Biden’s Los Angeles visit draws protest; LAPD warns against violence
Hundreds of demonstrators rallying in solidarity with Palestinians gathered Friday outside a Westwood fundraiser for President Biden — a planned protest that drew an ominous warning from the Los Angeles Police Department that “violence of any kind will not be tolerated.”
The LAPD said in a post on the social media platform X that it was “aware of possible 1st Amendment activity” and was working with the Secret Service to deploy additional officers and other resources to “ensure the highest level of public safety.”
“The Los Angeles Police Department is asking that all individuals and groups involved in protest or counter-protest activities not allow individuals who express the intent to commit violence or property [damage] to compromise the otherwise lawful demonstration,” the post said.
A spokesperson for the LAPD said officials had “no knowledge of any advance threats of violence or vandalism” at the protests.
At least 50 uniformed LAPD officers were huddled at Holmby Park as of 4 p.m., near where Biden and First Lady Jill Biden were to attend the fundraiser. The LAPD also deployed officers along and ahead of the Biden motorcade route to close streets for the roughly 20-minute drive from Santa Monica Airport.
Holmby Park is normally the sedate heart of one of L.A.’s most exclusive neighborhoods, where dog walkers would be the dominant group on a Friday night. But roughly 300 protesters had gathered by 4 p.m., chanting, “Palestine will live forever! Palestine will never die!” and demanding that the U.S. call for an immediate cease-fire in Israel’s war with Hamas.
A tall wire fence through the center of the park kept the demonstrators far away from the expansive Holmby Hills home where Biden will be meeting with donors.
Suraya Barakat, 24, a member of the Palestinian Youth Movement, said it was “very unsettling” to be in such close proximity to Biden, given the president’s unequivocal support for Israel. Barakat is Palestinian, and has family members in the West Bank.
“It would be very hard for me to cast my vote for the person supporting the genocide of my people,” Barakat said. She voted for Biden in 2020.
Brandon Kim used a black marker to write “Free Palestine” in block letters on a piece of paper sticking out of his backpack.
Kim, 33, said he had supported Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2020 Democratic primary, but eventually voted for Biden because the only other option was Donald Trump. He said he was likely to make the same choice if he’s facing the same dilemma next year.
“It’s like a gun to my head,” Kim said. “I don’t want to get shot.”
Nick Billing, 37, walked among the crowd carrying both a Palestinian flag and a large watermelon balloon. The fruit has become a symbol of support for Palestine on digital platforms that have banned the Palestinian flag.
“There’s a genocide taking place against the people of Palestine,” Billing said. “And we have to use our voices to let our government know we don’t support that. We need to stop it.”
Pro-Palestinian groups including the Palestinian Youth Movement posted on social media encouraging supporters to “leave work early” and to “get ready to shut it down for Palestine,” drawing thousands of likes and interactions.
One post by the youth group included faux blood and played on Biden’s “Dark Brandon” meme, featuring glowing red eyes and referring to the president as “Genocide Joe.”
The group urged followers to “show up and hold a picket line with us for as long as it takes!”
Previous peaceful pro-Palestinian protests have taken place in Pershing Square, where tens of thousands gathered on Oct. 21, as well as at the Israeli consulate on Nov. 4 and in Hollywood on Nov. 15. A smaller-scale protest organized by progressive Jewish activists took place outside Vice President Kamala Harris’ Brentwood home in October.
The protests have cascaded into a nationwide movement by demonstrators calling for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip and for the United States to end financial and military aid to Israel.
After Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing roughly 1,200 people and kidnapping more than 240, Israel responded with a bombing offensive and eventual ground war in Gaza believed to be responsible for at least 17,000 Palestinian deaths.
Friday night’s fundraiser is hosted by Hollywood directors Steven Spielberg and Rob Reiner, producers Shonda Rhimes and Peter Chernin, former studio chief Jim Gianopulos and the developer and former Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rick Caruso. Mayor Karen Bass, Gov. Gavin Newsom and Rep. Nancy Pelosi are also expected to attend.
The event marks the first such fundraising gala since the end of two entertainment industry strikes. Individual donations could soar to close to $1 million.
Biden’s visit runs from Friday to Sunday, and with his arrival and departure from LAX, traffic is expected to be affected.
Caltrans spokesperson Marc Bischoff said that ramp closures will not include an “advance announcement to the public” for security reasons, but concerned motorists can check for closures with Caltrans.
Times staff writers Seema Mehta and Anthony De Leon contributed to this report.