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Arrests on California campus and students in Texas detained as Gaza war protests persist

Police have arrested or detained student demonstrators in Texas and California while new encampments sprouted at Harvard and other colleges.
Gaza war campus protests
Posted at 5:37 AM, Apr 24, 2024

Police began peacefully arresting student protesters at the University of Southern California Wednesday evening, hours after police at a Texas university violently took dozens of demonstrators into custody in the latest clashes between law enforcement and those protesting the Israel-Hamas war on campuses nationwide.

While tensions rose between police and student protesters at the University of Southern California earlier in the day, in the evening demonstrators started being detained without incident as helicopters buzzed overhead.

Protesters had formed a circle with locked arms in the center of campus, in defiance of an earlier warning that they would be arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department. Police in riot gear, holding batons, surrounded the group before arresting individuals one by one.

While some universities struggling to defuse unrest have quickly turned to law enforcement, the arrests in California were in sharp contrast to the chaos that ensued just hours earlier at the University of Texas at Austin.

Hundreds of local and state police — including some on horseback and holding batons — bulldozed into protesters, at one point sending some tumbling into the street. Officers pushed their way into the crowd to make at least 20 arrests.

A photographer covering the demonstration for Fox 7 Austin was in the push-and-pull when an officer yanked him backward to the ground, video shows. The station confirmed that the photographer was arrested. A longtime Texas journalist was knocked down in the mayhem and could be seen bleeding before police helped him to emergency medical staff.

Dane Urquhart, a third-year Texas student, called the police presence and arrests an “overreaction," adding that the protest “would have stayed peaceful” if the officers had not turned out in force.

“Because of all the arrests, I think a lot more (demonstrations) are going to happen,” Urquhart said.

Police left after hours of efforts to control the crowd, and about 300 demonstrators moved back in to sit on the grass and chant under the school's iconic clock tower.

North of the University of Southern California, students at California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, were barricaded inside a building for a third day, and the school shut down campus through the weekend and made classes virtual.

Harvard University in Massachusetts had sought to stay ahead of protests this week by limiting access to Harvard Yard and requiring permission for tents and tables. That didn't stop protesters from setting up a camp with 14 tents Wednesday following a rally against the university’s suspension of the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee.

Students protesting the Israel-Hamas war are demanding schools cut financial ties to Israel and divest from companies enabling its monthslong conflict. Some Jewish students say the protests have veered into antisemitism and made them afraid to set foot on campus, partly prompting a heavier hand from universities.

At New York University this week, police said 133 protesters were taken into custody, while over 40 protesters were arrested Monday at an encampment at Yale University.

Columbia University averted another confrontation between students and police earlier Wednesday. University President Minouche Shafik had set on Tuesday a midnight deadline to reach an agreement on clearing an encampment, but the school extended negotiations, saying it would continue talks with protesters for another 48 hours.

On a visit to campus Wednesday, U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, called on Shafik to resign “if she cannot bring order to this chaos.”

“If this is not contained quickly and if these threats and intimidation are not stopped, there is an appropriate time for the National Guard,” he said.

On Wednesday evening, a Columbia spokesperson said rumors that the university had threatened to bring in the National Guard were unfounded. “Our focus is to restore order, and if we can get there through dialogue, we will,” said Ben Chang, Columbia’s vice president for communications.

Columbia graduate student Omer Lubaton Granot, who put up pictures of Israeli hostages near the encampment, said he wanted to remind people that there were more than 100 hostages still being held by Hamas.

“I see all the people behind me advocating for human rights," he said. “I don’t think they have one word to say about the fact that people their age, that were kidnapped from their homes or from a music festival in Israel, are held by a terror organization.”

Harvard law student Tala Alfoqaha, who is Palestinian, said she and other protesters want more transparency from the university.

“My hope is that the Harvard administration listens to what its students have been asking for all year, which is divestment, disclosure and dropping any sort of charges against students," she said.

Police first tried to clear the encampment at Columbia last week, when they arrested more than 100 protesters. The move backfired, acting as an inspiration for other students across the country to set up similar encampments and motivating protesters at Columbia to regroup.

On Wednesday about 60 tents remained at the Columbia encampment, which appeared calm. Security remained tight around campus, with identification required and police setting up metal barricades.

Columbia said it had agreed with protest representatives that only students would remain at the encampment and they would make it welcoming, banning discriminatory or harassing language.

On the University of Minnesota campus, a few dozen students rallied a day after nine protesters were arrested when police took down an encampment in front of the library. U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, whose daughter was among the demonstrators arrested at Columbia last week, attended a protest later in the day.

A group of more than 80 professors and assistant professors signed a letter Wednesday calling on the university's president and other administrators to drop any charges and to allow future encampments without what they described as police retaliation.

They wrote that they were “horrified that the administration would permit such a clear violation of our students’ rights to freely speak out against genocide and ongoing occupation of Palestine.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at the pro-Palestinian demonstrations on U.S. college campuses in a video statement released Wednesday, saying the response of several university presidents has been “shameful” and calling on state, local and federal officials to intervene.