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Columbia University inspires national protest wave, swift response by authorities

2 min

A stalemate at Columbia University over removing a student encampment to protest Israel's war in Gaza has spawned a wave of similar demonstrations on college campuses across the U.S., but authorities have shut down many before they can take root.

Muslim demonstrators pray at a protest encampment in support of Palestinians at the University of Southern California’s Alumni Park, as the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas continues, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 24, 2024. Reuters/Zaydee Sanchez

A stalemate at Columbia University over removing a student encampment to protest Israel's war in Gaza has spawned a wave of similar demonstrations on college campuses across the U.S., but authorities have shut down many before they can take root.

In the latest campus clash, police officers immediately responded on Thursday morning as student protesters at New Jersey's Princeton University began setting up an encampment, video footage on social media showed.

"You all are in violation of university policy. These tents must come down now," an officer is heard saying in a video posted on X, as protesters chant "Free, free Palestine."

The swift response by police in Princeton came hours after Boston police forcibly removed a pro-Palestinian encampment set up by Emerson College students early on Thursday, arresting more than 100 people, media accounts and police said.

The tents, on a walkway next to the college in downtown Boston, were removed shortly after 1 a.m., police said. Videos posted online show helmeted police officers squaring off with people with interlocking arms.

At Northwestern University, students began erecting tents on the campus just north of Chicago as they called for the school to protect pro-Palestine speakers and end relationships with Israeli institutions, organizers said.

"We refuse to allow business to continue as usual in the face of Northwestern’s complicity," the NU Educators for Justice in Palestine, Student Liberation Union and Jewish Voice for Peace said in a joint statement.  

Tents were also being erected on Thursday morning at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where a group of protesters chanted "It is our right to rebel, divest now or go to hell," video footage posted on social media showed.

FRIDAY DEADLINE

Columbia officials have given protesters until 4 a.m. on Friday to reach an agreement with the university on dismantling dozens of tents set up on the New York City campus in a protest that started a week ago.

An initial deadline of midnight Tuesday came and went without an agreement, but administrators extended it for 48 hours, citing progress in the talks.

The university already tried to shut the protest down by force. On April 18, Columbia President Minouche Shafik took the unusual move of inviting New York City police to enter the campus, drawing the ire of many students and faculty.

More than 100 people were arrested and the tents were removed from the main lawn. But within a few days, the encampment was back in place, and the university's options appeared to narrow.

The protesters have vowed to keep the protest going until the university agrees to disclose and divest any financial holdings that might support the war in Gaza, and grant amnesty to students suspended from school during the demonstrations.

Student protesters have demanded that the U.S. government rein in Israeli strikes on civilians in Gaza, which have killed more than 34,000 people, according to Palestinian health authorities.

In Austin, authorities showed no hesitation in shutting down a protest on the main campus of the University of Texas on Wednesday.

State highway patrol troopers in riot gear and police on horseback broke up a protest at the school's flagship campus in Austin. The Texas Department of Public Safety posted on X that 34 people had been arrested.

Also on Wednesday, the University of Southern California declared its campus closed and asked the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) to clear a demonstration.

Police arrested students who peacefully surrendered one by one, hours after campus police who took down an encampment were overwhelmed by protesters and requested the LAPD's help.

The LAPD posted on X that 93 people were arrested for trespassing and one for assault with a deadly weapon. No injuries were reported.

By Jonathan Allen and Brendan O'Brien

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