Monday, July 15, 2024

Arrests continue Saturday as pro-Palestinian protests embroil US colleges

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NEW YORK − After more colleges joined in the coast-to-coast protest fray over Israel’s war in Gaza this week, protesters were pressing on Saturday in the face of some university leaders cracking down on demonstrations with armed police.

While Columbia University has been the epicenter of student protests for over a week, on Saturday police arrested students and protesters at college campuses in Massachusetts, Arizona and Indiana.

Hundreds of students have set up encampments from California to Massachusetts, leading to a national debate over free speech on college campuses as some Jewish students and administrators say the demonstrations have at times been sites of antisemitism.

The protesters have called on universities to cut financial ties to Israel and Israeli companies, especially those benefiting from the ongoing war in Gaza. While the demonstrations have not led to any divestments, the week of protests have had broad impacts, forcing classes to move online and disrupting graduation plans.

On Thursday, law enforcement in riot gear broke up a peaceful demonstration at the University of Ohio. Arrests also occurred the same day at Indiana University and the University of Minnesota.

The dayslong demonstrations have centered on the war in Gaza that was triggered by Hamas’ incursion into southern Israel on Oct. 7, when about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed and more than 240 people were taken hostage. Israel launched a massive military campaign against Hamas and the resulting bombardment and ground assault has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, leveled large swaths of Gaza and caused a humanitarian crisis that’s left the population on the brink of starvation.

Reporter’s Notebook: There’s been campus protests overseas. They’ve flown under the radar

Arrests continue into the weekend in multiple states

In the early morning hours on Arizona State University’s campus, police arrested 69 people on trespassing charges after protesters refused to leave encampments, the school said.

Also on Saturday morning, police cleared out an encampment at Northeastern University in Boston. About 100 people were detained, and those with student IDs were released and will face disciplinary action, university spokesperson Renata Nyul said in an emailed statement.

Later Saturday, Northeastern’s campus was back to normal, with admissions tours taking place and students posing for graduation photos, the school said in an emailed statement. At other Boston area schools, encampments continued through the day.

And at Indiana University in Bloomington, another 23 protesters were arrested Saturday by police in riot gear, the Indiana Daily Student reported. Police also dismantled tents, poured out water and took food from the encampment, according to the paper. The action came after the school announced a policy change banning temporary structures without prior approval earlier this week.

MIT president says protests must end soon

Massachusetts Institute of Technology officials had been in talks with protesters who have set up camp, but the students made clear they would not accept less than their full demands, which include cutting research funding ties with Israel’s military, university President Sally Kornbluth said in a statement Saturday.

In a video statement, Kornbluth said administrators had thus far chosen not to interfere with the protests despite violation of school rules about reserving space to demonstrate. The protests at MIT have been peaceful, she said, though campus police have been present at all times.

However, Kornbluth said, “this particular form of expression needs to end soon.”

Kornbluth said the encampments are a “magnet” to outside agitators, are violating campus rules and are taking away resources and staff hours from other campus functions.

“Rules have already been broken. Those who break our rules – including rules around the time, place and manner of protest – will face disciplinary action,” she said.

Columbia students file civil rights complaint against university

Columbia University students and Palestine Legal filed a civil rights complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights against the university Thursday. The complaint alleges harassment, death threats, doxing, stereotyping and unequal treatment by Columbia administrators, including President Minouche Shafik.

Maryam Alwan, one of the complainants, told USA TODAY the harassment – both online and in person – has impeded her academic progress. She has to delay her graduation a year, she said.

The university did not provide comment to USA TODAY on the complaint.

“I’m unable to focus on my classes anymore,” Alwan said. “The narrative is that the protests are extremely harassing and discriminatory when in reality the only discrimination that I’ve faced has been at the protest by counter-protesters.”

Palestine Legal is also asking the DOE to investigate Columbia’s decision to allow “NYPD officers in riot gear — for the first time in decades — to arrest over a hundred students peacefully protesting Israel’s genocide last week.” The OCR does not comment on pending investigations, an Education Department spokesperson told USA TODAY.

