Defying police violence, students extend encampments for Palestine

By John Catalinotto 
May 1, 2024

Reports from Workers World correspondents, supplemented by social media, give a feel of the breadth and depth of the student movement that has spread across the United States since the first encampment began April 17 at Columbia University in New York City.

While some of these universities are considered elite — Columbia, Harvard, Yale — others are state and city universities whose student body is majority working class. Some schools have a history of political activism, others an absence of that history.

Whatever the reason, when the first university administrations facing their “problem” called in cops to clear the encampments, the result was to widen support on campus and spread the encampments to more universities, in other states and finally to other countries.

Within two weeks a movement in the United States, whose existence few people had anticipated, became a factor in the battle against colonialist oppression. Those students who have yet to take part need to be concerned that future generations will ask them, “What did you do in 2024 to stop genocide in Gaza?”

Metropolitan State University encampment, April 28, 2024, Denver.

Colorado – Students, supporters mobilize after arrests

Students set up a tent city April 26 on the Auraria campus of Metropolitan State University in Denver, joining the call for all universities to divest from Israel and for an end to the occupation and genocide in Gaza. At least 100 police officers stood at the edge of the field while police cars blocked all city streets entering the downtown campus.

Approximately 40 students were arrested the first day of the action. But supplies were being gathered by supporters, including the Palestine Coalition and Jewish Voice for Peace, by evening as skies threatened rain and snow. Since that first day, hundreds of protesters have joined, setting up more tents.

Mayor Mike Johnston visited the campus and had to face tough questions from the protesters. The police have retreated. The rain and snow subsided, and supporters came with food, flowers and more blankets.

Texas – riot-clad troopers on horses attack students

At the University of Texas in Austin on April 24, the Palestine Solidarity Committee called for students to walk out of class and gather for programming in support of Palestine. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called on over 100 state troopers with orders “to clear them out.” That decision led to over 70 arrests by riot-clad troopers, some on horseback.

Videos immediately circulated of the brutal arrests. Most of those arrested were people of color. Ironically, the troopers arrested a reporter for the cop-friendly Fox News. In a post on X, Abbott joined those who falsely accused demonstrators of “antisemitism.”

According to the Houston Chronicle of April 26, over 200 members of the UT faculty had signed an open letter being circulated by the UT Austin professors’ union. The faculty have called for a vote of no-confidence in the UT president in response to the arrests and are also protesting recent layoffs at UT. Many faculty who had been part of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program were laid off or moved to other departments.

Emory College, Atlanta, April 28, 2024.

Georgia – Students resist police terror

Emory University’s reputation as an elite institution, with its impressive buildings, manicured lawns and scholarly image, was torn to shreds April 25 as Atlanta police and Georgia State Patrol assaulted an encampment of pro-Palestine and Stop Cop City Emory students on the University’s Quad. Dozens of videos appeared on television screens and social media platforms that broadcast images and sounds of the military-style attack, showing scores of officers with long guns in hand, deploying tear gas and pepper balls.

Groups of two, three or more uniformed police would take down a single student, often by surprise, and roughly handcuff them. At least three professors who had been observing from the sidewalk were taken into custody along with 20 or so students and other allies.

Defying the repression, hundreds of students  and community members gathered on the Quad again the next day. Some 400 faculty members of the College of  Arts and Sciences met and agreed to hold a no-confidence vote against Emory President Gregory L. Fenves for his repressive response to student protest. They are demanding his resignation.

A faculty and staff walkout and speakout are planned for noon on April 29 on campus to call out the police brutality and “affirm demands for divestment from Israel and Cop City.”

It was Georgia State Patrol officers who killed Forest Defender Manuel Teran aka Tortuguita on January 18, 2023, shooting them 57 times. No charges were filed against the six State Patrol members involved.

Gov. Brian Kemp drove a false narrative by immediately praising the cops and falsely accusing the protesters of  “promoting terrorism.”

On April 29 at the University of Georgia campus in Athens, students were attacked before beginning their rally. University police and Georgia State Police arrested 16 students and community members, charging them with “criminal trespass.” Mostly Black women and Muslims were arrested first.

Other Atlanta area campuses, including Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State and the Atlanta University Center, have seen solidarity actions with Palestine over the seven months of genocide in Gaza. President Biden has been invited to give the commencement address at Morehouse College May 19 despite objections by many students, faculty and alumni at the historically Black men’s school whose most well- known graduate is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

New York colleges

Ever since Columbia University set up a Gaza Solidarity Encampment on April 17, followed by police arrests of 100 plus participants, other encampments have sprung up throughout New York City. The main demands of the encampments are to stop the U.S./Israeli genocide of Gaza and for schools to divest all funding to Israel, especially weapons technology that allows the apartheid state to continue its terrorist occupation of the Palestinian people.

Following in Columbia’s footsteps, other encampments have been established, including at City College of New York (CCNY), Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), Fordham University, The New School and New York University.

CCNY encampment demands, North Campus, April 25, 2024

At City College students called on people to come April 25, expecting police to move in on them, and police looked like they would. But the crowd was big and surrounded the police, who then decided to leave. It was possible for non-students to walk up to the encampment and engage the students in discussion. Law students explained to others the best way of engaging with the police to protect the encampment.

Fashion Institute students set up encampment in museum, April 25, 2024.

Fashion Institute students, who had been holding one-day actions earlier in the year, started an encampment with a maneuver. Marching along 27th Street, they reached the Goodman Museum at Seventh Avenue, made a quick turn to the right and slipped inside, starting the encampment.

‘You brought tears of joy to Palestinians’

At a street rally on April 28 that gathered dozens of neighbors from nearby apartment buildings, FIT encampment organizers invited Workers World Party First Secretary Larry Holmes to speak. Holmes said to the students, “You have brought tears of joy to Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank. … They’re so happy with what you are doing here. You are a wave of revolution that is sweeping the world.”

Student encampment raises its demands, April 25, 2024. City College, New York.

Despite threats made by city authorities, especially Mayor Eric Adams, to unleash riot police to shut down the encampments with arrests, the students, along with sympathetic faculty members, are determined to resist such repression. Until their demands are met, they, along with the other encampments countrywide, will not come down without a fight.

Picket line at New School in New York City, April 22, 2024. Solidarity with Palestine.


Outside NYU’s business school, New York, April 22, 2024. Students later moved encampment to Washington Square Park.

By the middle of April 29, most sources were reporting at least 75 active encampments, which had spread beyond the U.S. to McGill in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, to Paris and to some universities in North Africa and West Asia.

Toni Arenstein, Diane Mathiowetz, Monica Moorehead, Gloria Rubac, Brenda Ryan and Vivian Weinstein contributed to this article.