Universities across US struggle to stop wave of pro-Palestine protests

George Washington University students rally on campus. Credit: AP

University administrators across the US have struggled to deal with a wave of pro-Palestine student protests that refuse to disband despite several scuffles with police break out and hundreds of arrests.

Some universities have chosen to negotiate with their students while others have quickly called on law enforcement to squash demonstrations before they can take hold.

After a tent encampment popped up Thursday at Indiana University in Bloomington, police with shields and batons shoved into protesters and arrested 33.

Hours later at the University of Connecticut, police tore down tents and arrested one person and at Ohio State University, police clashed with protesters just hours after they gathered Thursday evening.

Members of the New York Police Department outside Columbia University. Credit: AP

Despite the US government being the strongest and most important backer of Israel the large chunks of the US population, particularly among younger groups, are sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza.

Since the Israel-Hamas war began, the US Education Department has launched civil rights investigations into dozens of universities and schools in response to complaints of anti-Semitism or Islamophobia.

Among those under investigation are many colleges facing protests, including Harvard and Columbia.

Universities are feeling increased pressure to clear the protesters as many of them have occupied green spaces where students are due to graduate in the May commencement ceremonies in a couple of weeks.

Columbia officials said that negotiations were showing progress as they neared the school’s deadline of early Friday to reach an agreement on dismantling the encampment.

Despite this, two police buses were parked nearby and there was a noticeable presence of private security and police at entrances to the campus.

More arrests across the US in recent days

  • Emerson College, Boston: 108 people were arrested at an alleyway encampment by early Thursday.

  • The University of Texas, Austin campus: 57 people were jailed and charged with criminal trespass on Wednesday.

  • Emory University, Atlanta: The university said 28 people were arrested after police carrying semiautomatic weapons swept in to dismantle a camp.

  • University of Southern California: More than 90 protesters were arrested earlier this week, prompting the university to cancel its May 10 graduation ceremony.

In the early hours of Friday morning, a group of three dozen pro-Palestinian protesters handed out signs and started chanting outside of the locked Columbia University gates as at least 40 police officers stood nearby.

Similar stories are playing out across the country, California State Polytechnic University has been negotiating with students who have been barricaded inside a campus building since Monday, rebuffing an attempt by the police to clear them out.

Faculty members met with protesters on Thursday to try to negotiate a solution as the campus remains shut down at least through the weekend.

Pro-Palestinian protesters camp out in tents outside UC Berkeley. Credit: AP

The protesters setting up encampments at universities across the country are demanding schools cut financial ties to Israel and divest from companies they say are enabling the conflict.

Some Jewish students say the protests have veered into anti-Semitism and made them afraid to set foot on campus, which has partly prompted the calls for police intervention.

At Emerson College in Boston, the school said campus police were offering escort services for students after officials received credible reports of some protesters engaging in “targeted harassment and intimidation of Jewish supporters of Israel.”

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