Pomona College graduation is moved — but protesters follow; intense confrontation ensues

A line of police officers holding batons face a crowd of protesters, some holding signs, outside a building.
Los Angeles police officers and protesters face off outside the Shrine Auditorium on Sunday evening.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

When pro-Palestinian protesters set up an encampment last week on the stage at Pomona College where graduation was set to be held, the school’s leaders decided to move Sunday’s commencement to Los Angeles.

The graduation took place at the Shrine Auditorium, kicking off at 6 p.m. But protesters also moved. A group of more than 100 congregated outside the auditorium Sunday afternoon and clashed with law enforcement. L.A. police said protesters charged them, and one demonstrator said officers struck people in the stomach with batons.

The college had said there would be additional security measures at the event, and dozens of Los Angeles Police Department officers were present. Officers lined up outside the venue as protesters held up banners and shouted through bullhorns.


Several Pomona College graduates, dressed in full regalia, led the crowd in chanting “Free Palestine.”

At times, the demonstrators pushed and shoved with police as officers attempted to secure the area around the auditorium. Officials told television station KABC-7 that some protesters charged at officers and that one was arrested after attempting to strike an officer.

Later, about 6:30 p.m., the protesters marched away from the Shrine Auditorium and gathered in a courtyard where a Pomona College student, wearing his graduation gown, read a statement calling for an end to the war and for universities to divest from financial ties with Israel.

Tharwa Khalid, a member of a local chapter of the Palestinian Youth Movement, said the protesters started on West 32nd Street and split into two groups, one on 32nd Street and another near Jefferson Boulevard.

The dynamic with police escalated from “zero to 100 with no warning,” she said.

Officers shoved Khalid and several others, pushing some people to the ground and striking them with batons, including hitting multiple female protesters in the stomach, Khalid said.

“A lot of my friends are bruised up right now and are not doing well physically,” Khalid said.


As officers pushed one Muslim protester to the ground, they pulled off her headscarf, Khalid said.

Khalid said she saw a legal observer with the National Lawyers Guild — wearing a neon green hat to be easily seen observing police activity — shoved to the ground by an officer.

“It just shows that they’re trying to intimidate students and punish them for exercising their 1st Amendment rights,” Khalid said.

People wear caps and kaffiyeh shawls at a graduation ceremony.
Among pro-Palestinian protesters Sunday outside the Shrine Auditorium were those in their Pomona College graduation caps and gowns.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

By nearly 7 p.m., most of the pro-Palestinian protesters had dispersed from the campus courtyard, and police had cordoned off an area surrounding the Shrine Auditorium.

A few family members of graduates arrived late to the ceremony with flowers in hand but were briefly turned away from the police-tape line. An officer stepped in, however, and allowed them through so they could attend the graduation.


LAPD Officer Tony Im, a public information officer, said he could not provide a statement or response Sunday evening regarding what protesters alleged happened because he had not been briefed.

Pomona College’s decision to move its commencement came after a decision by USC to cancel its traditional main campus commencement ceremony and hold an alternative celebration at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The event Thursday featured fireworks and a drone show.

As at USC, pro-Palestinian protests have roiled the Pomona campus, with student activists demanding that the college publicly call for a cease-fire and divest college endowment funds from corporations tied to Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the occupation of the West Bank. In April, police wearing riot gear arrested 19 protesters who had occupied the college president’s office.

Also on Sunday, about 30 students graduating from Harvey Mudd College, a private liberal arts college in Claremont, wore a message on their mortarboards reading “Cut defense ties,” referencing a demand for divestment from defense contracts that’s also been made at other colleges and universities, said a faculty member who asked not to be named over privacy concerns.

Some students took out small Palestinian flags as they walked across the stage after their names were called and posed with the flags in their photos with Mudd College President Harriet B. Nembhard, the faculty member told The Times. Other students pulled out banners, reading “Free Palestine” and “No tech for genocide.”

Saachi Patel, a student speaker graduating Sunday, said during her speech that her graduation and degree could only mean so much to her given the tens of thousands of Palestinians, mostly women and children, killed by Israel’s bombardment and ground offensives, and how her school had not yet divested.


“Today I think of the student-led global uprisings and resistance that have been demanding colleges divest from apartheid and occupation and cut ties with war-profiteering companies,” Patel said, adding that she stood with the Mudders Against Murder campaign, which earlier this year circulated a petition demanding the school divest.

Her microphone was not cut, and she was allowed to finish her speech. Several graduates gave her a standing ovation, and some families cheered, the faculty member said.

Times staff writer Jenny Gold contributed to this report.