: Map and updates

Map: College & university protests