17 pro-Palestinian demonstrators arrested at UT-Dallas as police break up encampment

Students walk through campus at the University of Texas at Dallas on Aug. 27, 2021. (Shelby Tauber For The Texas Tribune, Shelby Tauber For The Texas Tribune)

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Police officers arrested 17 people, broke up pro-Palestinian protests and tore down tents at the University of Texas at Dallas in Richardson on Wednesday, 12 hours after students set up an encampment to demand university divestment from U.S. corporations that have ties to Israel's war in Gaza.

Footage by the NBC 5 in Dallas showed some people being taken away by officers. Kim Horner, a communications manager at UT-Dallas, said in an email that as of 5 p.m., there had been 17 arrests for criminal trespass made on campus.

Pro-Palestinian students had set up tents and food stations on a campus plaza at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday. They had also hung a banner saying "Welcome to Gaza Liberation Plaza." By noon, there were 10 tents set up and about 100 students at the encampment at the campus plaza, according to KERA.

Throughout the day, campus police officers surrounded the demonstration and observed from a distance, but after 4 p.m. the Department of Public Safety had officers on the ground dispersing the crowd.

Horner said arrests were made after UT-Dallas issued a statement earlier Wednesday stating that setting up an encampment, including tents and barricades, is not permitted under UT System policy.

"Individuals may peacefully assemble in the common outdoor areas of campus and exercise their right to freedom of speech, but individuals may not erect or maintain an encampment," the statement earlier on Wednesday said.

The statement also asked that all tents be removed immediately and failure to comply may lead to removal for criminal trespassing.

Horner said the university gave demonstrators "the opportunity to comply." But after these individuals refused, law enforcement officers removed the encampment with help from county and state law enforcement. She said UT-Dallas' police department continue to monitor campus.

The group that organized the protest, Students for Justice in Palestine, held a 10-hour sit-in earlier last week at UT-Dallas' administration building and were allowed to stay.

The organization then met with UT-Dallas President Richard C. Benson on Friday.

In a press release Wednesday morning SJP representatives said they were hoping to discuss how the university administration could meet their demands at the meeting, but were not satisfied with the university’s response and walked out of the meeting.

“Benson was also organizing a meeting with a zionist organization, undermining the work of Palestinian and allied students and painting genocide as a two-sided issue,” the SPJ statement said.

In a press release Wednesday morning, the group accused corporations like Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Northrop Gruman and Boeing of facilitating “endless war, death and destruction in Palestine and around the world” and called on their university to divest from those companies.

The Israel-Hamas war began last October when Hamas attacked Israel, taking about 250 people hostage and killing about 1,200 Israelis. Since then, more than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed and nearly 77,000 people wounded, two-thirds of whom were women or children, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.

DPS officers in riot gear march past supplies provided for a pro-Palestinian encampment that was set up before dawn on May 1, 2024. Several protesters were arrested and the encampment was torn down in the afternoon.

DPS officers in riot gear march past supplies provided for a pro-Palestinian encampment that was set up before dawn on Wednesday. Several protesters were arrested and the encampment was torn down in the afternoon. Credit: Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune

The violence has sparked demonstrations at campuses across the country. UT-Dallas’ marks the second in the state that has resulted in arrests.

At least 136 protesters have been arrested at the University of Texas at Austin in recent days due to protests there. A peaceful student walkout was quickly broken up by DPS troopers in riot on April 24, resulting in 57 arrests. On Monday, 79 more people were arrested in Austin after students tried to set up an encampment on a campus lawn. Authorities used pepper spray and flash bangs to break up that demonstration. Many of the state's Republican leaders have cheered the police response in Austin.

At other campuses, the response has been more measured. Earlier this week, students walked out of class at the University of North Texas , but no arrests were made. Other demonstrations have taken place with little to no incident at Texas A&M University, the University of Texas at San Antonio and other schools.

After the arrests at UT-Dallas police took apart the tents, pulled down Palestinian flags and other equipment set up by the protesters and loaded them into trucks.

DPS officers in helmets stood side-by-side creating a human wall and held batons blocking people from the plaza, but some protesters were allowed to continue waving flags and chanting nearby. Campus staff in university trucks began to pack up tents and other items from the encampment.

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