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Pro-Palestinian protests spread and intensify as schools’ reactions differ

Dozens of demonstrators took over a building at Columbia University in New York on Tuesday morning, barricading entrances and displaying a Palestinian flag through a window in the latest escalation of protests against the Israel-Hamas war that have spread across college campuses across the country.

Video footage showed protesters on Columbia’s Manhattan campus locking arms in front of Hamilton Hall early Tuesday and carrying furniture and metal barricades into the building, one of several that were occupied during a demonstration for civil rights and against the Vietnam War in 1968 on campus. Shortly after midnight, posts on an Instagram page aimed at protest organizers urged people to protect the encampment and join them at Hamilton Hall.

“An autonomous group has reclaimed 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,” CU Apartheid published Divest on X, formerly known as Twitter, early Tuesday.

Pro-Palestinian protesters on the Columbia University campus hold a banner April 30, 2024 as they barricade themselves inside Hamilton Hall and name it after a Palestinian child allegedly killed by the Israeli army three months earlier.

Alex Kent/Getty Images

Student radio station WKCR-FM aired a detailed report of the hall takeover, which occurred nearly 12 hours after Monday’s 2 p.m. deadline for protesters to leave an encampment of about 120 tents under penalty of suspension.

In the messageProtesters said they planned to stay in the hall until the university accedes to CUAD’s three demands: divestment, financial transparency and amnesty.

Jessica Schwalb, a junior at Columbia, told CBS News the campus was “lawless. Total anarchy.” She said the protesters at Hamilton Hall “tied the doorknobs together and then broke the windows, hit the windows with hammers and put these metal bicycle locks around the doorknobs. They put the bike lock on the first set of doors, that’s what I saw.” and then they would bring in tables, the heavy black metal tables from the dining room that’s right across from Hamilton Hall, and a bunch of people would push them against the doorknobs like a barricade, and then people would bring in tables too. Hamilton Hall furniture barricaded inside. »

Chairs and desks are used to block doors as pro-Palestinian protesters at Columbia University barricade themselves inside Hamilton Hall on April 30, 2024.

Alex Kent/Getty Images

Columbia issued a notice overnight saying 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 who can avoid coming to the Morningside campus today (Tuesday, April 30) should do so; essential personnel should report to work in accordance with university policy. “

The big picture

Universities across the United States are grappling with how to clear encampments as commencement ceremonies approach, with some continuing negotiations and others turning to force and ultimatums that have resulted in clashes with police.

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

Protesters are fighting against Israel’s war with Hamas and its growing death toll, and the number of arrests on campuses across the country is approaching 1,000 as the final days of classes draw to a close. The outcry is forcing universities to consider their financial ties to Israel as well as their support for free speech. Some Jewish students say the protests turned anti-Semitic and made them afraid to set foot on campus.

The plight of the students who were arrested has become a central focus of the protests, with students and a growing number of teachers demanding amnesty for the demonstrators. The question is whether suspensions and criminal records will follow students throughout their adult lives.

Schools taking diverse approaches

At the University of Texas at Austin, a lawyer said at least 40 protesters were arrested Monday. The clash is an escalation on the state capital’s 53,000-student campus, where more than 50 protesters were arrested last week.

Later Monday, dozens of University of Utah officers in riot gear attempted to disperse an encampment set up outside the university president’s office in the afternoon. The police dragged the students by their hands and feet, breaking the poles that supported the tents and tying up those who refused to disperse. Seventeen people were arrested. The university says overnight camping on school grounds is prohibited and students were given multiple warnings to disperse before police were called.

The protests in Texas and others, including in Canada and Europe, grew out of early demonstrations that continued in Colombia.

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

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

Columbia’s handling of the protests has also drawn federal complaints.

A class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Jewish students alleges a breach of contract by Columbia, saying the university failed to maintain a safe learning environment, despite its policies and promises. He also challenges the abandonment of in-person classes and calls for swift legal action requiring Columbia to keep students safe.

Meanwhile, a legal group representing pro-Palestinian students is urging the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to investigate Columbia’s compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to determine how they were treated.

A university spokesperson declined to comment on the complaints.

In a rare move, Northwestern University said it had reached a settlement with students and faculty who make up the majority of protesters on its campus near Chicago. It allows peaceful protests until June 1, when spring classes end and in exchange, requires the removal of all but one tent for aid, and restricts the protest area to only allow students, faculty and staff, unless otherwise agreed by the university.

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

USC sparked controversy on April 15 when officials refused to allow the valedictorian, who has publicly supported the Palestinians, to deliver a commencement speech, citing unspecific security concerns for the rare move. Administrators then abandoned the commencement address by filmmaker Jon M. Chu, an alumnus, and refused to award honorary degrees.

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

Elsewhere, administrators have tried to save their beginnings and several have ordered the cleaning of encampments in recent days. When those efforts failed, officials threatened disciplinary action, including suspension or even arrest.

But students held their ground at other prominent universities, with clashes continuing at Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, Yale and others. Police in riot gear from Virginia Commonwealth University attempted to disperse an encampment there Monday evening and clashed with protesters.

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