“Abhorrent and Barbarous”: The Crackdown on Campus Gaza Protests Faces Pushback

Progressives in Congress are demanding an end to the brutal police assaults on students protesting the U.S.-backed Israeli war on Gaza.

Jake Johnson

Police officers clear a pro-Palestinian encampment at UCLA on May 2, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Qian Weizhong/VCG via Getty Images)

Progressive members of the U.S. Congress on Wednesday demanded an end to nationwide police attacks on pro-Palestinian campus protests following violent raids and mass arrests at universities across the country, from Columbia in New York City to the University of South Florida in Tampa.

The continued repression and violence against anti-war student activists and their allies by Columbia University, NYPD, and Mayor [Eric] Adams is abhorrent and barbarous,” Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) wrote on social media. The nationwide crackdown on protesters must end.”

More than 300 demonstrators were arrested at Columbia and the nearby City College of New York late Tuesday alone, bringing the total number of arrests at dozens of universities across the U.S. to more than 1,000.

In a statement Tuesday, Bush said she was appalled” by the police response to demonstrations at Washington University in St. Louis, which is in the Missouri Democrat’s district.

The police brutality, mass arrests, suspensions, evictions, and wholesale bans on access to the St. Louis campus are inappropriate, unacceptable, and outright shameful,” said Bush. Washington University administrators have joined the disgraceful nationwide trend of violent, aggressive responses by university administrators and local law enforcement aimed at curbing the rights to free speech and assembly by students, faculty, staff, and community members.”

Violently assaulting and injuring people who are courageously advocating for peace and justice for Palestinians and Israelis alike is unconscionable,” she added. I know from experience that these actions are traumatizing and dangerous; they do nothing to address the underlying issues and simply fuel more violence against nonviolent protesters.”

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Bush is part of a growing chorus of progressive lawmakers, advocacy organizations, and human rights experts condemning U.S. universities for siccing police officers on nonviolent demonstrators who are pushing their schools to divest from companies profiting off Israel’s war on Gaza and criticizing the Biden administration’s continued support for the Netanyahu government.

Like many on Capitol Hill and across corporate media, President Joe Biden has attempted to cast the protests as antisemitic,” giving tacit support to efforts to disband them and prompting warnings that the White House is further alienating young voters.

Summoning excessively armed, militarized police onto college campuses to violently arrest unarmed students engaged in nonviolent protest — students surviving and matriculating through the mass shooting generation — is shameful, misguided, and inhumane,” Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.) said late Tuesday. Student protests against injustice are not new. From Birmingham to Kent to Soweto, we’ve seen the devastating results of excessive police force. History has sided with the students every time. Political and university leaders’ should know better than to repeat condemned history.”

Video footage and photographs that have gone viral in recent days show police officers assaulting students, professors, and journalists in an attempt to crush a campus protest movement that has spread across the nation over the past two weeks.

Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now, said Wednesday that the use of city police to dismantle peaceful protests on college campuses in the United States, coupled with proposed legislation to punish Americans for criticizing Israel, is a dangerous assault on our democracy and a sign of the very creeping authoritarianism infecting so much of the world.”

The Biden administration has been a shameful accomplice in sacrificing American free speech and civil society at the altar of Israeli interests and demands,” Whitson added.

In a floor speech on Wednesday, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) — a longtime educator and former school principal — said that in the past he’s had guns pulled on him multiple times by law enforcement simply for being a Black man in America.”

Now I see guns being drawn on peaceful protesters at Columbia University,” said Bowman. When I was 11 years old, I was a victim of police brutality simply for being Black in America. And now I see that brutality being inflicted on peaceful protesters at Columbia University. And for what? Simply for exercising their First Amendment rights to peacefully assemble as they protest the collective punishment and murder of civilians in Gaza.”

Are we in a police state, or is this a democracy?” the New York Democrat asked. We must stand with our young people and demand justice and freedom for Palestinians and everyone in this world.”

The outspoken progressive support for the student protesters comes as police crackdowns continued on campuses across the country, with dozens more students arrested Wednesday at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Georgia, and other schools.

Responding to police repression at Florida universities, ACLU of Florida interim executive director Howard Simon said Wednesday that cracking down on peaceful protestors is likely to escalate — not calm — the tensions on campus, as events of the past week have made abundantly clear.”

Threatening students with expulsion from their university or deportation from the country does not align with the obligations of public officials to respect First Amendment rights regardless of the point of view that is being expressed,” said Simon. Universities are meant to be havens for robust debate, discussion, and learning — not sites of censorship where administrators and politicians squash political discourse they don’t approve of with threats, arrests, rubber bullets, and tear gas.”

This story was first posted at Common Dreams.

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Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams. Follow him on Twitter: @johnsonjakep
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