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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Richard Luscombe, Maya Yang, Dani Anguiano, Gabrielle Canon and Gloria Oladipo

Boston police arrest 100 as crackdown on campus Palestine protests ramps up

Police confront students blocking a road.
Police move in to arrest pro-Palestinian supporters at Emerson College in Boston on Thursday. Photograph: Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images

More than 100 people were arrested at Emerson College in Boston early on Thursday in the latest crackdown against the rising wave of campus pro-Palestinian protests across the US that has seen the House speaker, Mike Johnson, suggest calling in the national guard.

Johnson waded into an already tense situation on Wednesday with a visit to Columbia University, where the decision last week of the university president, Minouche Shafik, to invite the NYPD to dismantle a student encampment catalysed what is rapidly becoming a national movement. Johnson nevertheless called for the resignation of Shafik, facing jeers on campus from the pro-Palestinian protesters.

At University of Texas in Austin at least 34 protesters, including a member of the media from a local news station, were arrested overnight, while at 93 more were detained by police dressed in riot gear at the University of Southern California (USC), the Los Angeles Times reported.

In mass arrests at USC, militarized officers were filmed appearing to shoot rubber bullets into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators. While described as “less-lethal weapons”, rubber bullets can cause serious injury or even death. Further north at California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, protesters barricaded themselves in a university building using furniture, tents, chains and zip-ties, prompting a campus shutdown.

The arrests in Boston came after Emerson officials ordered student protesters on Wednesday to dismantle their encampment-style demonstration in the city’s Boylston Place Alley, where students had been protesting since Sunday, WBZ-TV reported.

Students say they were peacefully protesting when the mass arrests began around 1.30am on Thursday. One student who spoke to WBZ-TV anonymously said that students were “dragged” and “pushed away … without much regard for [their] safety.” A Boston police spokesperson told WBZ-TV that four officers were injured, all non-life-threatening.

The original encampments at Columbia called for the university to divest from weapons manufacturers with ties to Israel. The protests have led to mass suspensions of students, and the arrests of hundreds.

At Columbia, flanked by a number of Republican members of Congress, Johnson denounced the demonstrations as “mob rule” and condemned what he called a “virus of antisemitism” at colleges nationwide.

“And it’s detestable, as Columbia has allowed these lawless agitators and radicals to take over,” he said. “If this is not contained quickly and if these threats and intimidation are not stopped, there is an appropriate time for the national guard.”

Johnson’s speech drew boos from the crowd, as he also called for the resignation of Shafik, who he accused of failing to protect Jewish students and allowing protests that led to the arrest of dozens of people there last week.

As temperatures rose, Kathy Hochul, the Democratic governor of New York, called Johnson’s trip “divisive”, while the Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez assailed authorities for the “reckless and dangerous act” of calling police to non-violent demonstrations.

Hochul accused Johnson of “politicizing” the issue, and “adding to the division”, according to the New York Post. “There’s a lot more responsibilities and crises to be dealt with in Washington,” she said.

Most of the protests involve pro-Palestinian students, some of them Jewish, demanding their schools cut financial ties to Israel and divest from companies they consider to be enabling the brutal conflict in Gaza.

More than 140 students, faculty members and others were arrested on Monday night at a protest at New York University’s Manhattan campus.

At UC Berkeley, meanwhile, the “Free Palestine Camp” has grown over three days into a sit-in demanding their school sever its financial connections to BlackRock and other asset managers they see as complicit for financing genocide in Gaza. UC Berkeley holds a $427m investment in a BlackRock portfolio.

Some protesters are also calling for an academic boycott, which would end collaborations with Israeli universities and the establishment of a new Palestinian studies program.

Police responding to a demonstration at USC got into a back-and-forth tugging match with protesters over tents. As of 7pm local time more than a dozen people were arrested at the campus, according to a Los Angeles Times reporter on the scene. Video shows officers shoving students.

At Cal Poly Humboldt, a public university on California’s northern coast, the campus has been closed and classes are being held remotely after pro-Palestinian protesters barricaded themselves in a building for a sit-in. Dozens of students remain inside the building and have blocked entrances with furniture, according to the university, while others occupied another nearby building. Students there told the Sacramento Bee they felt compelled to take action.

“I think the solution is to get involved, because at least I can feel like I’m doing my part. Even if it’s not enough, I’m doing the best I can to make something of it. I find peace in that,” one student said.

At UT Austin, hundreds of local and state police – including some on horseback and holding batons – clashed with protesters, pushing them off the campus lawn and at one point sending some tumbling into the street.

A photographer covering the demonstration for Fox 7 Austin was arrested after being caught in a push-and-pull between officers and students, the station confirmed. A longtime Texas journalist was knocked down in the mayhem and could be seen bleeding before police helped him to emergency medical staff who bandaged his head.

Faculty at UT Austin will be striking in response to what they called a “militarized response” to a “peaceful, planned action”, stating on X that they are refusing to hold classes starting on Thursday.

At Columbia, the focal point of national student demonstrations, Shafik said on Wednesday that she had extended by 48 hours a deadline for talks with protest leaders for the dismantling of a tent encampment on Columbia’s west lawn.

Some Jewish students at Columbia said they had been physically blocked by protesters from attending classes, and subjected to racial hatred by demonstrators demanding a ceasefire in Gaza and for the university to divest from companies linked to Israel’s military operations.

Protest organizers blame outside actors for particularly inflammatory rhetoric against Jewish students.

Johnson’s visit to Columbia follows a number of other trips there this week by bipartisan groups of politicians. Three competing delegations attended on Monday, Axios reported, with the entirety of New York’s Republican congressional delegation demanding Shafik’s resignation, and Democrats criticizing her for not protecting Jewish students and faculty.

Joe Biden does not plan to visit Columbia when he visits New York on Friday, the White House and campaign officials told CNN. The White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said in a Wednesday statement that Biden believes free speech, debate and nondiscrimination are important on college campuses, adding that “students should feel safe on college campuses”.

The Associated Press contributed reporting

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