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Police push pro-Palestine protest off University of Utah campus

People set up a protest encampment in support of Palestine at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Monday, April 29, 2024. (Photo by Spenser Heaps for Utah News Dispatch)
Spenser Heaps
Utah News Dispatch
People set up a protest encampment in support of Palestine at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Monday, April 29, 2024. (Photo by Spenser Heaps for Utah News Dispatch)

This story is republished from the Utah News Dispatch through the Creative Commons. You can find more information about the Utah News Dispatch here.

The University of Utah’s Presidents Circle turned into a protest encampment on Monday afternoon, joining a national movement demanding that U.S. universities stop their business with companies and entities that fund Israel’s role in its war with Gaza.

Hundreds of students rallied and a few dozen committed to camp until the university hears and takes action on their demand.

Meanwhile, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, the Utah Department of Public Safety, University of Utah Police Department, and Salt Lake City Police Department posted on X saying that while First Amendment right to free speech would be respected, any unlawful activity — including property damage, unlawful assembly or camping, threats, or violent acts — would not be.

Key Events

1:25 AM: 17 protesters arrested, none injured

11:36 PM: Officers move in on pro-Palestine protesters at University of Utah

10:26 PM: University of Utah issues statement affirming right to protest does not include right to camp

10:03 PM: Democratic legislative leaders support university protesters

9:49 PM: Law enforcement warns students to remove tents

9:25 PM: Elected officials speak against violence

8:57 PM: University of Utah graduation scheduled for next week

8:33 PM: University of Utah students set up camp, planning to stay until the school cuts ties with Israel supporters

17 protesters arrested, none injured

By: Kyle Dunphey and Alixel Cabrera - Tuesday April 30, 2024

Just after midnight, the University of Utah Department of Public Safety issued a statement saying 17 protesters had been arrested, and none were injured.

Officers removed about a dozen tents from campus, while others were taken down by protesters who then left on their own. A hatchet was also confiscated, the department said.

The department said one officer was injured; no details about the seriousness of the injury were provided.

From about 10:45 p.m. to midnight, a group of more than 150 police officers from a number of departments — including University of Utah, West Valley City, Salt Lake City, Unified, Utah Highway Patrol, West Jordan and more — pushed the group of protesters west, down the lawn of Presidents Circle toward University street. Most were wearing riot gear — body armor, knee pads, helmets with face shields. Some carried riot shields, while others had less lethal weapons designed for dispersing crowds.

Protesters had formed a line, but as police sporadically charged the group, many of them dispersed — each time police advanced, the group became smaller. Some protesters threw water bottles and other objects at police, which often resulted in officers charging and trying to detain the person. The line of police trampled protesters’ tents, as organizers frantically tried to pack up their belongings.

Officers say one man was reaching for a rock when he was shot by a 40mm round, a less lethal weapon that can shoot small pellets. The pellets hit several people, including at least one credentialed journalist.

Protesters and police alike taunted each other — as protesters backed down the green, they yelled expletives at police. “We’re f****** students,” one person shouted. “I pay to go to school here!”

“Come here and give me a hug,” one officer yelled at protesters. “Go home! Go home to your mama,” shouted another.

By midnight, police had pushed the protesters onto University street. That’s when officers rushed the man who had previously been shot by the 40mm, tackling him and arresting him on the sidewalk. They arrested another protester nearby in a similar fashion.

“I’m on the sidewalk. I’m not even on campus!” shouted the man as officers were handcuffing him.

Just after midnight, a small group of about 10 to 20 people remained, still yelling at officers. By 12:20 a.m., police began to disperse — officers from West Valley were first to pull back, and other agencies soon followed.

By 12:45 a.m. the street was mostly clear.

Back on the lawn at Presidents Circle, trash and supplies littered the lawn, with tents from the protesters who intended to stay the night in tatters.

Last updated: 1:34 am

Officers move in on pro-Palestine protesters at University of Utah

By: McKenzie Romero, Kyle Dunphey and Alixel Cabrera - Monday April 29, 2024

Just before 11 p.m., after protesters chanted “why are you in riot gear? There is no violence here” and circled their camp hand in hand, law enforcement officers with shields and masks formed a line and marched toward protesters.

