Chicago police clear out pro-Palestinian DePaul quad encampment; 2 arrested

Anti-war protest had been in place for over 2 weeks

Friday, May 17, 2024 2:01AM
DePaul University pro-Palestinian protest encampment removed
After police cleared the DePaul University pro-Palestnian encampment, demonstrators held a rally vowing to keep their protests up.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago police cleared out a pro-Palestinian encampment on DePaul University's Lincoln Park quad Thursday morning.

Officers in protective gear were seen on the North Side campus just before 6 a.m. The encampment had been in place for over two weeks; it began on April 30.

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At a protest outside the DePaul student center Thursday evening, hundreds of demonstrators rallied and then marched in the streets, with calls for the school to divest from Israel, despite negotiations with the university being at a standstill for days.

"We are here. We have our demands, and we will continue to push until this administration actually gives us a response," said Parveen Mundi, student government president.

In a letter to faculty, staff and students early Thursday, DePaul President Robert L. Manuel said, "despite our good faith efforts to come to a shared resolution with the DePaul Divestment Coalition, we were unsuccessful."

He said since the encampment began, "the situation has steadily escalated with physical altercations, credible threats of violence from people not associated with our community, an inability for the other members of our community to take part in the core academic experiences on our campus, and an ever-growing series of threats to the people involved in the encampment and our community members."

The letter said those in the encampment were given the opportunity to leave peacefully, without being arrested.

READ MORE: DePaul pro-Palestinian encampment reaches 2-week mark, as protesters refuse to leave quad

Police quickly cleared out the site, and protesters moved down Fullerton Avenue. No physical confrontations could be seen, but some protesters claimed police forcibly removed them.

"They come in the morning, and they roll up with how many cars, all that, over 500 cops, all with batons and hands, riot masks on, while people are asleep," demonstrator Cootz said.

But even as dozens of the students rallied to be let back in, University Officials disclosed what they said were more than 1,000 complaints they have received since the encampment was established, including a death threat. Pictures of weapons, among them several knives and a pellet gun, recovered this morning were also released.

"It is clear the encampment is now attracting outside threats to both those inside of it, and those around it," the school said in a statement.

And while protesters may be disappointed, for many of those who live in the surrounding area the removal comes as a relief. Residents said they've been uncomfortable ever since pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli demonstrators clashed for several hours on May 5.

"It was a tinderbox and the longer the encampment stayed the larger the magnet it would become for something terrible to go wrong," said Brian Comer, resident and president of the Sheffield Neighborhood Association.

Chicago police held a news conference shortly after the action, saying there were no confrontations but two people were arrested.

"All individuals who were inside the encampment voluntarily left. No confrontations. There was no resistance," said Chief of Patrol Jon Hein.

Police also said there were videographers with them Thursday to help refute any claims of violence.

Chicago police gave an update after the DePaul encampment was cleared.

A man and woman, ages 21 and 25, were arrested for obstructing traffic on Belden Avenue, police and DePaul said. Police said both have been processed and released.

Protesters moved into the neighborhood after being cleared out of the quad, and police blocked some roadways in the area.

As of about 11 a.m., a group had gathered outside a gas station on Fullerton, across from DePaul's campus, expressing their outrage over the morning raid.

"I'm disheartened, I'm disappointed and I'm angry that the community that we have fought so hard to build, a community that's been nothing but peaceful to this point in time is being dismantled," said Simran Bains, with the DePaul Divestment Coalition. "From the beginning, administration was pushing this agenda that we were chaotic, unorganized, disruptive, violent, when that has most certainly not been the case. It seems very clear that they were determined to get us out of here no matter what the price to pay was for the students actually staying on the encampment."

The DePaul president said during the encampment, protesters vandalized university buildings, causing nearly $180,000 in damage. By Thursday afternoon, no tents remained on the quad, only yellow patches of grass.

DePaul's quad and all other green spaces on the school's Lincoln Park campus will be closed to everyone while repairs are made, the president said.

"I left a bunch of stuff that was in my tent. I at this point in time have no idea where any of my things are," said Bains.

RELATED: Protesters deny DePaul University's request to vacate encampment as negotiations 'are at an impasse'

"Anyone who tries to breach the fence around the quad or any of the green spaces on the Lincoln Park Campus will be trespassed, arrested, and suspended. DePaul will continue to investigate every reported complaint of harassment or discrimination that we receive resulting from the encampment or subsequent events," he said.

Trucks have moved in to clear out trash, and crews set up fencing to block anyone from entering the quad, which was littered with debris. The school said classes will proceed as scheduled Thursday.

Students told ABC7 Chicago they were preparing for and coming up with plans in case the university tried to forcibly clear the encampment themselves.

DePaul's was one of the last remaining anti-war encampments in the Chicago area. Throughout the last month, college campuses across the country have seen large-scale protests.

"It is shameful that DePaul chose to abruptly and violently engage in a raid on students early in the morning without warning. I condemn their use of force rather than engaging in dialogue with the students. I am proud of the students for being the voice of reason," Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez said in a statement.

The president of the Jewish United Fund said Jewish students were subjected to hate speech and the encampment was becoming increasingly unsafe.

"It was a relief for us as a community, and I think more importantly it was for the people who live around this neighborhood and most important for the students who have felt really quite threatened and intimidated, and have disrupted their entire two weeks of school," Lonnie Nasatir said. "We had several calls from Jewish kids and not Jewish students saying that 'I can no longer get to my class. I'm scared; I'm worried.' We had to move several Jewish kids out of the places where they live because they couldn't get to sleep at night. They felt intimidated and threatened."

Alderman Timmy Knudsen, who represents the 43rd Ward, released a statement Thursday, saying:

"This morning, CPD and DePaul University campus security took action to remove the DePaul encampment. We are in touch with university leadership and City officials and will keep residents updated as we learn more about the next steps for the area.

"Please click here for a detailed explanation from DePaul.

"As the conflict in the Middle East continues, we will continue to advocate for the City to balance a commitment to upholding First Amendment rights to protest, while ensuring our neighborhoods remain safe."

The Rev. Michael Pfleger also put out a statement, saying, "Very Disappointed in DePaul University for having CPD close down the Encampment this morning Msgr Jack Egan would be Ashamed of you. Demanding Disinvestment from Israel due to the Apartheid taking place in Gaza is our very Catholic roots. And the DNA OF OUR FAITH. A sad day for DePaul University."