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Society

As Some Universities Negotiate with Pro-Palestinian Protesters, Others Quickly Call the Police

The students at Columbia University who inspired pro-Palestinian demonstrations across the country dug in at their encampment for the 10th day Friday as administrators and police at campuses from California to Connecticut wrestled with how to address protests that have seen scuffles with police and hundreds of arrests.

Officials at Columbia and some other schools have been negotiating with student protesters who have rebuffed police and doubled down. Other schools have quickly turned to law enforcement to douse demonstrations before they can take hold.

As the death toll mounts in the war in Gaza and the humanitarian crisis worsens, protesters at universities across the country are demanding schools cut financial ties to Israel and divest from companies they say are enabling the conflict. Some Jewish students say the protests have veered into antisemitism and made them afraid to set foot on campus, partly prompting the calls for police intervention.

After a tent encampment popped up Thursday at Indiana University Bloomington, police with shields and batons shoved into protesters and arrested 33. Hours later at the University of Connecticut, police tore down tents and arrested one person.

Pro-Palestinian protesters demonstrate outside the main gate at Columbia University, in New York, early Friday, April 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Aaron Morrison)

And at Ohio State University, police clashed with protesters just hours after they gathered Thursday evening. Those who refused to leave after warnings were arrested and charged with criminal trespass, said university spokesperson Benjamin Johnson, citing rules barring overnight events.

The clock is ticking as May commencement ceremonies near, putting added pressure on schools to clear demonstrations. At Columbia, protesters defiantly erected a tent encampment where many are set to graduate in front of families in just a few weeks.

Columbia officials said that negotiations were showing progress as they neared the school’s deadline of early Friday to reach an agreement on dismantling the encampment. Nevertheless, two police buses were parked nearby and there was a noticeable presence of private security and police at entrances to the campus.

“We have our demands; they have theirs,” said Ben Chang, a spokesperson for Columbia University, adding that if the talks fail the university will have to consider other options.

Just past midnight, a group of some three dozen pro-Palestinian protesters handed out signs and started chanting outside of the locked Columbia University gates. They then marched away as at least 40 police officers assembled nearby.

California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, has been negotiating with students who have been barricaded inside a campus building since Monday, rebuffing an attempt by the police to clear them out. Faculty members met with protesters Thursday to try to negotiate a solution as the campus remains shut down at least through the weekend.

A dean at the school, Jeff Crane, suggested during the meeting that the university form a committee that would include students to do a deep dive into the school’s investments. Crane also suggested faculty and students continue meeting every 24 hours to keep an open line of communication. The sides have yet to announce an agreement.

The school’s senate of faculty and staff demanded the university’s president resign in a vote of no confidence Thursday, citing the decision to call police in to remove the barricaded students Monday.

On the other end of the state, the University of Southern California canceled of the school’s May 10 graduation ceremony. The announcement was made a day after more than 90 protesters were arrested on campus. The university said it will still host dozens of commencement events, including all the traditional individual school commencement ceremonies.

Tensions were already high after USC canceled a planned commencement speech by the school’s pro-Palestinian valedictorian, citing safety concerns.

At the City College of New York on Thursday, hundreds of students who were gathered on the lawn beneath the Harlem campus’ famed gothic buildings erupted in cheers after a small contingent of police officers retreated from the scene. In one corner of the quad, a “security training” was held among students.

At Emerson College in Boston, 108 people were arrested at an encampment by early Thursday. Video shows police first warning students in an alleyway to leave. Students linked arms to resist officers, who moved forcefully through the crowd and threw some protesters to the ground.

“As the night progressed, it got tenser and tenser. There were just more cops on all sides. It felt like we were being slowly pushed in and crushed,” said Ocean Muir, a sophomore.

Muir said police lifted her by her arms and legs and carried her away. Along with other students, Muir was charged Thursday with trespassing and disorderly conduct.

Emerson College leaders had warned students that the alley was a public right-of-way and city authorities had threatened to take action if the protesters didn’t leave. Emerson canceled classes Thursday, and Boston police said four officers suffered injuries that were not life-threatening during the confrontation.

The University of Texas at Austin campus was much calmer Thursday after 57 people were jailed and charged with criminal trespass a day earlier. University officials pulled back barricades and allowed demonstrators onto the main square beneath the school’s iconic clock tower.

A gathering of students and some faculty protested both the war and Wednesday’s arrests, when state troopers in riot gear and on horseback bulldozed into protesters, forcing hundreds of students off the school’s main lawn.

At Emory University in Atlanta, local and state police swept in to dismantle a camp. Some officers carried semiautomatic weapons, and video shows officers using a stun gun on one protester they had pinned to the ground. The university said late Thursday in a statement that objects were thrown at officers and they deployed “chemical irritants” as a crowd control measure.

Jail records showed 22 people arrested by Emory police were charged with disorderly conduct. Emory said it had been notified that 28 people were arrested, including 20 members of the university community, and some had been released as of nighttime.

Since the Israel-Hamas war began, the U.S. Education Department has launched civil rights investigations into dozens of universities and schools in response to complaints of antisemitism or Islamophobia. Among those under investigation are many colleges facing protests, including Harvard and Columbia.

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By STEVE LeBLANC and NICK PERRY Associated Press

Perry reported from Meredith, New Hampshire. Contributing to this report were Associated Press journalists in various locations including Aaron Morrison, Stefanie Dazio, Kathy McCormack, Jim Vertuno, Acacia Coronado, Sudhin Thanawala, Jeff Amy, Mike Stewart, Collin Binkley, Carolyn Thompson, Jake Offenhartz and Sophia Tareen.

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