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Four arrested as University of Michigan breaks up pro-Palestinian encampment

Michigan Diag
Police sit on the University of Michigan Diag, which was surrounded by caution tape Tuesday morning after authorities broke up a student encampment. (Bridge photo by Isabel Lohman)
  • University of Michigan said early Tuesday it had ‘removed’ a pro-Palestinian encampment after a string of ‘troubling events’
  • Four people arrested during what student protesters called a morning ‘raid’ by police who used an apparent chemical spray to break up crowds
  • U-M President Santa Ono says he was ‘forced to take action’ after demonstrators refused to comply with Fire Marshal orders

ANN ARBOR — University of Michigan police broke up a pro-Palestinian encampment early Tuesday morning and arrested four people, citing potential fire hazards at an Israel-Hamas war protest that began nearly one month ago.

Student protesters said the “raid” began around 5:30 a.m. as university police first encircled the encampment and then took to the steps of the Hatcher Library to demand demonstrators leave the Diag.

Social media videos showed a clash between police and protesters, who chanted that they “don't back down to bullies and fascists.” Officers pushed back some demonstrators and appeared to use a form of chemical spray on the crowd. 


“I was hit directly in the face — and this was after being shoved multiple times,” said Josiah Walker, the external director at Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, the University of Michigan chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.

The university said later Tuesday that police arrested four people but did not immediately provide other details. 

A spokesperson for U-M’s public safety department told Bridge Michigan that officers had issued “three verbal warnings over a 15-minute period, asking the approximately 50 people who were in the encampment to leave voluntarily before being subject to arrest.” 

The encampment appeared to have been fully removed by around 9 a.m. Caution tape lined the Diag, which is a large open space on the university's central campus in Ann Arbor. A Dumpster was placed where tents had stood.

As of 10 a.m. dozens of protesters had relocated to the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office, which also houses a local court, where they expected fellow protesters to be arraigned.

Protesters who had been arrested earlier Tuesday appeared to leave the facility at around 1:20 p.m. and were greeted by supporters chanting, playing drums and cheering.

One person spoke with reporters upon his release but declined to give his last name and said he did not know what he may be charged with. Online court records did yet list any charges as of 3 p.m.

In a lengthy Tuesday morning statement addressed to faculty, students and staff, U-M President Santa Ono said the university values free speech but was "forced to take action" after demonstrators refused to comply with a recent Fire Marshal request to remove external camp barriers, refrain from overloading power sources and stop using open flames. 

"The disregard for safety directives was only the latest in a series of troubling events centered on an encampment that has always violated the rules that govern the Diag – especially the rules that ensure the space is available to everyone," Ono wrote. 

Ono also cited campus graffiti, a May 3 protest at the U-M Museum of Art that led to one arrest, recent "demand" letters left at the homes of U-M Regents and last week's body bag-themed protest at the home of Board of Regents Chair Sarah Hubbard. 

"Marching and chanting in the middle of the night outside private homes, posting demands on private property, and placing a burnt cradle and fake bloody body bags on the lawn of one regent amounted to vandalism and trespass, not protected expression," he wrote.

Washtenaw Sheriff building demonstration
Demonstrators gathered at a local courtroom and sheriff's office Tuesday after University of Michigan police broke up a campus encampment in Ann Arbor. (Bridge photo by Isabel Lohman)

Tarana Sharma, a rising senior and social media co-director of the SAFE student group, criticized Ono's statement, suggesting it was clearly "pre-written" because it was issued within an hour of the police action. 

"They intentionally endangered us," Sharma told Bridge, noting she and other students were hit with "pepper spray," which she said was particularly harmful to students wearing hijabs.  "They do this at every single step."

Zayna Salloun, a Palestinian who lives in Plymouth and joined the Tuesday afternoon courthouse demonstration, told Bridge she had visited the U-M encampment several times and had never seen an open flame. 

She called the encampment “inclusive” and Ono’s explanation of the takedown “ridiculous.”

Throughout the afternoon, protesters led a series of chants outside the combined sheriff's office and courthouse, including: “One, two, three, four / open up the prison doors / five, six, seven, eight / Gaza we will liberate.” 

Demonstrators have been calling on the university to "divest" from Israel by cutting any financial investments that may benefit that country's ongoing war with Hamas.

University officials, however, have made clear they do not intend to change the school's investment strategy due to protester demands.

The TAHRIR Coalition, which represents multiple student groups, has also been calling for a "People' s Audit" of U-M finances, a boycott of Israeli institutions and wants the school to "abolish campus police and reallocate its budget toward a non-police, unarmed crisis response program."

Hubbard, the regent chair, said in a meeting last week that the board represents the people and will not divest nor boycott Israeli institutions. She said she would not vote to abolish campus police.

U-M demonstrators set up their encampment on April 22, joining peers across the country who launched campus protests following the arrest of more than 100 students at Columbia University. 

As of early May, there had been more than 2,800 arrests at universities across the country during protests about the war, according to a tally by The Associated Press

Administrators have reached agreements with students to end demonstrations at some schools, including Brown, Northwestern, Rutgers and The University of California at Riverside.

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