Alwan says she hopes for “deep institutional changes,” including mandatory training about anti-Palestinian discrimination, protections for academic freedom to teach about Palestinian history and “equal treatment across the board.”

− Clare Mulroy

ACLU to US university leaders: Don’t sacrifice free speech

The ACLU sent an open letter Friday evening to American public and private universities urging them to protect free speech and academic freedom. The letter came in response to anti-war protests across the U.S. that have resulted in “disturbing arrests,” according to a news release from the civil rights organization.

“As you fashion responses to the activism of your students (and faculty and staff), it is essential that you not sacrifice principles of academic freedom and free speech that are core to the educational mission of your respected institution,” said the letter, authored by ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero and David Cole, the national legal director.

ACLU recommended guardrails to ensure this, such as not singling out particular viewpoints for censorship. Students should be protected from targeted discriminatory harassment, but institutions “may not penalize students for taking sides on the war in Gaza, even if expressed in deeply offensive terms,” the letter said.

The letter said students should have ample room to express themselves even as schools announce and enforce reasonable content-neutral protest policies and armed police on campus should be a measure of last resort. ACLU added, “Schools must resist the pressures placed on them by politicians seeking to exploit campus tensions.”

− Eduardo Cuevas

Chicago students call for disbanding of campus police

One day after students at Northwestern University set up an encampment, other Chicago-area universities joined in. At the University of Chicago where students demanded the school disband its private police force alongside demands of breaking with Israeli institutions.  

Over 200 students joined in the march at the campus on Chicago’s South Side, according to local media reports. Chief among their demands was the disbandment of the university’s police force, which is reported to be among the largest private police forces in the city.

A university spokesperson reported no arrests at the South Side protest and did not comment on the group’s demands.

In downtown Chicago, students from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Columbia College Chicago and Roosevelt University also protested, marching along Michigan Avenue before police ushered them into Millennium Park, as seen in videos shared on social media by attendees.

Students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in the central part of the state set up an encampment on campus as well, according to videos shared on social media that showed dozens of students camped out and about a dozen tents. 

Campus police attempted to break up the encampment and arrested one person Friday, according to student media. Videos shared on social media show dozens of officers tussling with dozens of students who locked arms around the encampment. The university’s police department did not immediately respond to requests for confirmation of the arrest. 

− Michael Loria

Tent protest movement grows at UNC

Students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill organized tents, tarps and air mattresses in a central courtyard on Friday, one week after the first pro-Palestinian encampment popped up on campus. Tents stood for around four hours before being taken down at the request of university administration.

Organizers at the school, one of the most prestigious public universities in the country, say UNC’s place in the South is an important part of the national movement pushing for university divestiture from Israel.

“It feels exhilarating and inspiring,” Slyvie Tudor, a graduate student with UNC Students for Justice in Palestine, told USA TODAY. “It has to start somewhere, and I think it’s really meaningful that we’re at a public university in the South,” Tudor said, referencing how North Carolina’s Republican-controlled state legislature makes decisions impacting the university.

On Friday, professors, town residents and students gathered beneath a canopy of tall, leafy trees and amid pops of bright orange and blue camping gear as protest leaders made announcements on bullhorns.

Muslim students prayed and organizers took down tent poles at around 1:30 p.m., laying the gear flat on the ground in response to university requests to take down tent structures. As the landscape of the encampment shifted, dialogue and conversations about the war in Gaza continued uninterrupted.

− Claire Thornton

Group of onlookers at UNC say they stand against attacks on Israel

On Friday afternoon, a smaller group of demonstrators gathered in UNC’s Polk Place courtyard, saying they were there to stand against the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that killed 1,200 people in Israel, and to stand in support of Jewish students.

“We’re just here to show up,” said Rabbi Dovid Cohen, adding he doesn’t identify as a counter protester. He said he visits Chapel Hill every year during the Passover holiday.

At times, the small group, comprising around a dozen men, women and children, exchanged chants with the more than 100 pro-Palestinian student encampment protesters.

