Philly Police have cleared Penn’s Pro-Palestinian encampment and arrested 33 protesters (2024)

Police on Friday disbanded the 16-day old pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Pennsylvania, less than 24 hours after Gov. Josh Shapiro called for its removal and over the objections of free speech advocates. At times, the scene on College Green in the heart of the Ivy League campus appeared like a game of cat and mouse, but it escalated over 48 hours into a full takedown by police, similar to what has happened at some campuses across the nation, such as Columbia University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The move at Penn had been under discussion as a possibility for at least nine days as Penn officials tried unsuccessfully to come to an agreement with student protesters over the activists’ demands and sought help from city police in preparing to remove the encampment and its inhabitants when and if they felt it necessary.


By the time they were done executing their plan, 33 people had been arrested without incident — nine of them Penn students — and cited for defiant trespass, a university spokesperson said. Penn did not say who the other 24 were, but noted that none were Penn-affiliated. Two faculty members originally detained, one with handcuffs, were let go.

Those arrested received a civil or code violation, which is the equivalent of a ticket that will not create a criminal record, but may include a fine, according to Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner.

» READ MORE: Protesters march through University City after Penn encampment disbanded: ‘When they destroy, we build’

Penn police began the process at 5:30 a.m. with support from the Philadelphia Police Department and gave those at the encampment multiple warnings to leave and avoid arrest, the university said.

“Our community has been under threat and our campus disrupted for too long,” Penn leaders said in an email to the campus Friday morning. “Passion for a cause cannot supersede the safety and operations of our University.”

In the email, President J. Larry Jameson, Provost John L. Jackson Jr. and Craig R. Carnaroli, senior executive vice president, said access to College Green, where the approximate 35-tent encampment had been set up, would be restricted until further notice.

The action brought immediate praise from some leaders, including Gov. Shapiro and Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.), as well as the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, which said, “it had become increasingly clear over the past two weeks that the encampment fostered an atmosphere of intimidation and harassment, particularly towards Jews on campus.”

But it brought disappointment and condemnation from other leaders, including Councilmember Jamie Gauthier and State Rep. Rick Krajewski, (D., Philadelphia) and faculty groups, including the Penn chapter of the American Association of University Professors, Penn Faculty for Justice in Palestine and the chair of Penn’s faculty senate, who resigned Friday.

“One word, abhorrent,” said Dagmawi Woubshet, an associate professor of English, who is a member of Penn’s Faculty For Justice in Palestine.

Mayor Cherelle L. Parker said city police agreed to assist after it became clear student protesters and the school administration could not come to an agreement. She said her administration worked closely with Krasner and that a variety of officials attempted to mediate the situation to facilitate an end to the encampment, to no avail.

The university first requested help from the city on May 1 and Philadelphia police provided Civil Disorder Training to Penn Police over three days this week, Parker and other city officials said in a statement.

“We are thankful that the clearing occurred without violence,” they said.

On Thursday, Shapiro, speaking at an event in Westmoreland County, called on Penn to remove the encampment, noting a more unstable situation in the past 24 hours.

Penn, however, had made its decision before Shapiro’s comments. Such a large tactical effort would be hard to organize in less than 24 hours. The university’s decision was triggered shortly after the encampment expanded on Wednesday.

An early morning move in

Philadelphia police dressed in riot gear with zip ties and shields stood alongside Penn police as dozens of protesters chanted with their arms linked around the base of the university’s iconic Benjamin Franklin statue, as the dismantling got underway.

Walnut Street traffic was blocked by police cars at 33rd and 34th Streets and lined with several police vans.

Nada, who asked that her last name not be used out of fear of retaliation, was sleeping at the encampment when a voice said, “You have two minutes to leave the property or you will be arrested.”

The Drexel University student said everything moved swiftly after that.

“We didn’t even have time to collect the art we have been building for the last 15 days, including hand sewn flags,” Nada said.

Just before 7 a.m., police attempted to drive a van transporting students who had been detained but a group of seven faculty members made a human chain to stop it from passing.

Students chanted, “faculty with students, Free Palestine.”

But by 8:30 a.m., most signs of the Gaza solidarity encampment were gone. University staff had piled in a heap all the tents, lawn chairs, pillows, Palestinian flags and signage in support of Gaza.

Once the final dump truck pulled away, facilities staff began to take down the barricades that had enclosed the encampment, leaving only the tent outlines.

