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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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33 protesters arrested at GW encampment early Wednesday morning

Encampment cleared after almost two weeks on University Yard

Editor’s note: This is reporting as of 5 p.m. May 8. The Eagle will monitor the situation and continue to update coverage.

Thirty-three pro-Palestinian protesters were arrested by the Metropolitan Police Department at the encampment at George Washington University around 4 a.m. Wednesday morning on charges of “unlawful entry” and “assault of a police officer,” according to GW’s student newspaper The Hatchet

After almost two weeks of the encampment, which started on April 25, hundreds of MPD officers arrived at University Yard and prepared to clear. Officers gave their first warning of arrest at about 3:24 a.m., a second warning about two minutes later and a final warning at about 3:32 a.m. Officers said they would arrest demonstrators who were in University Yard or the H street strip between 20th Street and 21st Street, The Hatchet said. According to MPD, six dispersal warnings were given. 

At least two MPD officers deployed pepper spray as additional protesters gathered around the perimeter of the encampment and “engaged” with officers at the intersection between 20th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, according to MPD Chief Pamela Smith at a press conference Wednesday morning. The Hatchet reported that at least half a dozen people appear to have been sprayed.

An Instagram video posted by the DMV Palestinian Youth Movement shows police officers pushing and pepper spraying protesters. 

“We have dozens of videos and footage of MPD & GWPD assaulting, punching, shoving, & pepper spraying the students and community members who were supporting the arrested students, but were blocked by a brutal force from the police,” the post’s caption reads. “This points to one reality: state sanctioned violence was deliberately used in an effort to crush the spirit of our movement and success of the liberated zone. However, the movement is resilient, inspired by our steadfast people in Gaza.”

Shortly after the arrests, the DMV PYM posted on Instagram to call for people to rally outside the D.C. Metropolitan Training Academy at Farragut Square, where arrested demonstrators were being held, and to call the academy’s phone number to demand for the protesters’ release. 

“These students and community took a stand against their University’s complicity in the genocide of Palestinians and are now being unjustly punished for it,” the call script said. “This is a clear violation of their rights and an attempt to silence student voices. No amount of arrests will end student organizing - only an end to zionist genocide will.” 

Around 12 p.m. today, the GW Student Coalition for Freedom in Palestine posted an Instagram story stating that all of the arrested protesters had been released from jail and that jail support is no longer needed. 

“Redirect your focus to Gaza,” the story read. “Redirect your focus to Rafah.”

Police made 29 arrests on grounds of “unlawful entry” – often called trespassing in other jurisdictions – and one arrest for “assault of a police officer,” of those in the encampment. A second group of protesters were moving towards the encampment and some were pushing officers, according to Smith at the press conference. 3 demonstrators from that group were arrested on the “assault of a police officer” charge. 

In a statement released by MPD Wednesday morning, police have worked to “pursue non-arrest methods to deescalate tensions” and there has been a “gradual escalation of the volatility of the protest.”

Pro-Palestinian solidarity encampments nationwide have resulted in more than 2,700 arrests, with the most occurring at the University of California, Los Angeles and Columbia University with 243 and 217 arrests respectively. 

As of 1:30 p.m. today, no tents or protesters remain on University Yard. Over a dozen MPD vehicles line H Street between 20th and 21st Streets, with MPD officers at both ends. MPD officers stand at side entrances to University Yard on both 20th and 21st Streets, outside the GW Museum and Jacob Burns Law Library. Four officers stand guard outside Western Market’s H Street entrance. 

At some point Wednesday, the George Washington statue on University Yard that previously donned a Palestinian flag and keffiyeh during the encampment, was covered with a gray tarp. It is unclear who covered the statue or when. 

Government officials react

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Smith appeared at a press conference Wednesday morning, where Bowser thanked MPD “for their efforts over the past two weeks to keep students in the campus of GW safe.”

“I want to be clear that our responses to demonstrations is always rooted in public safety and constitutional responsibility,” Bowser said at the press conference. 

Smith said that the encampment began “very peacefully” but had escalated in the past few days, citing a protester allegedly pushing a GW Police Department officer and grabbing an item from an officer’s hand. 

“This [escalation] included a simple assault reported to GW Police, security probing of a GW building, indicators that counter-demonstrators were covertly in the encampment and information that protesters from other schools were traveling to GW,” Smith said. “In addition, items that could potentially be used for offensive and defensive weapons were being gathered.”

“Moving forward, MPD will continue to be supportive of universities or other private entities who need assistance,” Smith said.

MPD previously refused to clear the encampment in the early morning hours of April 26 after requests from GW officials. Officers had arrived at around 3 a.m. and were prepared to enter the encampment before being told to stand down. 

Bowser was scheduled to appear before the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m., but after the police’s sweep, Chairman James Comer announced that the hearing was canceled. 