“When one group, especially a minority, feels targeted, we’re here for them, we’re their Jewish brothers,” Cohen said, pointing to one onlooker, whom he said was visibly Jewish, who was being followed around by pro-Palestinian protesters.

The onlooker encircled the pro-Palestinian tent encampment on foot for nearly 20 minutes Friday afternoon, filming while students from the encampment tried to block his phone camera. Pro-Palestinian students said they did not filming to avoid the risk of being doxxed online for their political views.

− Claire Thornton

White House condemns Columbia protest leader’s call for Zionists to die

The White House on Friday condemned antisemitic remarks that surfaced this week from one of the leading student organizers of the pro-Palestinian encampment at Columbia University.

“These dangerous, appalling statements turn the stomach and should serve as a wakeup call,” Andrew Bates, deputy White House press secretary, said in a statement. “It is hideous to advocate for the murder of Jews.”

The student, Khymani James, says in a video taken in January, “Zionists don’t deserve to live” and “Be grateful that I’m not just going out and murdering Zionists.” James refers to Zionists as “supporters of genocide.”

“Zionists, they shouldn’t live in this word,” James says in the video, comparing Zionists to others “who don’t deserve to live” such as Nazis, fascists and racists. “I feel very comfortable − very comfortable − calling for those people to die.”

On Friday in a post on X, formerly Twitter, James apologized for his remarks: “What I said was wrong. Every member of our community deserves to feel safe without qualification.”

Politics: White House condemns Columbia University protest leader’s call for Zionists to die

− Joey Garrison

Fashion Institute of Technology protesters occupy university museum

Joining a constellation of city universities protesting the war in Gaza, students at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan set up an encampment Thursday inside the college’s ‘Museum at FIT’ or Goldman Center. On Friday, a group of demonstrators milled around outside holding signs as some students sat inside among the scattered tents reading and talking. 

Students outside declined to speak with the press, referring instead to a press statement on the FIT Students for Justice in Palestine Instagram which lists their demands. The demands include the FIT Foundation, SUNY and Suny Research Foundation committing to financial transparency and President Joyce Brown and SUNY Chancellor John King making a public statement acknowledging genocide in Gaza. 

Until demands are met demonstrators plan to hold their ground in what signs are dubbing the “liberated zone” and “The People’s Museum: FIT Gaza Solidarity Encampment.” 

− Anna Kaufman 

Arizona State University encampment doused by sprinklers

Arizona State University police said three people were arrested Friday morning as dozens of Pro-Palestinian student protesters set up tents on the campus and called for an official statement from the university condemning the violence in Gaza.

Sprinklers around the protesters were turned on after the first round of arrests, leading some in the crowd to use buckets and tarps to block the flow of water. Campus police said it did not know who set off the sprinklers.

As the crowd of demonstrators swelled to around 100, the group was eventually able to build back its encampment.

The Ybarra Maldonado Law Group is seeking to represent those arrested on Friday. Attorney Ray Ybarra Maldonado told The Arizona Republic, part of the USA TODAY Network, he is concerned the protesters’ First Amendment rights and right to due process were violated when police arrested demonstrators within the first twenty minutes of the demonstration.

− Helen Rummel, Arizona Republic

Police: 36 protesters arrested Thursday night at Ohio State University

Dozens of people were arrested Thursday night at Ohio State University when police disbanded an encampment that had been set up outside the student union.

Police records show that 36 people were arrested starting at 10:16 p.m. Thursday and charged with criminal trespassing, a fourth-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail or a $250 fine, reported the Columbus Dispatch, part of the USA TODAY Network.

Among the 36 arrested, only 15 were current undergraduate or graduate students at Ohio State, according to a check done of the university’s online directory. The protesters were released on their own recognizance − without having to pay any bond amount − and are scheduled to have their first appearances in Franklin County Municipal Court early next week.

Videos showed scuffles in which police in riot gear took protesters to the ground as onlookers screamed for help. Skyler Goody, 21, an OSU junior, said she and her roommate were nearly arrested as she helped form a circle around the encampments.

“People of Columbus, look at how your cops treat people,” Goody said. “I don’t know what the students were doing that warranted riot gear and pushing people over while they’re praying.”

