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“Campus Police Arrest 135 Pro-Palestinian Protestors at University of Massachusetts Amherst”

Pro-Palestinian protestors at the University of Massachusetts Amherst faced arrest on Tuesday night as campus police took action against their second encampment of the semester. The students were demanding that the university divest from organizations connected to the defense industry and Israel. Earlier in the day, UMass Chancellor Javier Reyes and other officials met with protest organizers in an attempt to resolve the situation peacefully. However, the students refused to dismantle their encampment unless their proposed divestment strategy was accepted by the university.

As a last resort, Reyes authorized the UMass Police Department to disperse the crowd and dismantle the encampment. In an email to students and UMass families that evening, Reyes expressed disappointment at the outcome but emphasized that the university had provided multiple opportunities for a resolution. He stated that failure to remove the tents and barriers would result in arrests.

At approximately 8 p.m., police officers in riot gear surrounded the barricaded tents and began arresting a small group of faculty who were protecting the structure. They then proceeded to detain those inside the encampment. More students entered the encampment and barricaded themselves with signs, leading to additional arrests by additional officers and State Police troopers.

Videos posted on the UMass chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine Instagram account showed police tackling and restraining students who surrounded the encampment. In one video, an officer can be seen pushing down on the neck and head of a student who intervened during a tasing incident.

The arrested protestors had their hands zip-tied behind their backs and were taken to the campus police station or the Mullins Center for holding. They were released on $40 bail early Wednesday morning, which was paid by UMass SJP through a bail fund they had encouraged their social media followers to support.

This was not the first time that UMass students and faculty members had been arrested for protesting. In October, 57 individuals were arrested during a sit-in at the Whitmore Administration Building. As part of their demands, the students requested that the Student Code of Conduct Office drop any sanctions or charges against those arrested in October. Reyes stated in his email that he was actively reviewing the cases and that there were no pending criminal charges. All infractions had been reduced to civil penalties.

Reyes also mentioned that the UMass Board of Trustees would consider a proposal in June to divest from defense firms, as suggested by UMass Amherst Student Trustee Chris Brady. The request to consider divesting from the defense industry had also been received by the UMass Amherst Foundation Board, which manages the university’s endowment.

The decision to reestablish the encampment on Tuesday was motivated by Israel’s invasion of Rafah, a city where over one million Palestinian refugees have sought shelter throughout the war, according to the United Nations. The protestors viewed the invasion as a horrifying event and believed that their demands had not been met.

Similar encampments at other universities have faced scrutiny and potential disciplinary action. Massachusetts Institute of Technology students received notice from President Sally Kornbluth that their encampment was no longer considered safe and could result in suspension if not dismantled. Harvard students received a similar warning. The pro-Palestinian movement has gained traction on college campuses across the country, with many students advocating for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas has resulted in numerous casualties. According to the Associated Press, over 2,000 American students have been arrested as part of these protests. Several schools have made changes to their spring commencement ceremonies to minimize the risk of disruptions.

The arrests at UMass prompted a response from Carol Rose, the executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. Rose stated that other campuses across the country had engaged demonstrators in productive dialogue and criticized the involvement of armed police in nonviolent demonstrations. She argued that calling the police on student political expression was a dangerous choice that put the safety of students, faculty, and community members at risk.

In his email, Reyes acknowledged that the university may not agree to all the demands presented by the protestors. However, he saw the meeting as an opportunity to establish a meaningful dialogue and urged the students to dismantle their encampment and engage in constructive discussions rather than confrontations that violated university policy and the law.

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