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Police again arrest pro-Palestinian protesters setting up camp at UT Austin

Police detain a protester during a demonstration on UT Austin campus Monday.
Michael Minasi
/
KUT News
Police detain a protester during a demonstration on UT Austin campus Monday.

Police have arrested at least a dozen demonstrators at an encampment on the south lawn of UT Austin's campus. An attempt to "occupy" the campus last week led to 57 arrests.

Around 100 protesters gathered around midday Monday with tents and blankets. They held signs that said, "Divest from genocide," "UT supports war crimes" and "Free Palestine."

Like Wednesday's protest, officers from the UT Police, Austin Police Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety came to the scene. The state troopers — who carried batons, face shields and zip ties — stood arm and arm to create a physical barrier between the tower and the lawn. As at least two dozen officers gathered at the mall, protesters chanted, "Off our campus" and "You failed Uvalde."

Protesters stood with linked arms on the lawn. Police pulled them apart and arrested some but not others — it's unclear why.

UT Police issue multiple orders to disperse throughout the protest, accusing protesters of disorderly conduct and trespassing, and threatening arrest.

As temperatures rose into the high-80s in the afternoon, protesters called for medics. Some people took to social media to ask for water at the encampment.

Late Monday afternoon, protesters moved away from the lawn and toward 22nd and Guadalupe to block a van from leaving with those who were arrested. Police responded by throwing flash-bangs and pepper-spraying the crowd; some people hit were only a couple feet away. The crowd then scattered, and the van left.

UT Austin characterizes the protest as potentially violent

In a statement Monday afternoon, the university implied the protest could get violent. The school said it has received "extensive online threats from a group organizing today's protest," which it reported to law enforcement. Protesters on campus "ignored repeated directives" to remove their tents and "physically engaged with and verbally assaulted" UT staff members trying to take them down. The school also said baseball-sized rocks were "found strategically placed" on the lawn.

KUT asked the university for more details about the online threats and who made them but have not heard back.

In its statement, UT repeated a claim it has made over the past several days that protests are being organized or attended by a significant number of people unaffiliated with the university.

Sebastian Robledo, a second-year film student at UT, attended Wednesday's and Monday's protests. He disagrees with that assessment.

"I'd say 2% of the people here are outsiders, but the rest of us are students," he said. "[Protesters are] people who live here in Austin, who live here in the dorms."

He called what's going on unfair.

"We can't voice our own opinions and have cops come and show up," he said. "It's not right. It's not fair. It's our First Amendment speech."

The latest in a series of campus protests

The demonstration comes just a few days after police arrested 57 people during a pro-Palestinian protest. Wednesday's protest, organized by the student organization Palestine Solidarity Committee in Austin, called for a ceasefire in Gaza and for UT to divest from weapons manufacturers that provide supplies to Israel. Those arrested were charged with criminal trespassing, but the charges were dismissed.

UT Austin President Jay Hartzell and Gov. Greg Abbott called in state troopers to break up Wednesday's protest. In emails to the campus community, Hartzell cited the organizers' "intent to occupy campus" and the influence of groups outside of UT as reasons for the university's response. He said 26 of the people arrested "had no UT affiliation."

There have been protests at the same place on campus every day since Wednesday, according to social media posts from local groups supporting Palestinians. That includes a UT faculty-led protest on Thursday that criticized the university's decision to bring in police. Only UT Police — not APD or state troopers — responded to that protest.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Copyright 2024 KUT News. To see more, visit KUT News.

Chelsey Zhu
Audrey McGlinchy is the City Hall reporter at KUT, covering the Austin City Council and the policies they discuss. She comes to Texas from Brooklyn, where she tried her hand at publishing, public relations and nannying. Audrey holds English and journalism degrees from Wesleyan University and the City University of New York. She got her start in journalism as an intern at KUT Radio during a summer break from graduate school. While completing her master's degree in New York City, she interned at the New York Times Magazine and Guernica Magazine.