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Pro-Palestinian protesters in Denver have reportedly threatened to disrupt commencement ceremonies at Auraria

14 protesters were cited for trespass and failure to obey lawful order after occupying the first floor of the MSU Denver Aerospace, Engineering, and Sciences (AES) building Tuesday
Posted: 3:33 PM, May 07, 2024
Updated: 2024-05-09 15:23:02-04
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DENVER — A group of student protesters at Denver's Auraria Campus has reportedly threatened to disrupt commencement ceremonies happening later this week if their demands calling on university officials to cut financial ties with Israel over its war in Gaza are not met, a representative from the Auraria Higher Education Center said Tuesday.

The latest development in the anti-war protest — one of dozens happening across the country since April 18 — happened after the group left their encampment at Tivoli Quad and briefly occupied the first two floors of the Tivoli Student Union building as Dr. Angie Paccione, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE), was meeting with leaders of the pro-Palestinian student protest group just before noon Tuesday.

Auraria protest

"This disruption occurred while Dr. Paccione listened to the protesters’ concerns. During the conversation, protesters made their demands known, threatening to disrupt commencement ceremonies if demands were unmet," said Devra Ashby, a spokesperson for Denver's Auraria Campus in a statement sent to Denver7 Tuesday afternoon.

Fourteen protesters were arrested Tuesday by the Auraria Campus Police Department for trespass and failure to obtain lawful orders. Ashby said they were non-custodial arrests, meaning the protesters were cited and released.

Tuesday’s disruption comes after Auraria officials said protesters on Monday entered locked executive offices on campus in the Tivoli Student Union building and allegedly refused to leave after “multiple requests," Ashby said.

The protesters eventually left and returned to their encampment on the Tivoli Quad lawn after several officials, including law enforcement officers, "led a conversation that resulted in protesters agreeing to meet at a future time."

In a separate note to students, Metropolitan State University President Janine Davidson added the group of student demonstrators allegedly “locked down doors with zip ties and otherwise disrupted campus operations,” inside the Tivoli Student Union building on Tuesday.

Those claims were later refuted by an Auraria Campus spokesperson, who told Denver7 police were the ones who locked the doors with zip ties — and later handcuffs — as they tried to secure the Tivoli Student Union building. The spokesperson did not know which police agency used those means to secure the doors, but added there was "growing concern over the escalation of these actions."

White flags planted on the Tivoli quad outside of encampment

Davidson said operations on the campus, which house University of Colorado Denver, Metropolitan State University of Denver, and Community College of Denver, continued as normal on Tuesday.

“Today’s action happened as Angie Paccione, the executive director of the state Department of Higher Education, was meeting with demonstrators inside the building in an attempt to continue dialogue,” Davidson said in a release.

What Pro-Palestine student demonstrators seek on Denver’s Auraria Campus

As students continue to stage protests over the Israel-Hamas war into a second week on the Auraria Campus, organizers on May 1 announced new demands for college leadership.

Initially asking CU Denver to divest from corporations operating in Israel, reject any funds from organizations with ties to the Israeli military, end study abroad programs in that country, and disclose financial investments, protesters from Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) are now asking Metropolitan State University officials to do the same.

SDS on May 2 called on all colleges at the Auraira Campus to meet their demands by this week.

"We're going to demand exactly what we were asking for yesterday — a meeting with the Board of Regents, a meeting with the Board of Trustees for the respective schools," said Lucia Feast, with SDS. "Because those are the people that control the finances and resources of the schools. Those are the people that will help us reach divestment and agree on divestment."

Auraria campus encampment

The anti-war protest in Denver began on April 25 and nearly 40 demonstrators were arrested on the Tivoli Quad lawn by Auraria Higher Education Center Police a day later. They all face trespassing charges, according to a university spokesperson.

The encampment at Tivoli Quad has since grown in size following those arrests. Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas said last week he will not order a second sweep of the Pro-Palestinian encampment as the actions by police that day "didn't go as planned."

“We absolutely aren't just going to go in and sweep out this peaceful protest just because they're occupying a space on your campus that you'd like to use for something else right now,” Thomas said to board members during a Citizen Oversight Board Meeting on Friday.

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Denver Police Chief said he refused second sweep of Auraria's encampment

Claire Lavezzorio
9:35 PM, May 03, 2024

“Over the past few days, we’ve seen evidence of trespassing, biohazard threats and blocked city roads. There has also been vandalism on campus, including an increase antisemitic language and messages appearing on campus property,” Davidson wrote in the note to MSU students. Denver7 was not able to independently confirm those statements Tuesday.

Commencement ceremonies begin May 9 for Community College of Denver, followed by MSU Denver on May 10 and CU Denver on May 11.

Tensions – like those at Denver’s Auraria Campus – have continued to increase in standoffs between protesters and police on campuses across the U.S. — and increasingly, in Europenearly three weeks into a movement launched by a protest at Columbia University.

Since April 18, just over 2,600 people have been arrested on the campuses of 50 colleges and universities, according to figures based on AP reporting and statements from universities and law enforcement agencies.

The growing protests are a result of Israel’s response following a surprise attack by Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023, in which militants killed 1,139 people, most of them civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages. Vowing to destroy Hamas for the attack, Israel launched an offensive in Gaza that has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, around two-thirds of them children and women, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.

Feast told Denver7 later Tuesday SDS was planning on having a rally at 4 p.m. at the Tivoli Quad lawn, though details about what demonstrators were planning to do during the rally were not immediately known.

"If it's uncomfortable and disruptive to the function of school, then that's unfortunate, but it's not as unfortunate as genocide and it's not as pressing as genocide," Feast said.

The Associated Press and Denver7's Veronica Acosta contributed to this report.

Pro-Palestinian protesters in Denver threaten to disrupt commencement ceremonies

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