May 26th, 2024

33 arrested at George Washington University as DC mayor’s congressional hearing is canceled

By Ashraf Khalil, The Associated Press on May 8, 2024.

A giant American flag is unfurled on Lisner Hall on the campus of George Washington University in Washington, Friday, May 3, 2024, as demonstrators protest the Israel-Hamas war. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (AP) – Police cleared a pro-Palestinian tent encampment at George Washington University early Wednesday and arrested demonstrators, hours after dozens marched to the home of the school’s president as city officials prepared to appear before Congress on the protest’s handling.

Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police Department Chief Pamela Smith were called to testify Wednesday afternoon at the Republican-led House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, but the hearing was canceled after the arrests.

Tensions have ratcheted up in standoffs with protesters of the Israel-Hamas war on campuses across the U.S., and increasingly in Europe. Some colleges cracked down immediately. Others have tolerated the demonstrations. Some have begun to lose patience and call in police over concerns about disruptions to campus life and safety.

District of Columbia police said officers moved to disperse demonstrators because “there has been a gradual escalation in the volatility of the protest.” It said 33 arrests were made, including for assault on a police officer and unlawful entry. Some protesters were pepper sprayed as police blocked them from the camp.

George Washington University had warned of possible suspensions for continuing the camp on University Yard. Protesters carrying signs that read, “Free Palestine” and “Hands off Rafah,” also marched to school President Ellen Granberg’s home Tuesday night.

“While the university is committed to protecting students’ rights to free expression, the encampment had evolved into an unlawful activity, with participants in direct violation of multiple university policies and city regulations,” a school statement said.

Since April 18, just over 2,600 people have been arrested on 50 campuses, figures based on AP reporting and statements from universities and law enforcement agencies after this latest anti-war movement was launched by a protest at Columbia University.

A pro-Palestinian tent encampment was cleared by officers in riot gear at the University of Chicago on Tuesday after administrators who had initially adopted a permissive approach said they had crossed a line, increasing safety concerns. Hundreds of protesters had gathered for at least eight days until administrators warned them Friday to leave or face removal.

Officers later picked up a barricade erected to keep protesters out of the Quad and moved it toward the demonstrators, some of whom chanted, “Up, up with liberation. Down, down with occupation!” Police and protesters pushed back and forth along the barricade as the officers moved to reestablish control.

“The university remains a place where dissenting voices have many avenues to express themselves, but we cannot enable an environment where the expression of some dominates and disrupts the healthy functioning of the community for the rest,” University of Chicago President Paul Alivisatos wrote.

Other schools are letting protesters hold rallies and organize their encampments as they see fit.

The president of Wesleyan University, a liberal arts school in Connecticut, has commended the on-campus demonstration – which includes a pro-Palestinian tent encampment – as an act of political expression. The camp there has grown from about 20 tents a week ago to more than 100.

“The protesters’ cause is important – bringing attention to the killing of innocent people,” university President Michael Roth wrote to the campus community Thursday. “And we continue to make space for them to do so, as long as that space is not disruptive to campus operations.”

The Rhode Island School of Design’s president, Crystal Williams, spent more than five hours with protesters discussing their demands after students started occupying a building Monday. The school affirms students’ rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly and supports all members of the community, a spokesperson said.

On Tuesday the school announced it was relocating classes from the building, which was covered with posters reading “Free Palestine” and “Let Gaza Live.”

Some colleges have tried tactics from appeasement to threats of disciplinary action to clear the way for commencements.

And police moved in Tuesday night to break up an encampment at the University of Massachusetts. Video from the scene in Amherst showed an hours-long operation as dozens of police officers in riot gear systematically tearing down tents and taking protesters into custody. The operation continued into early Wednesday.

UMass Chancellor Javier Reyes said he ordered the sweep after discussions over a wide range of demands failed to yield an agreement to dismantle the encampment and engage in “constructive discussions.”

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Associated Press journalists around the U.S. and world contributed, including Charles Rex Arbogast, Pat Eaton-Robb, Steve LeBlanc, Jeff Amy, Christopher Weber, Mike Corder, Barbara Surk, Rick Callahan, Sarah Brumfield and Pietro de Cristofaro.

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