Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Pressure mounts as pro-Palestine protests in US universities persist despite severe crackdown

Photo Credit: REUTERS

Pro-Palestinian protestors across the United States brave increasing pressure from colleges and universities to disband their tent encampments. 

At the University of Texas, police detained several students. Columbia University started suspending students who continued the protest despite the ultimatum served by the administration.

As the last few days of classes draw to a close, the protests have shaken college campuses across the United States, with about 1,000 people being arrested.

On Monday, as the protestors returned to the University of Texas at Austin, scores of policemen and paramilitary forces came face to face with them. 

Six protesters were soon arrested, and one by one, others were also taken to jail. When a group of demonstrators obstructed the way of a police vehicle transporting arrested activists, officers responded with pepper spray. Two flash-bang bombs were then used by the officers to make room for the van to drive away.

According to a lawyer at UT Austin, at least 40 protestors were taken into custody on Monday on trespassing and disorderly conduct charges.

Late on Monday, the university released a statement stating that encampments are not allowed on campus and that a large number of Monday’s protestors were not connected to the institution. Additionally, according to the school, some protesters were “physically and verbally combative” with university employees, which prompted administrators to contact law enforcement.

Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, shared a video of troopers arriving on the 50,000-student campus again on social media. Mr. Abbott wrote, “No encampments will be allowed.” 

According to Al Jazeera, 34 people were taken into custody when hundreds of police attacked demonstrators at the campus just last week.

On the Manhattan campus of Columbia, student activists defied a deadline of 2:00 pm to vacate an encampment consisting of approximately 120 tents. Hundreds of demonstrators, on the contrary, marched around the quad, cheering, chanting, and dodging piles of makeshift flooring and green carpeting prepared for the graduation ceremonies scheduled for next week.

Some counter-demonstrators carried signs that said, “Where are the anti-Hamas chants?” while others waved Israeli flags.

After the deadline passed, the university did not call the police to remove the protestors. However, Columbia started penalising students, according to school spokesman Ben Chang, after three hours. He did not say how many students were involved. Furthermore, he did not specify whether or how the suspensions would be implemented or if the suspended students would be dismissed from the institution.

“WE WILL NOT STOP, WE WILL NOT REST!!”, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine, wrote on social media. “We will continue until our demands are met. We will not be intimidated.”

Over the weekend and into Monday, pro-Palestinian protests in the Washington, D.C. region grew more intense, resulting in the arrest of numerous students on Virginia campuses.

More than 80 persons were detained by campus police late on Sunday night and early on Monday morning, according to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. 53 of them were enrolled students, The Washington Post reported.

Photo Credit: AP

Assistant professor of political science at Virginia Tech, Bikrum Gill, was among several academics who took part in the Sunday night’s “stand with students” protest and was taken into custody with them. 

Gill stated, “Students and faculty are deeply disappointed and will not accept our university’s complicity.”

The crackdown on protests at different campuses including Yale, George Washington University, and the University of California, Los Angeles raises serious concerns about free speech and academic freedom.

At the request of the Columbia University administration, New York police had earlier detained about 108 students on April 18 who were participating in protests on the campus. Isra Hirsi, the daughter of US House Representative Ilhan Omar, was among those arrested.

Mudabir Hassan, a student at Columbia, condemned the university’s attempts to silence the protesters and said they were determined to continue.

“Though things are tense here, the university is now regretting their decision to bring in the NYPD (New York City Police Department), as it has caused damage to the image of the university,” Hassan told Maktoob.

University administrations across the US have been under state pressure to suppress agitations led by students. Often, the allegations of “anti-semitism” and the breach of campus policies are cited by the authorities to curb students’ liberties inside campus premises.

However, it is worth noting here that in an unprecedented manner, students and faculties have joined hands with each other to raise their voice against Israel’s genocidal war on Palestinians in Gaza.

The protesters urge their universities to cut ties with Israel, which is committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. The protest becomes even more relevant since it is happening in the US, the most significant ally to Israel.

Israeli occupation forces have killed at least 34,488 Palestinians and injured 77643 since October 7.

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