Anger grows over 'ideological' crackdown on pro-Palestine protests

Police brutality reported during mass arrests at university protests against the war in Gaza

A man takes part in a demonstration at Emory University in support of Palestinians, in Atlanta, Georgia. Reuters
Powered by automated translation

Student protest encampments continued at universities across the US on Friday, while anger grew over reports of police brutality during mass arrests at some schools.

As mass arrests were conducted at institutions including Columbia University, the University of Southern California, the University of Texas at Austin and elsewhere, members of faculty have been denouncing school leadership to demand safety and freedom for students.

“As Faculty for Justice in Palestine, we fully support the strength and clarity of purpose that our students are bringing in asking for disclosure and divestment from weapons of destruction,” a Yale University professor told The National.

“And we do not want a university to be profiting from the death and slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza or anywhere else.”

Colleges and universities have become sites of student protests demanding a ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza war and also that their schools divest from financial connections that support Israel's actions in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Despite more than 45 people being arrested at Yale earlier in the week, a protest encampment still stands on the campus. An anti-war hunger strike also took place, but it recently ended.

“The fact that they are being criminalised and silenced is an ideological stance that the university leadership is taking and we condemn that,” the Yale professor added.

And it is not only US universities that are seeing protest movements: Dozens of students rallied at University College London, with banners calling it “complicit in genocide” and demanding it “divest from death”, while protesters at Paris's Sciences Po university blocked an entrance to the school.

In Berlin, 150 police officers moved to ban a protest camp set up near the German parliament building.

Pro-Palestine protests at US universities – in pictures

Policing and arrests

While Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the protests were a "hallmark of our democracy", some raised alarm over the police response to the demonstrations.

Ohio State University student newspaper The Lantern confirmed that state troopers had been using “long-range firearms” on a building roof overlooking a pro-Palestine student protest on campus, citing a university representative, after social media photos of the officers inflamed conversation over policing.

Emory University in Georgia was the site of several incidents on Thursday, including the arrest of a number of professors.

Republican Representative Mike Collins of Georgia posted a video compiling instances of police conducting the mass arrests of 28 people at the school.

The video also showed footage of police officers repeatedly using a Taser on a person lying handcuffed on the ground.

“We don't give them time to encamp,” Mr Collins wrote. “Tazers set to stun!”

Noelle McAfee, a department chairwoman at the university, was seen being handcuffed in a viral video, while asking the videographer to tell the philosophy department that she had been arrested.

Ms McAfee later told a local NBC affiliate that she was observing a student being “pummelled” by officers.

“I stood on my campus, I stood to prevent somebody being beaten to death, so that was disorderly conduct,” she said.

A CNN video showed Caroline Fohlin, a tenured economics professor, approaching police officers leaning on to a person on the ground and asking what they were doing.

As she was speaking to the officers, another officer threw her to the ground to handcuff her, while she identified herself as a professor.

The Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported on Friday that Ms Fohlin had been charged with simple battery against a law enforcement officer.

Charges against 57 people at the University of Texas protest were dismissed on Friday, The Austin American-Statesman reported.

Dozens of faculty members sent a letter on Friday to the Yale president, provost and deans to drop all criminal charges against protesters.

Human rights organisations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch and others issued warnings and condemnation of university leaders.

The ACLU published an open letter to school presidents arguing that academic freedom and free speech be protected on campuses. It also urged leaders to not “single out particular viewpoints for censorship, discipline, or disproportionate punishment” and that they “protect students from discriminatory harassment and violence”.

“As protests spread to campuses across the country, university administrations should be careful not to mislabel criticism of Israeli government policies or advocacy for Palestinian rights as inherently anti-Semitic or to misuse university authority to quash peaceful protest. Instead, universities should safeguard people’s rights to assembly and free expression,” said Lou Charbonneau, UN director for Human Rights Watch.

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University condemned American universities resorting to policing in response to the protests.

“The large-scale deployment of armed officers to suppress peaceful protest on college campuses around the country is a shocking development,” executive director Jameel Jaffer said in a statement.

“This response to peaceful protest is an assault on free speech – and it is also deeply reckless.”

Updated: April 27, 2024, 6:07 AM