Police at UNH arrest pro-Palestine protesters setting up encampment (2024)

DURHAM — Police took action to remove and arrest pro-Palestinian protesters who started setting up an encampment in front of the University of New Hampshire's Thompson Hall Wednesday night.

UNH Police Chief Paul Dean said protesters were arrested after a rally led to demonstrators attempting to set up an encampment at the state’s flagship university, drawing local and New Hampshire State Police. Some demonstrators shouted at police, calling them "cowards" and chanting "free Palestine."

On Thursday, UNH announced there had been a total of 12 arrests: 10 students and two people not affiliated with the school. The charges were disorderly conduct and trespassing, according to UNH.The scene mirrored demonstrations on campuses across the United States in solidarity with Palestinians in the wake of Israel’s military response to a deadly Oct. 7 attack by Hamas.

The Palestine Solidarity Coalition, a student group, held the rally on the lawn in front of Thompson Hall at 5 p.m. Wednesday. The “May Day” event, advertised on social media as a “labor solidarity with Palestine” on International Workers Day, was orchestrated alongside numerous university and non-school-affiliated organizations, including the Jewish Voice for Peace Vermont/New Hampshire and New Hampshire Youth Movement.

The peaceful event lasted until around 6:30 p.m. Then, Dean said, protesters rushed in to form an encampment and attempted to barricade their tents. Arrested protesters were taken to the Strafford County jail in Dover, according to Dean, who said he was not immediately aware of any injuries Wednesday night.

“When they went to set up the tents, it was clear to me that the majority of people were not affiliated with the university,” Dean said.

Police at UNH arrest pro-Palestine protesters setting up encampment (2)

A student applied for a permit to hold the solidarity event, according to Dean. University spokesperson Tania deLuzuriaga said the permit barred tents.

“It explicitly said that they're not permitted to have any tents with signs,” she said. “That’s standard for all the UNH permits that are issued.”

Arrested protesters and their supporters at the jail late Wednesday night were approached for comment but declined to speak on the record.

A statement issued by deLuzuriaga on behalf of UNH Wednesday night cast doubt that all those who participated in the encampment attempt are students in Durham.

“Over the past six months, students supporting Palestine have peacefully protested on campus at least seven times,” she said. “Despite much communication with organizers regarding the university’s expectations for conduct when exercising their free speech rights, those guidelines were ignored today. Protesters erected tents in an attempt to create an encampment on UNH property.

“While we will always protect free speech on our campus, UNH belongs to every citizen of New Hampshire and we will not allow it to be co-opted by a small group of protesters, including outside agitators,” de Luzuriaga added.

Students roamed up and down Main Street as protesters were met with law enforcement, with some demonstrators screaming at police before being forced into vans and driven away. Some passersby antagonized demonstrators and supporters of the encampment, some of whom were brought to tears by the removal of the encampment and the arrests.

Leftover tents and items on Thompson Hall's lawn were removed by police around 9 p.m., loaded onto a truck as dozens of students watched. As the encampment was cleared, fireworks were shot off in the distance.

Protests follow thousands of lives lost in Israel and Gaza

About 1,200 people in southern Israel were killed and more than 200 taken hostage in the Hamas-led attack on Israel on Oct. 7. The Israeli retaliatory assault has killed nearly 35,000 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, and obliterated much of the enclave's infrastructure. The humanitarian crisis has fueled outrage on some U.S. campuses and spurred demands for an end to investment in Israeli companies and amnesty for student protesters. There have also been reports nationally of outside groups getting involved with the campus protests.

At UNH on Wednesday night, police remained long after the encampment was cleared and students and passersby dispersed.

Shane Tilton, a sophom*ore, lives in a nearby residence hall and said he walked over to observe after hearing the commotion, as did student Armaan Sinha.They watched from beneath the Thompson Hall arches as the encampment was removed from the most well-known gathering spot on campus.

“I’ve never felt this much tension on campus,” Tilton said. “I feel like there’s a lot of tension. From my perspective, it seems like the cops don’t have much to do here. They seemed like they were here to jump at this opportunity and see some action.”

“It’s surreal being here and seeing it,” Sinha said.

ACLU of NH criticizes police response; UNH chief explains actions

Police at UNH arrest pro-Palestine protesters setting up encampment (3)

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire condemned police’s actions Wednesday night in Durham and at a similar protest at Dartmouth College in Hanover.

Devon Chaffee, executive director of the state ACLU, said police stepped in too rapidly on both campuses.

“While the situation is still developing, we are highly concerned that police, many in riot gear, appear to have moved quickly and forcefully into protests at the University of New Hampshire and Dartmouth College campuses. Use of police force against protestors should never be a first resort,” Chaffee said in a prepared statement.

“Freedom of speech and the right to demonstrate are foundational principles of democracy and core constitutional rights," Chaffee added. "We urge university and government leaders to create environments that safeguard constitutionally protected speech. While the ACLU of New Hampshire does not take a position on the conflict in Israel and Palestine, we are committed to ensuring freedom of expression and association, including on college and university campuses in New Hampshire."

UNH's permit for Wednesday’s event prior to the start of the encampment was issued to a graduate student of the university, according to Dean, the UNH police chief. “There's nothing in the permit that allows for (encampments). This is a public space here for all and you can't take over a public space. They knew that."

Law enforcement arrived between 30-45 minutes after the encampment formed, Dean said, stating he was the only police officer in attendance at the 5 p.m. rally before the scene evolved.

“We waited for support before we went in because that's the prudent thing to do,” he said. “We didn't want injuries. We didn't want to get into a fight with people. We simply wanted to enforce the law.”

Dean said he was pushed and assaulted by a person involved with the encampment, who was then arrested.“We revoked the permit. We declared it an unlawful assembly, and we asked them to pack up their encampment and leave,” Dean said. "They chose to barricade themselves in here. We gave them three opportunities before the state police, UNH police and Durham police came in and moved them, and we made arrests.”

Many of the demonstrators Dean believes to be non-students “ran when we began to move them. Our hope is that this won't happen again. And there's some lessons learned. Peaceful protest is absolutely supported. This wasn't about peaceful protest in the end, up until the point where they took over this space here, for the rest of the university, for the rest of the public.”

The tents in the brief encampment were set up around the flagpole in front of Thompson Hall, which demonstrators initially formed a human chain around before police moved in to disperse the crowd. Footage posted to social media shows police, some in riot gear, pushing back the crowd toward Main Street. Chants erupted, with protesters yelling at law enforcement, “It is right to rebel! Terrorist pigs, go to hell!”

All seized property from the encampment will be held on to by police to be returned to their owners, Dean said.

“This is not how we expected this to happen,” Dean said. “We put our trust in the event organizers because they’ve been trustworthy up until this point and I’m just disappointed that this had to happen, but it was necessary to happen. My police officers did a great job tonight, and all of law enforcement that was there did a great job tonight. It was a difficult night.”

The Palestine Solidarity Coalition at UNH posted on social media in the wake of the arrests, calling on activists to come to the county jail for support.

Classes will be held Thursday in Durham, Dean said.

USA TODAY reporting is included in this report.

Police at UNH arrest pro-Palestine protesters setting up encampment (2024)
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