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A demonstrator is arrested Saturday by Chicago police officers as they cleared an encampment set up for several hours by students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to protest the Israel-Hamas war

A demonstrator is arrested Saturday by Chicago police officers as they cleared an encampment set up for several hours by students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to protest the Israel-Hamas war.

Anthony Vazquez

Pro-Palestinian camps remain at Chicago-area campuses

Several pro-Palestinian encampments remained Sunday at Chicago-area campuses after nearly 70 people were arrested at the School of the Art Institute.

They are among about 2,500 people who have been arrested at about 50 campuses nationwide since April 18.

In Chicago, campus encampments stayed in place through the weekend, many with scheduled programming of religious ceremonies and classes that were sometimes interrupted by counter-protesters.

Henna Ayesh, a student organizer with Students for Justice in Palestine at DePaul, said she was proud of how the encampment responded to dozens of counter-protesters gathering near the encampment Sunday afternoon. She said organizers had been running de-escalation training for days to prepare for these interactions and that encampment protesters remained peaceful, despite recent depictions in the media of the protesters as violent.



The pro-Palestine encampment at DePaul University on Sunday. Organizers say counter-protesters tried to create conflict, but they used de-escalation techniques to maintain peace.

The pro-Palestine encampment at DePaul University on Sunday. Organizers say counter-protesters tried to create conflict, but they used de-escalation techniques to maintain peace.

Isabel Funk

However, she said the counter-protesters were “not so reluctant” to restrain themselves — a video circulating on X appears to show a student being beaten with an Israeli flag, though Ayesh said the protester received medical treatment and is doing well.

“We were very peaceful, we’re using our voices, non-violence, but it was actually the other side, the counter-protesters, actually imposing that on us,” Ayesh said. “We had protesters throwing rocks and sticks at us, they were saying Islamophobic statements.”

Concerns of violence from counter-protesters and police was one reason Ayesh said the encampment has been running de-escalation training, which direct them to avoid engaging with instigators to keep each other safe.

A similar confrontation happened when counter-protesters confronted the encampment at the University of Chicago on Friday, causing brief scuffles and prompting campus police to show up in riot gear. Organizers are now asking supporters to be ready to mobilize within the next day.



University of Chicago police keep watch as pro-Palestinian protesters and counter-protesters rally at the encampment on the quad Friday afternoon.

University of Chicago police keep watch as pro-Palestinian protesters and counter-protesters rally at the encampment on the quad Friday afternoon.

Ashlee Rezin

Ongoing negotiations

Despite this, the protesters said they were able to get the university to agree to establish a Gaza Scholars At Risk program that would bring eight Palestinian scholars to work and study at the school before the university ended negotiations and issued a midnight deadline Sunday evening for the encampment to be dismantled, according to UChicago United organizers and UChicago Faculty for Justice in Palestine.

“We’re here to demand that UChicago end its material support for ongoing genocide and violence, and today they show that they would rather attack students, neighbors, faculty, and graduate workers with police than stop funding the slaughter of men, women, and children in Gaza,” said UChicago United for Palestine organizer Ameera in a statement Sunday night.

However, a University of Chicago spokesperson said no midnight deadline was given — saying it had “sent no such communication” — and that no concessions were made before talks were suspended, noting the Scholars at Risk program already exists, though people in Gaza could apply.

“There are material inaccuracies and mischaracterizations in the information being shared on social media,” the school said in a statement. “The program is open to scholars throughout the world. All scholars impacted by this conflict are being encouraged to participate. In addition, UCPD presence on the Quad has fluctuated based on needs and circumstances and at no point did we reduce — or agree to reduce — the security presence based on negotiations.”

Five days after an encampment was established at Northwestern, the university agreed to disclose information about any investments to people associated with the university within 30 days of an inquiry, re-establish a committee to advise on investments with student representatives and fully funding tuition for five Palestinian undergraduate students, among other things — in exchange for the encampment being reduced to one aid tent.

The 200 to 500 protesters at DePaul remain focused on pressuring the university to meet their demands, Ayesh said.

Protesters have met twice with the administration since forming the “Liberation Zone,” and Ayesh said negotiations have been going nowhere. Some of the demands, she added, could be met immediately, like calling for a cease-fire or using direct language to describe what’s happening in Gaza, in addition to financial transparency.

“I’m a Palestinian student, I want to know where my money is being invested in, I do not want it to go to my family suffering,” she said. “They refuse to say the word ‘Palestine,’ and when they do, it’s in reference to terrorism. ... As a Palestinian student, I don’t want to be called a terrorist. I’m fighting for liberation.”

SAIC Protesters Released

Student organizers say all of the almost 70 people arrested at a pro-Palestinian encampment set up outside the Art Institute of Chicago have been released from police custody.

School of the Art Institute of Chicago students with the groups SAIC Students for Palestinian Liberation and SAIC United for Palestine established an encampment about noon Saturday in the museum’s North Garden, near Michigan Avenue and Monroe Street.

Organizers have called on the school and museum to disclose its investments, give amnesty to demonstrators and divest from those supporting the “occupation of Palestine.”

The CPD says officers spent a little more than two hours negotiating with demonstrators to clear the area. About 4:30 p.m., police began making mass arrests at the request of museum officials, taking 68 protesters into custody.



Police from a barrier outside an encampment at the School of Art Institute Chicago in the Loop, Saturday, May 4, 2024.

Police from a barrier outside an encampment at the School of Art Institute Chicago in the Loop, Saturday.

Anthony Vazquez

Protesters were told they would be charged with criminal trespass to property. The Cook County state’s attorney’s office did not respond to requests for comment, and Chicago police haven’t released updated information as of Sunday evening.

SAIC United for Palestine said more than half the protesters arrested were held in custody for more than 11 hours. In a statement posted to Instagram early Sunday morning, the group wrote that some protesters still hadn’t been allowed to make a call.

The school accused protesters of stealing keys and a radio from a security guard as well as blocking emergency exits near the encampment, among other things. The school said it brought CPD in after talks stalled.

“We will continue to allow peaceful demonstrations,” president Elissa Tenny and provost Martin Berger wrote in a statement Sunday. “But given the escalations we’ve seen in the protests over time, we wish to notify the school community that those who engage in future activities that jeopardize the safety of our community or the public, or disrupt academic operations, will be subject to disciplinary action.”

Organizers said they “strongly disagree,” with the statements released by the museum.

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