The protesters are part of a national movement on U.S. college campuses calling for universities to disclose their funding sources and divest their endowments from entities benefiting from the ongoing war in Gaza, where the death toll for Palestinians has surpassed 34,000 following the Hamas attack on Israel in October, which resulted in 1,200 deaths and hostages being taken.

Criticism and support

At Penn, protesters are also calling on the university to provide amnesty for pro-Palestinian students facing discipline over past protests. Penn has so far placed at least six students on leave and evicted one of them, an international student, from campus housing for participating in the encampment.

Tulia G. Falleti, chair of Penn’s faculty senate, in announcing her resignation as chair, said she is “heartbroken” at the university’s decision to dismantle the encampment.

“I am … no longer confident of my ability to work collaboratively with our administration that has sent in the police to arrest its own students, staff, and faculty for participating in a nonviolent protest,” Falleti said in a three-page letter.

Falleti, who will maintain her position as a political science professor and director of the Center for Latin American and Latinx Studies, noted that the faculty senate executive committee on Thursday agreed to encourage the administration and encampment negotiating team “to keep negotiating in good faith, to de-escalate, and to seek a peaceful resolution.”

Woubshet, member of Penn Faculty for Justice in Palestine, said Penn should have followed the lead of other universities, including Rutgers, that came to peaceful agreements with their protesters.

Chi-ming Yang, a professor of English and also a member of the faculty group, said it is particularly upsetting that the dismantling occurred amid negotiations between the students and the administration. Three sessions had been held.

“It’s completely immoral,” she said.

Woubshet, who is Black and was one of the faculty members originally detained by police, said he was handcuffed for several minutes, while his female colleagues, who were white and Asian, were not handcuffed.

“I started asking, ‘I am a faculty member. Why am I being handcuffed?’ I heard another officer in a hushed tone say ‘Take it off. Take it off.’”

But others in the Penn community were supportive of the move.

Benjamin Abella, professor of emergency medicine, wishes Penn had acted earlier but also said he “respected the fact that this is a delicate situation.”

Abella was one of the leaders of a petition with more than 3,000 signatures from faculty, students and alumni calling on Penn to take the encampment down. He and others delivered the petition to Jameson last week.

“It’s sad that it came to this,” he said. “Ultimately, the administration and the police acted professionally and calmly and certainly did the right thing.”

University leaders said they could not permit further disruption of Penn’s academic operations or risk students being prevented from taking exams or participating in commencement, scheduled for May 20 at Franklin Field.

“The protesters refused repeatedly to disband the encampment, to produce identification, to stop threatening, loud, and discriminatory speech and behavior, and to comply with instructions from Penn administrators and Public Safety,” they wrote. “Instead, they called for others to join them in escalating their disruptions and expanding their encampment, necessitating that we take action to protect the safety and rights of everyone in our community.”

Nor could they acquiesce to protesters’ demands, including granting amnesty to encampment participants or divesting from companies profiting from military efforts in Gaza.

“Penn remains unequivocally opposed to divestment, and it is unlawful for institutions receiving funding from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” the university said.

Escalating tensions between protesters and the Penn administration, the encampment had expanded Wednesday night as a large crowd gathered and the Benjamin Franklin statue was again defaced. On the statue’s forehead, protesters drew an inverted red triangle, which has conflicting meanings as a reference to a Palestinian flag and the target markers used in Hamas’ tactical videos. The triangle appeared to have been washed off of Franklin’s forehead by Thursday morning.

But on Friday, two small red triangles appeared on gray tape at the statue’s base, with the words “intifada until victory.”

In recent days, others colleges, including Columbia, have used police to remove pro-Palestinian encampments. More than 2,900 protesters have been arrested across 100 campuses nationwide, according to The Intercept.

Whether this will be the end of encampments at Penn for the semester remains to be seen. At some other universities, they were reerected after arrests. Could that happen at Penn?

“Anything is possible,” said Yang, one of the professors with Faculty for Justice in Palestine.

Staff writers Nate File, Anna Orso, Chris Palmer, Nick Vadala, Ariana Perez-Castells, Rob Tornoe, Gillian McGoldrick, Jesse Bunch, Beatrice Forman, and Ellie Rushing contributed to this article.

Philly Police have cleared Penn’s Pro-Palestinian encampment and arrested 33 protesters (2024)
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