Police clear University of Chicago pro-Palestinian encampment

Mayor's office said Chicago police declined to participate in pre-dawn effort; Supt. Snelling says CPD was on standby

Wednesday, May 8, 2024
UChicago police clear pro-Palestinian encampment
Campus police broke down a University of Chicago encampment on Tuesday morning as pro-Palestinian college protests continue nationwide.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Police cleared a pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Chicago in Hyde Park Tuesday morning.

Campus police came in and dismantled the pro-Palestinian camp set up by students shortly before 5 a.m.

The raid was swift. Officers dressed in riot gear piled into the pro-Palestinian encampment in the early hours of the morning.

Crews came in with trucks, and removed the dozens of tents and cardboard signs that have decorated the U of C quad for nine days now.

University of Chicago police cleared the quad of a pro-Palestinian encampment Tuesday morning.

The student protesters who were staying there were removed by campus police and ushered outside the quad while crews worked.

Tensions rose at times as protesters came face to face with police. Officers physically pushed students farther back with yellow barriers.

ABC7 Political Analyst Laura Washington talks about the potential fallout from the clearing of the University of Chicago encampment.

"It was traumatizing," said UChicago professor Uday Jain with Faculty For Justice In Palestine. "And it's a miracle that no one was injured. It's really a miracle given the level of chaos that the police were causing."

RELATED: UChicago pro-Palestinian encampment marks 1 week; tensions run high amid dueling protests at DePaul

Then, around 8 a.m., campus police allowed students back into the quad after their removal process was complete.

"I think it's terrible. I think it's disgusting that we have militarized police at an educational space to break up a peaceful protest rather than resolving it through renegotiations, which were going well until the university decided to tank them itself purposefully," pro-Palestinian student protester Hassan said.

The University of Chicago president said safety concerns have mounted over the last few days, and risks were increasing too rapidly, saying "The protesters were given an opportunity to disassemble their structures and depart the encampment, and there have been no arrests. Where appropriate, disciplinary action will proceed."

A notice handed out to students said students will be placed on emergency interim leave of absence from the university. Those students will have to vacate university housing, leave campus and can't participate in student and academic program activities. The handout said they can't return to the university until they have been authorized to return from the leave and re-enroll.

Meanwhile, some faculty members supporting the student protest said they're disgraced by the police interference.

"To wait until the students are asleep, when they are so few people here," UChicago professor Eman Abdelhadi said. "Many people feel very traumatized and terrified. I had multiple students come up to me in tears just completely shaken by what happened here tonight."

Organizers said the movement will now take different forms, but their goals remain the same, which are ending genocide in Gaza and divesting from Israel.

"The encampment was just one manifestation of a broader movement and that movement is not going away. These demands are not going to go away," Abdelhadi said.

"We always say, 'We won't rest until you divest,' and that continues. This is not the end of our campaign," said Sammy, a UChicago student.

The Cook County Sheriff's Office said officers were asked to assist with traffic control only in the area.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson's office said in a statement that the Mayor's Office for Community Safety, Chicago Police Department and University of Chicago Police Department discussed a potential clearing of the encampment at 3 a.m. Tuesday.

Johnson's office said UCPD asked Chicago police to participate, but CPD raised operational concerns and "expressed an unwillingness to participate in a pre-dawn clearing of the encampment."

"UCPD ultimately decided to move forward with the removal independently. Mayor Johnson and the Johnson Administration continue to be committed to free speech and safety on all of Chicago's college campuses," the statement said.

But speaking to the ABC7 I-Team, CPD Supt. Larry Snelling downplayed any disagreement.

"They had a plan. They executed their plan. As the Chicago Police Department, if there had been help needed, we're always on standby," Snelling said.

Some students say they felt threatened by encampment

Some students said it's about time the university stepped in, with one Jewish group on campus saying they felt threatened.

Over the course of the encampment at U of C, there have been counter protests popping up.

Tuesday morning, Joshua Weisskopf, who is the the president of Maroons for Israel, said many student counter protesters were subject to hate speech at the encampment.

"There was a man there with a pit bull who is clearly part of the encampment hanging out with that crowd, and he like talks to his dog, saying, 'I think I smell some rats,' and stuff like that," Weisskopf said. "Other students have experienced antisemitism from people in the encampment. They've been harassed, and so it's generally creating an environment that's not positive and derogatory towards Jewish students."

There were other students who also wanted to see the encampment come to an end.

Perry Zhao is a U of C student who co-wrote a petition posted on Change.org to have the encampment removed.

It addressed the president of the university. The petition had over 2,500 signatures.

"I was happy that it ultimately happened," Zhao said. "I wish it would've happened earlier. That's why a bunch of friends and I started to write this petition because we realized that the longer the university held out, they would further enable these protesters to gather in larger numbers, and I don't want a second graduation canceled. I had my graduation from high school in 2020 canceled by COVID, and I wasn't going to passively stand by to watch a second leave."

"We just want the university to be properly functioning. These people have a way to express their ideas, but instead they chose to break these rules flagrantly," Zhao added.

Senior Declan Hurley also co-wrote the petition.

"The freedom of speech concerns don't really apply here, because what they did was monopolize the space for days on end. They prevented freedom of speech. They completely took over the quad and nobody else could exercise their free speech," Hurley said. "Just completely obstructed the quad for eight days, and it prevented people from moving freely, and many people felt unsafe."

Many are now asking: What is the path forward?

Maroons for Israel say they are planning to have a peaceful dialogue at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Bartlett Dining Hall. The invitation is open to all.

"I think it's very important that the school was able to reestablish order, so students could learn in conducive environments," Weisskopf said.

On Monday, a group of faculty members announced their support for the student protesters, with some saying they were prepared to be arrested. That came as the university said they suspended negotiations with the protesters.

Full Letter from UChicago President Paul Alivisatos:

"Last Monday and Friday, I shared how we would approach making decisions about the encampment. Protest is a strongly protected form of speech in the UChicago culture, and the demonstrators had multiple opportunities to express their views. But many aspects of the protests also interfered with the free expression, learning, and work of others. Safety concerns have mounted over the last few days, and the risks were increasing too rapidly for the status quo to hold. This morning, the University intervened to end the encampment.

"The protesters were given an opportunity to disassemble their structures and depart the encampment, and there have been no arrests. Where appropriate, disciplinary action will proceed.

"Over multiple days, including through the weekend, we engaged with the representatives of the encampment to work toward a resolution. There were areas where we were able to achieve common ground, but ultimately a number of the intractable and inflexible aspects of their demands were fundamentally incompatible with the University's principled dedication to institutional neutrality. As such, we could not come to a resolution.

"The University remains a place where dissenting voices have many avenues to express themselves, but we cannot enable an environment where the expression of some dominates and disrupts the healthy functioning of the community for the rest."