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Pro-Palestinian arrests shake campuses nationwide ahead of graduation



 Students at Columbia University paint a response to a message written by Palestinians in Rafah thanking students for their support as they continue to maintain a protest encampment on campus, April 28, 2024. [Reuters]

Protests are roiling college campuses nationwide as schools with graduation ceremonies next month face demands they cut financial ties to Israel because of the Israel-Hamas war.

Many campuses were largely quiet over the weekend but protesters on both sides of the issue shouted and shoved each other during dueling demonstrations Sunday at the University of California, Los Angeles.

About 275 people were arrested on Saturday at various campuses including Indiana University at Bloomington, Arizona State University and Washington University in St. Louis.

The number of arrests nationwide approached 900 since New York police removed a pro-Palestinian protest encampment at Columbia University and arrested more than 100 demonstrators on April 18.

Since then, students have dug in at dozens of pro-Palestinian encampments around the country, prompting a range of responses from administrators: arrests and criminal charges, student suspensions or simply continued pleas to leave.

The plight of students has become a central part of protests, with both the students and a growing number of faculty demanding amnesty for protesters. At issue is whether the suspensions and legal records will follow students through their adult lives.

Faculty members at universities in California, Georgia and Texas have initiated or passed largely symbolic votes of no confidence in their leadership.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said President Joe Biden "knows that there are very strong feelings" but would leave managing the protests to local authorities.

"People should have the ability to air their views and to share their perspectives publicly but it has to be peaceful," Kirby said on ABC's "This Week."

In an interview that aired Sunday, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell called it "a dangerous situation" and placed the responsibility with college administrators.

"There's also antisemitism, which is completely unacceptable. I've been shocked to see that in this country," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

How it started

Early protests at Columbia University in New York City sparked pro-Palestinian demonstrations across the country and students and administrators there have engaged in negotiations, the university said in a statement Saturday night.

Columbia has set a series of deadlines for protesters to leave the encampment — which they have missed — but bringing back police "at this time" would be counterproductive, the school wrote in an email to students.

On Sunday, students walked among dozens of colorful tents that continue to stand.


At the University of California, Los Angeles, police set up barricades before hundreds of demonstrators on both sides joined a growing crowd Sunday near where pro-Palestinian students have been staying around-the-clock in tents. Counter-protesters who organized a "Stand in Support of Jewish Students" rally said their goal was to "stand up against hatred and antisemitism."

Across town, the University of Southern California said it was open Sunday after being shut down a day earlier because of what the university called vandalism and disruptions.

USC drew criticism after refusing to allow the valedictorian, who has publicly supported the Palestinian cause, to make a commencement speech. Administrators then scrapped the keynote speech by filmmaker Jon M. Chu. Last week the school announced the cancelation of its main graduation event, a day after more than 90 protesters were arrested by police in riot gear.

In the northern part of the state, officials on Saturday ordered an "enforced hard closure" of California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt. Two halls remained occupied by pro-Palestinian demonstrators. The school said Sunday that the cost of the occupation — including damage done by "theft, vandalism and graffiti" — was estimated to be in the millions.


Washington University in St. Louis locked some campus buildings and arrested protesters Saturday. Photos showed uniformed police attempting to remove masked protesters as others, also wearing masks, linked arms to thwart the efforts.

In a statement, the university said more than 100 people — including 23 students and four university employees — were arrested on suspicion of trespassing. Megan Green, president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, said in a social media post that she was present and the protest remained calm "until the police came in like an ambush."

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein said in a social media post that she and two of her campaign managers were among those arrested.

The university's statement defended the action and said protesters "did not have good intentions on our campus and that this demonstration had the potential to get out of control and become dangerous."

Some arrested also face charges of resisting arrest and assault, including for injuries to three police officers, the statement said. Those injuries include a severe concussion, a broken finger and a groin injury.

The Missouri chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the arrests as "heavy-handed."


In Boston, police in riot gear cleared an encampment on the campus of Northeastern University on Saturday.

Massachusetts State Police said about 102 protesters were arrested and will be charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct.

Northeastern said in a statement that the demonstration, which began two days ago, had become "infiltrated by professional organizers" with no affiliation to the university and antisemitic slurs, including "kill the Jews," had been used.

The Huskies for a Free Palestine student group disputed the university's account, saying in a statement that counterprotesters were to blame for the slurs and no student protesters "repeated the disgusting hate speech."

Students at the Boston protest said a counterprotester attempted to instigate hate speech but insisted their event was peaceful.

U.S. campuses and the Israel-Hamas war

The nationwide campus protests began in response to Israel's offensive in Gaza. Hamas launched a deadly attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, when militants killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages. Vowing to stamp out Hamas, Israel launched an offensive in Gaza. In the ensuing war, Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, according to the local health ministry.

Israel and its supporters have branded the university protests as antisemitic, while critics of Israel say it uses such allegations to silence opponents. Although some protesters have been caught on camera making antisemitic remarks or violent threats, organizers of the protests, some of whom are Jewish, say it is a peaceful movement aimed at defending Palestinian rights and protesting the war.

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