“Following the Metropolitan Police Department finally clearing out the unlawful encampment on GW’s campus, I am very pleased to announce that the hearing with Mayor Bowser has been canceled,” Comer said in the statement. “We will continue to hold D.C. officials accountable to ensure our nation’s capital is safe for all.”

House Oversight Committee Republicans visited the encampment for a press conference May 1. They called for the encampment to be cleared and criticized Bowser for refusing to deploy MPD after GW requested support

“MPD’s response to first amendment demonstration is apolitical. It is without regard to one side or the other and it’s focused on public safety,” Bowser said at the press conference. 

At 1:29 p.m. today, GW officials sent out an email saying MPD “conducted an orderly and safe operation to disperse the demonstrators from the illegal encampment” at University Yard. 

“We do not have any reports of serious injuries during this operation,” GW’s email said. The statement did not specify whether minor injuries were reported. 

On Sunday, GW President Ellen M. Granberg said in a statement that the demonstration has not been “peaceful or productive” because of incidents like the breach of the barricade that enclosed University Yard. Granberg called on D.C. officials to support University leaders in handling the encampment. 

GW officials said in a release Sunday that they had met with demonstrators since the encampment began on April 25, but protesters said Sunday that officials had “not yet been responsive” to their demands, according to The Hatchet

Members of the D.C. Council condemned the clearing of the encampment on Wednesday afternoon. At-Large D.C. Councilmember Robert White Jr. and Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George released statements on the social media site X. 

“Shutting down the peaceful student protest at George Washington University is a stain on the city and on democracy,” Councilmember White Jr. said in a statement. “I visited the GWU protest a few days ago, and it was completely peaceful. When I spoke with students, they made space for multiple truths at the same time, mourning the tragedy of the October 7th Hamas terrorist attack on Israel and refusing to accept the ongoing murders of innocent people in Gaza. Our students deserve better.”

“DC is supposed to be a bastion for protest and exercising First Amendment Rights,” Councilmember Lewis George wrote. “Cracking down on campus protestors to appease MAGA Republicans in Congress is wrong and sets an incredibly dangerous precedent for our city.”

Protesters and supporters respond

Encampment organizers called Granberg’s Sunday letter “deeply misleading” at a press conference held just after 2 p.m. Monday, according to The Hatchet. 

At 3:30 p.m. today, House Reps. Cori Bush and Rashida Tlaib hosted a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol, inviting several arrested students to speak. 

“Go with them, be with them, be with them, go to the encampments, be with them,” Bush said when asked what her message was for parents. “The students are leading, which means that there are folks who need to follow. So, as parents we can follow.” 

Tlaib spoke of her protective mother and what she would think of the arrests. 

“[My mother would] call and say… they’re students saying people should live. Why should that be punished? Why should that be looked down upon?” Tlaib said. 

Organizers said that Granberg has refused to meet with their group, despite her letter Sunday stating that GW officials have held “regular and sustained dialogues” with GW students in encampment. Organizers also said that they have been willing to negotiate with Granberg since “day one” of the encampment. 

An open letter, signed by nearly 80 parents of GW students and addressed to GW’s Board of Trustees was released Wednesday, according to The Hatchet. In the letter, parents condemned Granberg and Provost Christopher Alan Bracey’s response to the encampment, saying they stand “in full solidarity” with students. 

The demands for all of the D.C. area schools, including American University, include dropping the charges against pro-Palestine student organizers, protecting pro-Palestine speech on campus, divesting from companies selling technology and weapons to Israel, immediately disclosing all endowments and investments and ending all academic partnerships with Israel.

As of Monday, organizers said that eight students have been placed under interim suspension and the consequences of the suspensions are still being determined.

On Tuesday night, demonstrators rallied outside President Granberg’s on-campus residence on F Street, chanting, “Granberg in your ivory tower, we the students have the power,” and “Students, students don’t be blind, your tuition funds genocide.” 

At about 5 p.m. Wednesday, over a dozen demonstrators gathered across from GW’s Kogan Plaza, one block west from University Yard. Five MPD officers watched the protest from across the street, in front of Kogan Plaza. Five organizers in yellow vests stood guard, two on either side of the protest and one across the street. 

One man drove past the protest with a sign attached to his car that read “Israel has no history only a criminal record FREE PALESTINE.” He later joined the protest with the sign. 

The demonstration grew and by its conclusion at 6 p.m., about two dozen protesters marched, chanting “We want justice you say how, MPD off campus now,” and “GW we know you, you endanger students too.” 

After the demonstrators dispersed, a man was handed a bullhorn and sang, “It’s campaign finance genocide, that’s why so many in Gaza die.” 

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

This article was edited by Samantha Skolnick, Tyler Davis and Abigail Turner. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Sarah Clayton. 

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