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Police clear protest encampments at multiple schools as graduations approach

Police dismantled pro-Palestinian encampments at more college campuses across the country Friday morning, arresting dozens of protesters against the clock to prepare for commencement and graduation ceremonies.

Authorities moved in to clear the encampments in the early morning hours at the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and only hours earlier, similar encampments at the University of Arizona and New Mexico State University were cleared.

The leaders of most of those schools cited a commitment to keeping commencement ceremonies on track in their messages regarding police activity on their respective campuses. Ceremonies at other schools have been altered or canceled in the wake of protests.

The use of police to clear protests has become a flashpoint in recent weeks, not just between schools and protesters, but also between faculty members and university administrators. As the Washington Examiner reported, many faculty members have come out in solidarity with the protesters and have roundly condemned their universities’ decisions to use police force against agitators.

Philadelphia police started removing protesters around 5:30 a.m. at UPenn, where an encampment had stood for roughly two weeks. Protesters were given warnings to leave, but ultimately police made more than 30 arrests, some of which involved students and faculty members. Those arrested were charged with trespassing.

“Our community has been under threat and our campus disrupted for too long. Passion for a cause cannot supersede the safety and operations of our University,” UPenn interim president J. Larry Jameson said in a statement. “Early this morning, we took action, with support from local law enforcement, to remove the encampment. … This is an unfortunate but necessary step to prevent violence, restore operations, and return our campus to our community.”

The encampment at MIT began being dismantled around 4 a.m., when police arrived and gave protesters a final opportunity to leave before arrests began. According to MIT President Sally Kornbluth, university police took into custody 10 students, none of whom resisted arrest.

“My responsibility is to the whole community: to make sure that the campus is physically safe and functioning for everyone, that our shared spaces and resources are available for everyone, and that everyone feels free to express their views and do the work they came here to do,” Kornbluth said in a statement. “The presence of the encampment increasingly made it impossible to meet all these obligations.”

Late Thursday evening, police in riot gear deployed tear gas to break up an encampment at the University of Arizona just hours after protesters started building fortifications using pallets, according to the school.

“This evening, police vehicles have been spiked, and rocks and water bottles have been thrown at officers and university staff,” a statement from the school reads. “Those who have violated the law are subject to arrest and prosecution.”

According to the Associated Press, the school confirmed that two people had been arrested.

“I ask that we extend to one another the same compassion that motivates that engagement, even as we experience disagreement,” Arizona president Robert C. Robbins said in a statement. “However, we will remain steadfast in enforcing our campus rules, which are designed to allow for free expression and to protect the operation of our campus and those within it.”

Robbins also confirmed that commencement ceremonies would go forward as scheduled.

Thirteen arrests were made Thursday evening at New Mexico State University after agitators were occupying a campus building called Hadley Hall.

According to a statement from interim President Mónica Torres, the building was vandalized and a window was broken during the police action. University police arrested and charged the individuals with a variety of infractions, including misdemeanor criminal trespass, misdemeanor resisting/obstructing an officer, felony battery on a peace officer, and felony criminal damage to property, according to Torres.

“We have said from the beginning that people in the U.S. have a Constitutional right to protest peacefully,” Torres said in a statement. “People do not, however, have a right to interfere with university operations, damage property, or to spit on or strike police officers.”


Associated Press data show at least 2,900 arrests have been made at 57 colleges and universities in connection to pro-Palestinian protests since they started popping up after Columbia University protesters set up their encampment on April 17.

Protesters at these schools have called for leadership to divest from Israel-related companies and efforts, as well as cut ties with Israeli academic institutions. Protesting Israeli action in the war with Hamas, some demonstrations have escalated their demonstrations to harassment, intimidation, and violence.

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