HomeTop StoriesPro-Palestinian protests are spreading and intensifying as school responses vary

Pro-Palestinian protests are spreading and intensifying as school responses vary

Dozens of demonstrators took over a building at Columbia University in New York early Tuesday, barricading entrances and unfurling a Palestinian flag from a window in the latest escalation of demonstrations against the war between Israel and Hamas that have spread to college campuses nationwide.

Video footage showed demonstrators on Columbia’s campus in Manhattan early Tuesday locking arms in front of Hamilton Hall and carrying furniture and metal barricades into the building, one of several occupied in 1968 during a civil rights and anti-Vietnam rally. war protest on campus. Posts on an Instagram page for protest organizers shortly after midnight urged people to protect the encampment and join them at Hamilton Hall.

“An autonomous group has retaken Hind’s Hall, formerly known as ‘Hamilton Hall’, in honor of Hind Rajab, a martyr murdered by the genocidal Israeli state at the age of six,” wrote CU Apartheid Divest on X, formerly known as Twitter, early Tuesday.

Columbia University issues deadline for leaving Gaza encampment on campus
Pro-Palestinian protesters on the campus of Columbia University display a banner early April 30, 2024, as they barricade themselves in Hamilton Hall and name it after a Palestinian child allegedly killed by the Israeli army three months earlier.

Alex Kent/Getty Images


The student radio station, WKCR-FM, aired a play-by-play of the venue takeover — which took place nearly 12 hours after Monday’s 2 p.m. deadline for protesters to vacate an encampment of about 120 tents or risk suspension.

In the X postProtesters said they planned to remain in the room until the university gave in to CUAD’s three demands: divestment, financial transparency and amnesty.

Columbia junior Jessica Schwalb told CBS News that the campus “is lawless. Utter anarchy.” She said protesters at Hamilton Hall “zipped the door handles together and then broke the windows, smashed the windows with hammers and put these metal bike locks around the door handles.” They put the bike lock on the first set of doors, that’s what I saw. and then they brought tables, the heavy black metal tables from the dining area that’s right across from Hamilton Hall, and had a group of people push them against the door handles as a barricade, and then people also brought in furniture from Hamilton Hall to barricade.”

Columbia University issues deadline for leaving Gaza encampment on campus
Chairs and desks are used to block doors as pro-Palestinian protesters at Columbia University barricade themselves in Hamilton Hall on April 30, 2024.

Alex Kent/Getty Images


Columbia issued an overnight advisory in part: “Early this morning, a group of protesters occupied Hamilton Hall on the Morningside campus. In light of the protest activity on campus, members of the University community may avoid coming to the Morningside campus today ( Tuesday, April 30) should do so; essential personnel should report to work as per University policy.”

The big picture

Universities across the US are struggling to clear encampments as commencement ceremonies approach, with some continuing negotiations and others turning to violence and ultimatums that have led to clashes with police.

Dozens of people were arrested Monday during protests at universities in Texas, Utah and Virginia, while Columbia said it had begun suspending students hours before taking over Hamilton Hall.

Protesters are sparring over the war between Israel and Hamas and its rising death toll, and arrests on campuses nationwide are approaching 1,000 as the final days of classes end. The outrage is forcing colleges to reckon with their financial ties to Israel and their support for freedom of expression. Some Jewish students say the protests have turned into anti-Semitism and made them afraid to set foot on campus.

The fate of the arrested students has become a central part of the protests, with students and a growing number of teachers demanding amnesty for demonstrators. At issue is whether the suspensions and legal records will follow students throughout their adult lives.

Schools choose different approaches

At the University of Texas at Austin, an attorney said at least 40 protesters were arrested Monday. The confrontation was an escalation on the 53,000-student campus in the state capital, where more than 50 protesters were arrested last week.

Later Monday, dozens of University of Utah officers in riot gear attempted to break up an encampment outside the university president’s office, which was broken up in the afternoon. Police dragged the students away by their hands and feet, broke the poles holding up the tents and zip-tied those who refused to disperse. Seventeen people were arrested. The university says it is against code to camp on school property overnight and that students were given several warnings to disperse before police were called.

The protest in Texas and others – including in Canada and Europe – grew out of the early demonstrations in Columbia that continue today.

On Monday, student activists defied the 2 p.m. deadline to vacate the encampment. Instead, hundreds of protesters remained. A handful of counter-protesters waved Israeli flags, and one held a sign that read: “Where are the anti-Hamas chants?”

Although the university did not call police to remove the protesters, school spokesman Ben Chang said the suspensions had begun but could provide few details. Protest organizers said they were not aware of any suspensions as of Monday evening.

Columbia’s handling of the demonstrations has also prompted federal complaints.

A class action lawsuit on behalf of Jewish students alleges breach of contract by Columbia, claiming the university has failed to maintain a safe learning environment despite policies and promises. It also challenges the elimination of in-person classes and seeks swift legal action requiring Columbia to provide safety for students.

Meanwhile, a legal group representing pro-Palestinian students is urging the U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office to investigate Columbia’s compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 over the way they have been treated.

A university spokesperson declined to comment on the complaints.

In a rare case, Northwestern University said it had reached an agreement with students and faculty who represent the majority of protesters on its campus near Chicago. It allows peaceful demonstrations through spring classes June 1 and, in return, requires the removal of all tents except one for aid, and limits the demonstration area to students, faculty and staff only unless the university approves otherwise.

At the University of Southern California, organizers of a large encampment spoke with university President Carol Folt for about 90 minutes on Monday. Folt declined to discuss details but said she had heard concerns from protesters and that talks would continue Tuesday.

USC sparked a controversy on April 15 when officials refused to let the valedictorian, who has publicly supported the Palestinians, deliver a commencement address, citing non-specific security concerns for their rare decision. Administrators subsequently canceled the keynote speech by filmmaker Jon M. Chu, an alumnus, and refused to award honorary degrees.

The backlash, as well as the demonstrations in Columbia, inspired the encampment and protests on campus last week, where 90 people in riot gear were arrested by police. The university has canceled its main graduation event.

Administrators elsewhere scrambled to save their entry points, and several have ordered the evacuation of encampments in recent days. When these efforts failed, officials threatened discipline, including suspension and possible arrest.

But students dug in their heels at other high-profile universities, while impasses continued at Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, Yale and others. Riot police from Virginia Commonwealth University tried to break up an encampment there late Monday and clashed with protesters.

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