− Shahid Meighan and Cole Behrens, Columbus Dispatch

Revolving demonstrations outside gates of Columbia University

As Columbia’s encampment quietly hummed on a sunny Friday morning, just outside campus gates, revolving protests were taking place.

First hundreds gathered in a pro-Israel demonstration, waving Israeli flags and holding images of hostages taken by Hamas and other militants in the Oct. 7 attacks, chanting “Bring them home now! Alive!” New York City police, donning helmets and batons, stood behind barricades as the rally concluded peacefully.

“There are people that support Israel, that believe Israel has the right to exist,” said retired educator Lois Stavsky, 76, a self-described “left-wing Zionist” who had returned after three months in Israel and Europe because she “didn’t like the vibes” in New York, home to the world’s largest Jewish population outside of Tel Aviv. She saw the student encampment as “mindless,” she said. “I think they’re naive. I don’t hate them. I kind of feel sorry for that mob mentality.”

Soon after, the space was occupied by a large group of Hasidic Jews, who were holding signs reading “All Palestine must be returned to Palestinian Sovereignty” and “Judaism Rejects Zionism.” They could be heard chanting “one, two, three, four, Zionism no more. Five, six, seven, eight, stop the killing, stop the hate.”

Charges dropped against 57 protesters arrested at University of Texas

All charges have been dropped against the 57 people arrested in connection with the Wednesday pro-Palestinian protest at the University of Texas.

The Travis County attorney’s office said all 57 arrests, which were all criminal trespassing charges, lacked probable cause. County Attorney Delia Garza, whose office handles misdemeanor cases, told the American-Statesman, part of the USA TODAY Network, on Thursday that her office agreed with defense lawyers that there were “deficiencies” with the probable cause arrest affidavits.

While state police with the Texas Department of Public Safety and officers with the Austin Police Department were seen handcuffing people at Wednesday’s protest, all 57 arrests were technically by the University of Texas Police Department. This means university police filled out each of the 57 probable cause affidavits.

Nouha Ezouhri, an attorney with the Travis County public defender’s office, helped file jail release forms for those arrested at the protest. She told the American-Statesman on Thursday that it looked like university police “copied and pasted” each probable cause affidavit for every person arrested.

“That’s not how it’s supposed to be,” Ezouhri said.

− Skye Seipp, Austin American-Statesman

Police stand guard at George Washington University encampment

At the entrance of a cordoned off yard at George Washington University in the nation’s capital, a statue of George Washington was draped with a Palestinian flag. The statue was surrounded by dozens of tents where students had camped out overnight. Police stood guard.

For hours, protesters chanted “Up, up with liberation. Down, down with occupation” and “The people united will never be defeated.” The sidewalk was covered with messages written in chalk, including: “Fund education not decimation.”

Some protesters came from nearby universities, including American University and Georgetown University, and others from communities in the metropolitan area.

“We’re here first and foremost for Palestine,” said Yasin Shami, who is part of the Palestinian Youth Movement. “We will not leave until our demands are met.”

Shami said he and others want the university to disclose how it is spending money and who it partners with and reverse disciplinary actions against students participating in pro-Palestine protests.

Some counter protesters yelled, “You all are terrorist supporters.”

Another person in the crowd waving an Israeli flag shouted, “Bring them home.” 

− Deborah Barry 

UT president asked for state law enforcement help with protest

University of Texas President Jay Hartzell told a state lawmaker that he and other officials sought law enforcement help from the state leading up to a large pro-Palestinian protest Wednesday that led to more than 50 arrests because “our police force couldn’t do it alone,” according to text messages obtained by the Austin American-Statesman, part of the USA TODAY Network.

In response to message from state Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, asking about the heavy law enforcement presence at the University of Texas at Austin, Hartzell said, “We asked for help, Senator. They indicated their desire to mimic what happened at Columbia and elsewhere, which we are doing our best to avoid for obvious reasons.”

“I can’t speak to the other campuses, but this group is a chapter of a national organization that has done this elsewhere. They clearly intended to break our protest rules, despite our statements to them that we couldn’t allow them to do so. I wish we weren’t in this situation.”

