Protesters arrested amid crackdown on pro-Palestine student rallies across US campuses | US universities


Dozens of protesters were arrested on Wednesday while participating in pro-Palestine demonstrations across US college campuses.

At least 34 protesters, including a member of the media from a local news station, were arrested during protests at University of Texas in Austin and at least 50 more were detained by police at University of Southern California (USC).

The arrests come amid a wave of demonstrations at campuses across the US, which began last week after students at New York’s Columbia University set up encampments calling for the university to divest from weapons manufacturers with ties to Israel. The protests have led to mass suspensions and arrests of hundreds students in New York and other cities.

House speaker, Mike Johnson, jumped into the fray on Wednesday with a visit to Columbia’s campus, where he faced jeers from the pro-Palestinian protesters and called for the resignation of the university’s president.

‘Go back to class’: US House speaker jeered by pro-Palestinian protesters – video

Flanked by a number of Republican members of Congress, Johnson denounced the demonstrations as “mob rule” and condemned what he called a “virus of antisemitism” at colleges nationwide.

“And it’s detestable, as Columbia has allowed these lawless agitators and radicals to take over,” he said. “If this is not contained quickly and if these threats and intimidation are not stopped, there is an appropriate time for the national guard.”

Johnson’s speech drew boos from the crowd, as he also called for the resignation of Minouche Shafik, Columbia’s president, who he accused of failing to protect Jewish students and allowing protests that led to the arrest of dozens of people there last week.

In California, protests swelled at UC Berkeley and USC. Further north at California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, protesters barricaded themselves in a university building using furniture, tents, chains and zip-ties, prompting a campus shutdown.

Students at Harvard University set up an encampment in Harvard Yard on Wednesday morning to protest against the suspension of the university’s undergraduate Palestine solidarity committee and demand the university divest from Israel over its war in Gaza. And in Texas, an anti-war protest at the University of Texas in Austin resulted in at least 34 arrests, including of a photojournalist, after state troopers stormed the campus.

University of Texas police officers arrest a man at a pro-Palestinian protest on campus in Austin. Photograph: Jay Janner/AP

As temperatures rose, Kathy Hochul, the Democratic governor of New York, called Johnson’s trip “divisive”, while the Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez assailed authorities for the “reckless and dangerous act” of calling police to non-violent demonstrations.

Hochul accused Johnson of “politicizing” the issue, and “adding to the division”, according to the New York Post. “There’s a lot more responsibilities and crises to be dealt with in Washington,” she said.

Protest movement grows

Thousands of students have turned out this week to attend marches or set up encampments at universities from Massachusetts to California, demanding their schools cut financial ties to Israel and divest from companies enabling its months-long conflict.

At UC Berkeley, a protest camp entered its third day. Rows of tents have been added to a cluster set up on the steps of the university’s Sproul Hall at the center of campus. Starting with just a dozen, more students have joined the “Free Palestine Camp” over the last three days, a sit-in demanding their school sever its financial connections to BlackRock and other asset managers they see as complicit for financing genocide in Gaza.

UC Berkeley holds a $427m investment in a BlackRock portfolio and school officials have commented that a change in their investment strategy is not on the table. There is minimal police or security presence on site, but the students say they are bracing for that to change. The group is determined to stay even if the university tries to have them forcibly removed.

Student and community members perform a traditional Palestine dance at Cal Poly Humboldt on Wednesday in Arcata. Photograph: Paul Kitagaki Jr/Zuma Press Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

The protesters are also calling for an academic boycott, which would end collaborations with Israeli universities and the establishment of a new Palestinian studies program.

Police responding to a demonstration at USC got into a back-and-forth tugging match with protesters over tents. As of 7pm local time over a dozen people were arrested at the campus, according to a Los Angeles Times reporter on the scene.

The arrests came after law enforcement and university leadership told protesters to disperse. Protesters began to clash with law enforcement, who shoved the students in attendance, video shows.

Meanwhile, the campus of Cal Poly Humboldt, a public university on California’s northern coast, has been closed through the weekend, with classes being held remotely after pro-Palestinian protesters barricaded themselves in a building for a sit-in.

Dozens of students remain inside the building and have blocked entrances with furniture, according to the university, while others occupied another nearby building. Students there told the Sacramento Bee they felt compelled to take action.

“I think the solution is to get involved, because at least I can feel like I’m doing my part. Even if it’s not enough, I’m doing the best I can to make something of it. I find peace in that,” one student said.

At UT Austin, hundreds of local and state police – including some on horseback and holding batons – clashed with protesters, pushing them off the campus lawn and at one point sending some tumbling into the street.

A photographer covering the demonstration for Fox 7 Austin was arrested after being caught in a push-and-pull between officers and students, the station confirmed. A longtime Texas journalist was knocked down in the mayhem and could be seen bleeding before police helped him to emergency medical staff who bandaged his head.

Faculty at UT Austin will be striking in response to what they called a “militarized response” to a “peaceful, planned action”, stating on X that they are refusing to hold classes starting Thursday.

At least 20 people, including a journalist, were arrested at the University of Texas, Austin. Photograph: Mikala Compton/AP

At Columbia, the focal point of national student demonstrations, Shafik said on Wednesday that she had extended by 48 hours a deadline for talks with protest leaders for the dismantling of a tent encampment on Columbia’s west lawn. More than 100 people were arrested at the university last week after she brought in the police, and more than 140 students, faculty members and others were arrested on Monday night at a separate protest at New York University’s Manhattan campus.

Some Jewish students at Columbia, meanwhile, said they had been physically blocked by protesters from attending classes, and subjected to racial hatred by demonstrators demanding a ceasefire in Gaza and for the university to divest from companies linked to Israel’s military operations.

Protest organizers blame outside actors for particularly inflammatory rhetoric against Jewish students.

Johnson’s visit to Columbia follows a number of other trips there this week by bipartisan groups of politicians. Three competing delegations attended on Monday, Axios reported, with the entirety of New York’s Republican congressional delegation demanding Shafik’s resignation, and Democrats criticizing her for not protecting Jewish students and faculty.

Joe Biden does not plan to visit Columbia when he visits New York on Friday, the White House and campaign officials told CNN. The White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said in a Wednesday statement that Biden believes free speech, debate and nondiscrimination are important on college campuses, adding that “students should feel safe on college campuses”.

The Associated Press contributed reporting

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