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Students, Others Arrested During Pro-Palestinian Demonstration

In all, 36 people were detained, 30 charged with trespassing and released on site. (Photo: Daily Tar Heel/Heather Diehl)

Six pro-Palestinian protesters were arrested on UNC’s campus this week after failing to remove tents they’d erected on Polk Place in front of South Building, joining dozens of other students who have been arrested on college campuses nationwide.

Of the six arrested around 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, three were Carolina students and three were nonaffiliated with the University. All six were transported to the Orange County Detention Center’s magistrate’s office, charged with trespassing and later released on a written promise to appear in court, according to UNC Media Relations.

In all, 36 people were detained, 30 charged with trespassing and released on site. Of those 30, 10 were UNC students. It is believed the students and other individuals are members of the Triangle Gaza Solidarity Encampment, a pro-Palestinian organization, according to The Daily Tar Heel.

The protesters had erected tents on the quad Friday. After being asked to take down the tents, in compliance with the University’s Facilities Use Standard, the protesters removed the tents Friday, but put them back up Sunday. (Photo: Carolina Alumni/Cory Dinkel)

Student protests have been occurring on campus for several months, including during University Day Oct. 12 and at the recent March Board of Trustees meeting. Protesters say they want the University to divest from companies that have connections to Israel and Israeli companies.

University officials have not said publicly whether they plan to consider divesting from companies with connections to Israel. Brown University announced Tuesday that it would meet with students to discuss divesting the university’s endowment from “companies enabling and profiting from the genocide in Gaza” and a recommendation for a matter of divestment will be considered for a vote in October.

In a joint statement from Interim Chancellor Lee Roberts and Provost Chris Clemens released Tuesday morning, officials said they “were disappointed that we had to take action this morning regarding protesters, including many who are not members of the Carolina community, who violated state law and University policies that provide for peaceful demonstration. Into the weekend, our University maintained a healthy and constructive dialogue with students and others who came to our campus to make their voices heard. This is our consistent tradition and practice, as the principle of free speech is enshrined in the North Carolina Constitution, which states that ‘freedom of speech and of the press are two of the great bulwarks of liberty and therefore shall never be restrained.’ ”

However, the statement said, no one has the right to disrupt campus operations, to threaten or intimidate Carolina students or to damage and destroy public property. Roberts and Clemens warned protesters in a letter delivered around 5:30 a.m. Tuesday of the possibility of arrests if they did not vacate Polk Place by 6 a.m.

A statement from UNC Media Relations at 8:38 a.m. said UNC Police detained those who refused to leave.

Outside Gerrard Hall, located adjacent to South Building, Ariana Vigil watched as police detained students. The professor of women’s and gender studies said she considered the removal of students unnecessary. “It’s uncalled for,” Vigil told The News & Observer. “At no point have I seen anything that was unsafe until police came here.”

Students and Jewish groups the Review contacted declined to comment or didn’t respond to requests for comment. Brendan Rosenblum, a student who held an Israeli flag at South Building last week, told The N&O he believed some students felt unsafe on campus and said the protests have interrupted schoolwork for some. “It’s very hard to focus and be happy to be on campus when this is going on,” Rosenblum said. Some Jewish students, faculty and groups, however, said they supported the encampment, The N&O reported.

Protestors attempted to block UNC Police vehicles by standing in front of them and throwing objects at officers, according to Media Relations, who said Polk Place was cleared in approximately 45 minutes.

At 1:56 p.m., some of the protestors removed the American flag in the middle of the quad and replaced it with the Palestinian flag. (Photo: Daily Tar Heel/Heather Diehl)

As some protesters were being detained, others “escalated their tactics” after being removed from Polk Place and attempted to enter South Building by pushing officers and refusing to comply with requests from UNC Police and UNC Facilities employees, according to the Media Relations statement. Campus police from N.C. State University, Appalachian State University, East Carolina University and the University of North Carolina Wilmington assisted UNC Police.

A silent vigil was held at 11:30 a.m., and student protesters marched to South Building at noon. At 1:56 p.m., some of the protestors removed the American flag in the middle of the quad and replaced it with the Palestinian flag. “To take down that flag and put up another flag, no matter what other flag it is, that’s antithetical to who we are and what this University stands for, and what we have done for 229 years,” Roberts said while standing on the steps of South Building, flanked by police officers. “The broad majority of this campus knows how to express their views without shouting, without violating University policy. That [American] flag will stand here as long as I’m chancellor,” Roberts told the media.

An unidentified person in the crowd asked Roberts what he would like to say to the students. Roberts responded, “Tell the students that we’re going to keep them safe from a very small minority of students who want to disrupt their experience.”

Throughout Tuesday, Students for Justice in Palestine posted updates to their Instagram story about the arrests and their ongoing efforts, which included dismantling just before 2 p.m. the metal barricades around the flag pole that UNC Facilities had erected. “Students have dismantled the very same barricades erected against Silent Sam protesters. Say it loud. Say it clear. Students have the power here,” stated a post around 3 p.m.

That [American] flag will stand here as long as I’m chancellor,” Roberts told the media. (Photo: Daily Tar Heel/Heather Diehl)

However, a post on their Instagram story around 7 p.m. Tuesday stated, “We are not returning to Polk Place for an encampment for now. Please stay safe! Heavy police presence in the area.” Some posts contain profanity, while others ask supporters for documentation of police or counter-protester violence.

During pro-Palestinian demonstrations, students have been arrested at other universities nationwide, including Columbia University in New York, UCLA, the University of Southern California and the University of Texas at Austin. USC announced plans to cancel commencement exercises this year.

The joint statement released by Media Relations said commencement would be held May 11 as planned.

“The class of 2024 had both their senior year of high school and their first year at Carolina severely disrupted by the pandemic. We want to reassure the class of 2024 that Commencement will be a joyous day for them and their loved ones and that the Carolina community near and far will celebrate their accomplishments,” the statement read.

— Laurie D. Willis ’86, Cameron Hayes Fardy ’23

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