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Police deployed on US campuses as Gaza war protest unrest simmers

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At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology protesters dug in, blocking an avenue near the centre of the campus in Cambridge during the height of Wednesday afternoon’s rush hour commute.

Protesters are taken into custody at the University of Texas at Dallas’ Chess Plaza on Wednesday. Photo: Juan Figueroa/The Dallas Morning News via AP

And dozens of police cars patrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles in response to violent clashes overnight when counterprotesters attacked an encampment of pro-Palestinian students.

The University of Texas Dallas saw police remove an encampment and arrest at least 17 people for “criminal trespass”, the school said.

For Columbia University’s Chinese, pro-Palestinian protests evoke sympathy, fear

Demonstrators have gathered in at least 30 US universities since last month, often erecting tent encampments to protest the soaring death toll in the Gaza Strip, and to demand schools divest from companies that support Israel’s government.

The ensuing police crackdowns echoed actions decades ago against a much larger protest movement protesting the Vietnam war.

An Associated Press tally counted at least 38 times since April 18 where arrests were made at campus protests across the US. More than 1,600 people have been arrested.

The sight of helmeted officers at two of America’s most prestigious universities left some students dismayed.

“I don’t think we should have a heavy police force on campus,” UCLA student Mark Torre, 22, said as he surveyed the scene from behind metal barriers.

“But more and more, day by day, I think it’s a necessary evil, to at least keep safety on campus.”

At Columbia and at the City University of New York, where police cleared out demonstrators overnight, some students decried the police behaviour.

“We were assaulted, brutally arrested. And I was held for up to six hours before being released, pretty banged up, got stomped on, got cut up,” one CUNY student who gave his name only as Jose said.

A medical student offering treatment to detainees as they were released described a litany of injuries.

“We’ve seen things like severe head traumas, concussions, someone was knocked unconscious in the encampment by police, someone was thrown down the stairs,” said the student, who gave her name as Isabel.

About 300 arrests were made at Columbia and CUNY, Police Commissioner Edward Caban said.

Mayor Eric Adams blamed “outside agitators” for ratcheting up tensions. Columbia students have denied outsiders were involved.

University president Minouche Shafik, who has come under fire over her decision to call in police, said the turn of events “filled me with deep sadness”.

A pro-Palestinian protester gets pepper spray rinsed off at UCLA in Los Angeles. Photo: Reuters

“I am sorry we reached this point,” she said in a statement.

The protests have posed a challenge to university administrators trying to balance free speech rights with complaints of criminal activity, antisemitism and hate speech.

The administration of US President Joe Biden – whose support for Israel has outraged many protesters – has also tried to walk that line.

“We believe it’s a small number of students who are causing this disruption, and if they’re going to protest, Americans have the right to do it in a peaceful way within the law,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

Biden’s rival in the November election, Donald Trump, voiced his full-throated support for the police response at Columbia.

“It was a beautiful thing to watch. New York’s finest,” he told a rally in Wisconsin.

“To every college president, I say remove the encampments immediately, vanquish the radicals and take back our campuses for all of the normal students.”

Meanwhile, protest encampments elsewhere were cleared by the police, resulting in arrests, or closed up voluntarily at schools across the US, including Portland State in Oregon, Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona and Tulane University in New Orleans.

Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg, Associated Press

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