USA: Protesters besiege universities

2 May, 2024

The situation at dozens of universities in the United States, where violent clashes have broken out between pro-Palestinian protesters and opposers for the war in Gaza, remains volatile.

Police authorities have arrested more than 1,500 protesters, including students and professors, and according to the BBC, four police officers were injured during the clash at the University of Wisconsin.

At the same time, the White House spokeswoman, referring to the protests, said that “the small group of students is causing the uproar” and stuck to President Biden’s messages against anti-Semitism.

White House: ‘Small number of students cause the disruption’

Specifically, the White House sought on Wednesday to answer questions about President Joe Biden’s silence on the protests at universities, noting his condemnation of anti-Semitism.

“No president has spoken more forcefully about fighting anti-Semitism than this president,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Wednesday.

“It’s important that students and communities feel safe in the country, and at the same time, we will be strong and continue to underscore how anti-Semitism is hate speech,” she said.

He added that Biden was “regularly briefed on what’s going on” and he and his team are monitoring the situation. He also reiterated the White House’s condemnations of the violent occupation of campus buildings, saying such tactics “were not peaceful.”

Asked to clarify whether the White House considered anti-Semitism to be synonymous with pro-Palestinian protests as a whole, Jean-Pierre dismissed the claims, but did not elaborate.

“No – I was very clear. There are a small number of students causing the uproar. And we need to make sure that we create a safe environment for students to graduate,” she said.

She reiterated that a “small percentage” of students who cause disruption prevent others from learning, and stressed that the White House would “continue to emphasize that anti-Semitism must be eliminated. It is hate speech. And it should not be allowed – not on college campuses, not in communities, not in political discourse.”

Karine Jean-Pierre came under pressure from critics in the Republican Party, including former President Donald Trump, who compared the unrest in recent days to the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“I would tell those critics that there is no connection between the two events,” she said.

“These things are not the same. They’re in bad faith.”

Next week, Biden will deliver the keynote address at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Tuesday commemoration ceremony, hosted by the White House.

Hundreds of arrests

More than 1,500 people have been arrested in the US since April 18 at universities where violent clashes have erupted between pro-Palestinian protesters and counter-protesters in the shadow of the war in the Gaza Strip.

As pro-Palestinian protests have erupted on campuses across the country, police authorities continue to arrest protesters – including students and professors.

According to CNNi, more than 400 protesters were arrested on Tuesday. Of those, police said about 30 people were arrested at Columbia University and City College New York.

At Columbia University, a building was occupied and police officers were clearing it out. University authorities asked New York City police to remain on campus until May 17.

The University of California, in Los Angeles, cancelled classes on Wednesday after a night marred by violence between pro-Palestinian protesters and Israel supporters. The university said police were on campus to restore security

At least a dozen people were arrested Wednesday at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as law enforcement authorities moved to clear the encampment.

Attacks and improvised barricades

Aerial footage from a broadcast station showed people with sticks or poles attacking the makeshift barricades set up to protect pro-Palestinian protesters, some of whom were carrying placards or umbrellas.

The ongoing Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip has sparked the largest wave of student activism in the US since the 2020 anti-racist protests.

Police push back protesters at a pro-Palestinian encampment at UCLA late Tuesday, April 30, 2024, in Los Angeles.

Police invade the occupation at Columbia University

Protesters camp at Columbia University United States

Earlier on Wednesday, New York City police also intervened on the Columbia University campus, where pro-Palestinian protesters had locked themselves in the building, making mass arrests.

Broken windows, overturned furniture and damage throughout Columbia University’s Hamilton Hall were left behind by protesters during the occupation.

A police department vehicle equipped with stairs to Hamilton Hall where students were occupying, with officers climbing up and breaking a window to get inside.

Columbia’s administration asked the NYPD to remain on campus until May 17, two days after the graduation ceremony.

Earlier, Columbia spokesman Ben Chang warned that if the protests continue “there will certainly be consequences,” accusing students of “vandalizing, breaking doors and windows and blocking entrances” to the building.

Notably, the occupations of leading US universities for ending the war in Palestine are growing in number with each passing week, taking the form of an anti-war movement similar to the one in the 1960s for ending the war in Vietnam.

Anti-war demonstrations all over the country

Columbia may be the epicentre of the protests, but the reactions are rocking universities across the country.

The University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill

At least 36 protesters were arrested at a rally set up on campus. Police officers were seen pushing back with the protesters. The protesters took down the US flag and replaced it with a Palestinian flag.

University of Florida

Five people, including two students, were arrested during the dispersal. Two of the five individuals are current Florida State University students.

University of Texas-Austin

Nearly 80 people were arrested on campus Monday (29 April) with local authorities charging at least 65 criminal trespassing cases. Local authorities are calling on the university to enter into a settlement with student protest organisers.

Portland University

The university’s president, Ann Cud, asked students to voluntarily leave the library they occupied and said the university is in contact with police to remove the students.

Dismantling of camps

Some universities, such as Yale and Brown, have dismantled protest camps after reaching agreements with students. Brown University protesters reached an agreement to dismantle their encampment after the university agreed to hold a vote to cut off funding from companies that support Israel.

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