UNITED STATES NEWS

Pro-Palestinian protesters set up a new encampment at Drexel University

May 19, 2024, 8:13 AM

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Pro-Palestinian protesters set up a new encampment at Drexel University in Philadelphia over the weekend, prompting a lockdown of school buildings, a day after authorities thwarted an attempted occupation of a school building at the neighboring University of Pennsylvania campus.

Up to 60 protesters were at the encampment on the campus’ Korman Quad Sunday, Drexel President John Fry said in a statement, adding that the university was speaking with demonstrators — most of whom he said were not affiliated with the school —in an effort to end the protest.

“This demonstration already has proved intolerably disruptive to normal University operations and has raised serious concerns about the conduct of some participants, including distressing reports and images of protesters subjecting passersby to antisemitic speech, signs and chants,” Fry said, declaring that “this encampment must end.” He said the school was communicating with local officials and Philadelphia police to ensure campus safety “and the continued operations of our academic and research endeavors.”

The encampment at Drexel, which has about 22,000 students, was set up after several hundred demonstrators marched from Philadelphia’s City Hall to west Philadelphia on Saturday. About a dozen tents remained Sunday, blocked off by barricades and monitored by police officers. No arrests were reported. University buildings were open only to those with clearance from security officers.

On Friday night, members of Penn Students Against the Occupation of Palestine had announced an action at the University of Pennsylvania’s Fisher-Bennett Hall, urging supporters to bring “flags, pots, pans, noise-makers, megaphones” and other items.

The university said campus police, supported by city police, removed the demonstrators Friday night, arresting 19 people, including six University of Pennsylvania students. The university’s division of public safety said officials found “lock-picking tools and homemade metal shields,” and exit doors secured with zip ties and barbed wire, windows covered with newspaper and cardboard and entrances blocked.

Authorities said seven people arrested would face felony charges, including one accused of having assaulted an officer, while a dozen were issued citations for failing to disperse and follow police commands.

The attempted occupation of the building came a week after city and campus police broke up a two-week encampment on the campus, arresting 33 people, nine of whom were students and two dozen of whom had “no Penn affiliation,” according to university officials.

On Sunday, dozens of George Washington University graduates walked out of commencement ceremonies, disrupting university President Ellen Granberg’s speech, in protest over the ongoing siege of Gaza and last week’s clearing of an on-campus protest encampment that involved police use of pepper spray and dozens of arrests.

The ceremony, at the base of the Washington Monument, started peacefully with fewer than 100 protesters demonstrating across the street in front of the Museum of African American History and Culture. But as Granberg began speaking, at least 70 students among the graduates started chanting and raising signs and Palestinian flags. The students then noisily walked out as Granberg spoke, crossing the street to a rapturous response from the protesters.

Students and others have set up tent encampments on campuses around the country to protest the Israel-Hamas war , pressing colleges to cut financial ties with Israel. Tensions over the war have been high on campuses since the fall but demonstrations spread quickly following an April 18 police crackdown on an encampment at Columbia University.

Nearly 3,000 people have been arrested on U.S. campuses over the past month. As summer break approaches, there have been fewer new arrests and campuses have been calmer. Still, colleges have been vigilant for disruptions to commencement ceremonies.

President Joe Biden told the graduating class at Morehouse College on Sunday, which included some students wearing keffiyeh scarves around their shoulders on top of their black graduation robes, that he heard their voices of protest and that scenes from the conflict in Gaza have been heartbreaking. He said given what he called a “humanitarian crisis” there, he had called for “an immediate cease-fire” and return of hostages taken by Hamas.

The latest Israel-Hamas war began when Hamas and other militants stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and taking an additional 250 hostage. Palestinian militants still hold about 100 captives, while Israel’s military has killed more than 35,000 people in Gaza, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between civilians and combatants.

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Pro-Palestinian protesters set up a new encampment at Drexel University