Officers then walked in a line toward the group and began detaining some individuals and pulling up tents.

Protesters were seen shouting at law enforcement, using profanity and calling them “disgusting.” Another woman told demonstrators that officers were attempting to “corral you, they are trying to move you like cattle” and urging protesters to “outsmart” law enforcement.

By 11:25 p.m. many of the tents — about 15 — had been taken down. Protesters who remained continued to chant “free Palestine.”

University of Utah issues statement affirming right to protest does not include right to camp

By: McKenzie Romero - Monday April 29, 2024

Just before 10:15 p.m., a University of Utah spokesperson provided an update about the warnings being given to protesters by law enforcement and warning that the right to free expression “includes reasonable limits.”

The statement reads:

The University of Utah affirms the right of every student, staff, and faculty member to express diverse viewpoints, debate issues, and otherwise engage in free expression. Such expression includes reasonable limits as enumerated in the First Amendment, Utah Administrative Code, and University of Utah Speech Policy.

Consistent with these limits, students, faculty, and others do not have the right to set up structures or camp overnight on University of Utah property. Protestors are being notified and will receive multiple warnings to disperse. If protestors fail to comply with the law University of Utah police in collaboration with Salt Lake City Police and the Utah Highway Patrol will disband the structures and make arrests as needed.

The University of Utah will continue to preserve and protect the right to free speech on our campus within the reasonable limits established under law.

Last updated: 10:26 pm

Democratic legislative leaders support university protesters

By: McKenzie Romero - Monday April 29, 2024

As the protest at the University of Utah moved into the night, Utah Senate Minority Leader Sen. Luz Escamilla and Utah House of Representatives Minority Leader Rep. Angela Romero issued a statement in support of the demonstration, so long as it remains peaceful.

“We stand with all individuals exercising their fundamental right to engage in peaceful protests on university campuses. Peaceful protest is a longstanding and powerful form of expression in our nation’s history, and has continuously engaged communities and spurred meaningful change.

This democratic cornerstone amplifies diverse voices and provides opportunities for ideas to be added to the conversation. We recognize the importance of respecting different perspectives and engaging in dialogue to address change. Protesting is an opportunity to listen, learn, engage, and unite. We don’t condone violence or violation of state laws. We encourage respect for the rights and safety of all participants and the broader community.”

Last updated: 12:47 am

Law enforcement warns students to remove tents

By: McKenzie Romero and Alixel Cabrera - Monday April 29, 2024

Shortly before 9:30 p.m. a law enforcement officer with a microphone addressed the protesters, reading a warning from the University of Utah that anyone setting up tents or camping overnight is in violation of state law and the university’s free speech policy.

“Please take your tents down immediately. If your tents are not taken down, they will be removed by law enforcement,” the officer read.

The officer warned of consequences for students, faculty and community members who don’t comply:

  • Students face university discipline ranging from probation to suspension, and criminal trespass and disorderly conduct charges.
  • Faculty and staff face university discipline including up to termination, and criminal trespass and disorderly conduct charges
  • Community members face criminal trespass and disorderly conduct charges.

The warning didn’t include a deadline for protesters. University of Utah’s public safety department shared the full statement online.

Officers repeated the warning about 15 minutes later.

Last updated: 9:50 pm

Elected officials speak against violence

By: Alixel Cabrera - Monday April 29, 2024

As University of Utah students settled their tents and waved Palestinian flags, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said in a social media post on X that while he defends the First Amendment, those rights don’t protect “violence, threats to public safety, property damage, camping or disruptions to our learning institutions. We will protect protestors and arrest those who violate the law,” he wrote.

Utah House Speaker Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, also made a statement on the social media platform, stating “universities are centers for education, not arenas for disruptive protests.” The state must act decisively, he said, if demonstrations interfere with learning, threaten safety, cause damage or violate the law.

“The state will enforce rules rigorously and take strong measures to stop protests that cross the line. We will not tolerate chaos or threats to Utah’s universities,” Schultz wrote.

Classes at the university ended for the semester on April 23, according to the school’s website. Finals are set to end Wednesday.

As of 9 p.m. the protests remained peaceful and relatively quiet.