The campus protest on Wednesday was planned by the Palestine Solidarity Committee, a registered student group. Republican pundits and politicians hailed the heavy law enforcement response, while multiple faculty members and students have called for Hartzell to resign. Members of the UT chapter of the American Association of University Professors also began collecting signatures for a letter stating faculty members have “no confidence” in Hartzell on Thursday afternoon.

Tony Plohetski and Bayliss Wagner, Austin American-Statesman

Trump weighs in on college protests, calling them ‘tremendous hate’

Donald Trump on Thursday described the ongoing protests and unrest at college campuses across the U.S. as “tremendous hate” and placed the blame at the feet of his opponent in the upcoming presidential election, Joe Biden.

“This is tremendous hate and we have a man that can’t talk about it because he doesn’t understand it,” Trump said following the day’s testimony in his hush money trial in New York. “He doesn’t understand what’s going on with our country.”

Trump’s comment’s follow statements from several Republican members of Congress who accused university administrators of allowing harassment toward Jewish students − allegations which led to the ousting of the president’s of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania.

“It’s detestable. As Columbia has allowed these lawless agitators and radicals to take over, the virus of antisemitism has spread across other campus,” House Speaker Mike Johnson said Wednesday during a visit to the Columbia campus. “Anti-Israel encampments are popping up in universities all across this country. The madness has to stop.”

Columbia students frustrated with politicians’ response

Jonathan Ben-Menachem, a PhD student with the Columbia University Apartheid Divest group, told reporters that the students “encourage all politicians to take the time to understand what is happening in Gaza and at universities around the country.”

“Mike Johnson parachuted in here with no regard for the actual safety of Jewish students,” Ben-Menachem said Friday.

“White supremacists have been invigorated by our encampments because they see that we are a multiracial coalition composed of primarily Black, brown and Jewish students – everything that they hate.”

Students also expressed frustration when asked how they respond to accusations that they support Hamas. “Hamas backed these protests at Columbia,” Johnson tweeted Thursday.

“We find that question deeply racist,” said Sherif Ibrahim, a graduate student with CUAD. “We want to say that we are here for Palestinian liberation and to label us as Hamas supporters is deeply problematic. Students are here because they want an end to a genocide.” 

− Clare Mulroy

More student encampments form at New York City schools

On Friday, the antiwar encampment at the City College of New York entered its second day with about three dozen tents visible at the center of its West Harlem campus.

On a flagpole with the American flag, people added a Palestinian flag. Signs in support of the City University of New York public school system divesting from Israel were at the base of the flagpole. Inside the encampment, a few people served coffee, water and food.

On Thursday, when the encampment at CUNY first formed, campus public safety attempted to enter the space but were forced out. City College is a public school part of the CUNY system and its campus is largely open. Demonstrators at the Fashion Institute of Technology, a public school part of the State University of New York system, also formed an encampment protesting the war at its Manhattan campus.

NYU’s Manhattan Campus settled into a relative calm Friday afternoon after several days of protests. Gould Plaza, the courtyard in front of the Stern School of Business where student demonstrators clashed with police earlier in the week was completely walled off with school security guards sitting nearby.Keana Nelson, a 24-year-old graduate student studying social work, expressed disappointment over the school’s response to the protests. “In the past, like, during the Vietnam war when students were protesting, law enforcement used to subdue the protests and we saw how negatively that went,” she said. “So it’s like now we’re doing it again, we haven’t even learned.”

City College of New York begins negotiations with student protesters

The student encampment at the City College of New York began negotiations Friday afternoon with the public school’s administration.

Students are demanding CUNY divest from all companies profiting from weapons, surveillance and construction Israel is using against Palestinians, a boycott of all academic trips to Israel, including birthright and the Fulbright program, while affirming Palestine’s right to national liberation and right of return to Palestinians. 

They also seek the removal of the NYPD from CUNY campuses, in addition to ending collaboration with Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security. The last demand includes restoring free tuition at CUNY, which has undergraduate tuition for New York state residents at $7,000 per year.

