Police dismantle pro-Palestinian encampment at University of Houston, arrest two students

Protesters gather outside the Harris County Joint Processing Center in Houston following the arrest of two University of Houston students and the dismantling of an on-campus encampment in support of Palestinians on Wednesday.

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Police were quick to dismantle a pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Houston on Wednesday, detaining at least two students in the process, according to university officials.

Protesters had set up a blue tarp to cover the fields of the university’s Butler Plaza and surrounded the area with wooden barricades. They joined students across Texas and the country who have been demanding that their schools divest from manufacturers supplying Israel weapons in its strikes on Gaza.

[Here’s why UT and A&M are unlikely to divest from Israel]

Around 9 a.m. on Wednesday, campus police took down the barricades and cut up the tarp underneath protesters’ feet. At least two officers were seen with riot shields, videos of the demonstration posted online showed.

One student was arrested for failing to identify themselves and a second student was arrested for assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest, the university said.

“Tents and encampments are not permitted on campus grounds in accordance with state statutes,” a spokesperson for the university wrote in a statement. “The group was allowed to continue its protest, in accordance with UH policies.”

After the encampment was cleared, the demonstrators moved the protest to outside the Harris County Joint Processing Center, where it appeared the arrested students had been taken. About 100 people chanted and cheered at passing cars whose drivers honked in solidarity.

Bubbles fluttered out of a tiny machine at one end of the crowd, which was parted in the middle by sheriff’s deputies standing in front of the entrance to the building. One law enforcement officer appeared to photograph the crowd from the end of the block.

Outside the county building, UH student Reyna Valdez and other protesters said they planned to stay until the two arrested students were released. Valdez said she watched police rip up tarps and push students away from the plaza where the encampment was held.

"We felt it was important to set up an encampment and to show our university that we're serious about our demands that they divest from these arms manufacturers," Valdez said. "It's incredibly disheartening that our university felt that it was so important to respond to a peaceful encampment but hasn't felt it that it's important to respond to the fact they've been investing in a genocide."

The demonstrators were also demanding that UH remove the McDonald’s, Sabra and Starbucks franchises on campus due to claims that those corporations have financially supported Israel. Reyna said organizers were pushing for students to show up to a University of Houston System Board of Regents meeting next week.

Protests on Texas campuses in the last month have already tested administrators’ handling of tensions related to the Israel-Hamas war and their commitment to free speech on campuses. As pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli students engage in protests and heated discussions, school leaders have struggled to strike a balance between their roles as moderators and facilitators of intellectual debate on campus.

At the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Texas at Dallas, law enforcement made over 150 arrests at pro-Palestinian demonstrations in the past two weeks. State, city and campus police broke up the protests in Austin with pepper spray, batons and horses.

The Texas Tribune partners with Open Campus on higher education coverage.

Disclosure: University of Texas - Dallas, University of Texas at Austin and University of Houston have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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