University of Utah graduation scheduled for next week

By: McKenzie Romero and Alixel Cabrera - Monday April 29, 2024

A few students took graduation photos nearby even as the demonstration was happening, in preparation for the University of Utah’s commencement ceremonies, scheduled next Thursday, May 2, at 6 p.m.

Additionally, college convocations will be taking place on campus through May 17.

Though Krysta Morrison, a 22-year-old history and sociology major, is set to graduate this semester, she is willing to give up her diploma handout moment, as she believes that even worrying about the ceremony is “selfish” and “a privilege.”

“I do think what has happened at other college campuses almost makes me want to do it even more,” Morrison said. “Because there’s been such a harsh response to it.”

She would like to see more funding transparency, she said, and a move from the university to divest from companies that support the Israeli occupation.

The U.’s 2024commencement speakers include Eboo Patel, an American Muslim and founder and president of the nonprofit Interfaith America.

“We provide expert consultation, training, curricula, and resources to positively engage religious diversity. We value collaboration, developing robust institutional partnerships to leverage interfaith cooperation as a proven approach in solving challenges,” the organization states on the Mission & Vision page of its website.

For the past year, Patel has contributed as an impact scholar at the University of Utah.

The student speaker will be Eron Powell, a biology graduate from Emmett, Idaho.

University of Utah students set up camp, planning to stay until the school cuts ties with Israel supporters

By: Alixel Cabrera - Monday April 29, 2024

“We want our university to divest, disclose, cut all ties with Israel and war profiteering companies,” Christopher Loera-Peña, a 22-year-old student organizer, said on Monday while his peers, joined by a few faculty members and other supporters, chanted and installed the last tents on the lawn.

Loera-Peña spent his weekend preparing and organizing the protest, an initiative of Mecha de U of U, a socialist student club that advocates for the rights of people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. The encampment was inspired by the movement initiated at Columbia University, which resulted in the arrest of hundreds of students across the country, he said.

“The university is deeply implicated and responsible for what’s going on in Palestine. They tried to say that they’re not political, that they don’t have a stance on this,” Loera-Peña said. “But the reality is like our president, Taylor Randall, a few days after Oct. 7, he literally went to a memorialcommemorating (Israel Defense Forces) soldiers, the same people who have murdered Palestinians, bomb hospitals.”

Loera-Peña is not planning on staying overnight, as he has already faced other charges from past protests and is avoiding more serious repercussions, he said.

“But even though I have charges, I’m still out here. I’m still helping organize this. And we have so many people who have stepped up to be campers at a higher risk of arrest,” he said. “And I think that just shows how strong our movement is.”

Students at the University of Utah protest in support of Palestine, calling on the school to divest from Israel and joining student demonstrations across the country, on Monday, April 29, 2024. (Alixel Cabrera/Utah News Dispatch) Dozens of the University of Utah Police officers remained watchful throughout the afternoon in fluorescent vests while students chanted “resistance is justified when people are occupied,”

“not another penny, not another dime, we won’t pay for Israel’s crimes,” among other rallying calls.

“I think this is just an attempt to intimidate us. They’re trying to make us scared,” Loera-Peña said. But, he added, historically, similar demands have been met before.

“Our government takes taxes … and sends it to Israel, sends it to fund war, to bomb kids, bomb hospitals, or schools. And we need to understand that that money could be used for other things like school, housing, health care; at the university, lower tuition, guarantee student housing,” he said. “Now we all have a role to play and we should be out here in the streets.”

Sahar Al-Shoubaki, a humanities professor at Salt Lake Community College, joined the students as well to show solidarity and build pressure, she said.

“(We are asking) for the institution, the administrators to listen to the students because their students are what they are here for, not any other settler colonial entity outside,” she said. “Our tax dollars should stay here for investment in students, not in bombs to kill women and children and men.”

In the 10 years she has been teaching at the college, she hadn’t seen a similar level of support for this cause, she said.

“This is a huge shift. This is new. The new generation knows what’s up,” she said. “You cannot silence them anymore. You cannot fool them.”

As the sun set, people left and joined the protest, some drivers honked their horns in support as they passed by the encampment.