Police car with burn marks
A UC Berkeley Police vehicle was heavily damaged in an explosion caused by an incendiary device being placed beneath it on June 1, 2024. (Photo/Abolition Media)

Pro-Palestinian activists take credit for torching UC Berkeley police car

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Activists who claimed responsibility for torching a UC Berkeley police vehicle early Saturday said the act “came from a place of love for Palestine.”

An anonymous blog post on Sunday on Abolition Media, a far-left website, showed photos of a partially charred UC Berkeley police SUV surrounded by yellow police tape. According to the post, an “incendiary device was placed below” the vehicle, which was parked in front of the campus police station. The device was “lit underneath the back left wheel” and had “enough fuel in it to torch the entire car.”

A handful of pro-Palestinian groups published photos of the damaged vehicle and expressed support for what some, including Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Santa Cruz, referred to as an act of protest.

It coincides with a national call across social media to “escalate” pro-Palestinian protests from certain groups frustrated that their efforts to end the war in Gaza have not worked.

Chatter on the Berkeley police and fire scanner confirmed a report that a University of California Police Department vehicle was “possibly on fire” around 5:09 a.m. Saturday.

“This attempt to torch a police car in front of the university was in solidarity with our Palestinian siblings assaulted by the zionist state in Rafah,” an Abolition Media post said.

The incendiary act was also an immediate response, the post added, to a police crackdown at UC Santa Cruz the previous day. Police in riot gear arrested about 80 people on Friday, clearing the campus pro-Palestinian tent encampment after a monthlong protest.

An X account called “Escalate Network,” created in April, has more than 6,000 followers. It touts support for extreme forms of protest like that of Aaron Bushnell, the Air Force service member who died after setting himself on fire in February outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. A search on Monday for the hashtag #escalate4gaza returned more than 2,300 posts on Instagram.

“When repression and violence is visited upon communities and movements, it is logical and necessary to respond,” according to a Monday post from Escalate Network. “There are many legitimate forms that response can take, including direct action.”

In Manhattan, an NYU campus safety vehicle had its tires slashed, according to a separate pro-Palestinian social media post and the Anti-Defamation League.

The torching of the police vehicle in Berkeley came days after the U.S. Department of Education announced on May 28 an investigation into UC Santa Cruz for possible discrimination based on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The Department of Education has opened 110 such “shared ancestry” investigations since Oct. 7 into universities and school districts across the country, many based on allegations of antisemitism.

The Santa Cruz chapter of SJP has shown itself comfortable with extreme rhetoric, surpassing even the most strident pro-Palestinian activists in the U.S. The group reposted an Abolition Media post that expressed support for certain forms of Hamas violence, with a vague call for violence against the United States.

“Blessed are the rockets that will free thousands of prisoners held captive by the zionist settler entity,” the Abolition Media post said. “Death to amerikkka.” Extreme left-wing activists often use the neologism “amerikkka” to refer to the Klu Klux Klan and their belief that the U.S. is a fascist state.

Extremism monitors at the ADL said they are aware of escalations from some pro-Palestinian activists recently “against institutions perceived to be complicit with crimes against humanity against Palestinians.”

“These folks are also ferociously anti-law enforcement, so it is not surprising to see them targeted,” Marc Levine, ADL’s San Francisco-based regional director, told J. on Monday.

“It’s very frightening,” Levine said, adding that it seemed to him that protesters had become “desperate.”

A spokesperson for UC Berkeley declined to comment. When reached for comment, a UCPD spokesperson directed questions to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention.

Kara Garrett, a deputy state fire marshal for Cal Fire, told J. that the agency is investigating the matter.

“At this time, the investigation is still ongoing,” Garrett wrote in an email. “No arrests have been made. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Arson and Bomb Unit.”

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.