Organizers declined to comment before negotiations. Jay Mwamba, a CUNY spokesperson, said the administration had no comment “except to reiterate that for the students, faculty and staff across our campus, our most important goal is the safety of our entire campus community.”

CUNY faculty and staff held a picket in support of the encampment. The university system’s Professional Staff Congress, the union representing faculty and staff, issued a statement against police arresting protesters.

City College is currently on spring break until classes resume on Wednesday.

“This is sort of, in no uncertain terms, a labor issue, the repression of free speech, of academic freedom,” said graduate student Zoe Hu, the chapter president for CUNY’s Graduate Center, in midtown Manhattan. “On top of that, Israel has destroyed all of the universities in Gaza. It has wiped out an entire educational system.”

Eduardo Cuevas

Imprisoned political activist, journalist speaks to student encampment by speakerphone

Incarcerated political activist and journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal told USA TODAY he supports “anti-imperialist” student encampments spreading across the country to protest the war in Gaza. He has been in prison for over 40 years after being convicted for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer. Abu-Jamal’s death sentence was overturned by a federal court. He has maintained his innocence.

Today’s activism on college campuses reminds 70-year-old Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther, of his youth during protests against the war in Vietnam and the civil rights movement for Black Americans, he said in a brief phone call from Mahanoy state prison in Pennsylvania. He compared the protests to people once holding up lighters at concerts. Today, people tend to use cell phones.

“These are flickers of light in an anti-imperialist movement,” he said. “It’s remarkable to see.”

Abu-Jamal was set to speak Friday afternoon to the City College of New York student encampment in West Harlem, but Muslim students were in prayer on the campus lawn, so his call would be rescheduled for the evening. On Thursday, he spoke to Columbia University’s student encampment via speakerphone. A microphone amplified his voice.

Eduardo Cuevas

Negotiations at Columbia University at an impasse

Columbia University students and negotiators with the Columbia University Apartheid Divest group spoke to reporters Friday about the ongoing negotiations between the university and students in the encampment. They said they have made some progress in terms of their financial disclosure demands but not with divesting from financially and academically in Israel, the group’s main demand.

Columbia President Minouche Shafik previously warned students that if the tents aren’t moved by Friday, “we will have to consider options for restoring calm to campus.”

Negotiators said they spent 11 hours yesterday and an hour today at the negotiating table. Now they say they are at an impasse.

The students said it is in their best interest to reach an agreement before commencement, which is scheduled for May 15. They also said they were met with an increased “unwillingness” to understand CUAD’s core demands. 

“Columbia has asked students to operate within the confined of bureaucratic red tape with no assurances of binding divestment decisions if we end the encampment,” said student negotiator Sueda Polat. 

“The university seems to believe students cannot maintain their resolve regarding staying on this lawn, ignoring the reality that over the past 10 days, we have demonstrated how committed we are, how high our resolve is and how truly we wish from the heart for complete divestment and boycott. They believe that they can outstand us, we tell them that we cannot.”

Clare Mulroy

The protests’ impacts on classes, graduation

Over the past two weeks, the large demonstrations have led university administrators to adopt new policies to deal with the protests while others have been forced to restructure class schedules and graduation ceremonies.

Indiana University Bloomington this week changed its longtime policy regarding “temporary structures” saying students now needed prior approval from the university to set up tents on the campus’ main lawn, according to the Indiana Daily Student. Northwestern University in Illinois abruptly banned temporary structures after hundreds of students joined in the nationwide antiwar protests on Thursday, the Chicago Tribune reported.

At Columbia, students were given a virtual class option for the rest of the semester after protests forced the university to cancel in-person classes on Monday.

On Thursday, USC announced it was canceling its main commencement ceremony for what it said were safety reasons. The decision came 10 days after administrators decided to bar valedictorian Asna Tabassum, who is Muslim, from delivering a commencement address.

Other schools must soon decide whether to hold their commencement ceremonies as the spring semester winds down and graduation ceremonies are scheduled for the weeks ahead.

Contributing: Reuters; Rachel Barber, Anna Kaufman, USA TODAY

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