More than 130 arrested after UMass Amherst protesters once again set up encampment

Police clashed with and arrested more than 130 protesters on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus Tuesday night, after students reestablished an encampment in solidarity with Palestine.

“Further details on the charges and the schedule for arraignments will be forthcoming,” UMass said in a statement Wednesday. “Early this morning, UMass Police said 109 people had been booked and charges were pending for approximately 25 other individuals.”

The Daily Collegian, tracking the protest into the early morning, reported those arrested included faculty. Those arrests were also highlighted by the UMass Students for Justice in Palestine. The group also posted video showing protesters pushed down and restrained by police.

The Northwestern District Attorney’s Office said no arraignments for the arrested protesters would occur on Wednesday, but will be “over several days next week so as not to overwhelm the court.”

‘Absolute last resort’

The encampment on the campus lawn — and police response — was similar to those at colleges across the country. It was the second time in recent weeks UMass student protesters set up tents on campus. The earlier encampment ended peacefully, according to the administration, but under threats of arrest, according to students.

On Tuesday evening, UMass Chancellor Javier Reyes sent a campus-wide email saying he’d met with students, promised consideration of their demands from various university panels, and warned of arrests if the encampment remained.

“I asked the students to help UMass Amherst set a model for how civil discourse can progress by dismantling their encampment and engaging with us in constructive discussions – not further confrontations and outright violations of university policy and the law,” Reyes wrote.

Reyes wrote protesters declined to remove the “tents and barriers,” despite outreach from university staff.

“Moments ago, I asked the University of Massachusetts Police Department to begin dispersing the crowd and dismantling the encampment,” he wrote in the message, which was sent around 8 p.m. “Let me be clear – involving law enforcement is the absolute last resort.”

NEPM has asked a university spokesperson if there was a specific security threat on Tuesday night requiring use of the “last resort.” There was no response.

Rüya Hazeyen, co-president of Students for Justice in Palestine, was a protester who witnessed the arrests. She said it was extremely scary.

“It was a militarized zone — that’s all I can explain it as. It was not our campus. It was not a safe place,” Hazeyen said. “They keep calling it a riot and it simply was not a riot until the cops came and made it to be a riot. And even then, we were being peaceful.”

On Wednesday afternoon, hundreds of students showed up for a new protest outside the student union.

Criticism from faculty, staff, ACLU

A group called Faculty for Justice in Palestine released a statement questioning police tactics — and the chancellor’s efforts to find a solution.

“The police arrived *while* Reyes was negotiating with students — despite what he says, that cannot be considered negotiation in ‘good faith,'” the group wrote on Instagram.

Unions representing university staff and faculty said UMass “put the health and safety of the entire university at risk with its over-policing of campus.”

“UMass works because we, the staff, do, and we work because we care for our students–for their intellects as well as their physical safety,” read the statement, signed by the the Professional Staff Union chapters at UMass Amherst and UMass Boston, AFSCME Local 1776, the Graduate Employee Organization, the Massachusetts Society of Professors and University Staff Association. “Such beliefs cannot flower when the Administration’s response to protest is to call in the riot police.”

The ACLU of Massachusetts also released a statement critical of the UMass administration’s actions.

“Even if the university ultimately had a right to call in police, the question is whether it was wise to do so, or effective to do so,” the ALCU’s Carol Rose said in an interview Wednesday.

Rose said the experiences of other colleges, including Columbia University, show protests tend to grow in the days following clashes with police.

Rose said her organization will investigate the police response at UMass by interviewing those in attendance and requesting information from school officials.

“It’s not just only that it’s a public university, but that there actually were efforts to keep out the press, including student journalists and legal observers,” she said. “And that’s a concern, because transparency is a fundamental part of democracy.”

Asked to comment on the ACLU’s criticism, a UMass spokesperson defended its actions.

“UMass Amherst’s approach has been consistent with the values and protections of free speech while also ensuring the safety of our community and the viewpoint-neutral application of campus policy,” spokesperson Ed Blaguszewski said in an email Wednesday afternoon. “The demonstrators were told that they could continue their protest, as is their right, so long as their unauthorized, fortified encampment was dismantled. UMass Amherst officials did, in fact, engage in dialogue, and the university’s offers to continue that dialogue were rejected.”

The UMass Board of Trustees in backing Reyes’ decision, according to a statement released by the school on Wednesday morning.

“I want to offer the Board’s full and unwavering support for Chancellor Javier Reyes,” said Chairman Stephen Karam. “We have absolute confidence in his leadership, his integrity, and his commitment to our students.”

Protesters on the lawn of the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus on May 7, 2024.

Protester demands

In the afternoon, before tensions escalated, student protester Sam Martinez said organizers want UMass to begin disclosing and divesting from any investments or partnerships with arms makers.

“A big thing is divesting from war profiteers and divesting from a genocide in general. A big focus has been around Raytheon because it’s such a big weapons contributor to Israel,” Martinez said.

Associate professor Hoang Phan, a member of the group Faculty for Justice in Palestine, said the group’s demands are part of the broader Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement seeking, among other things, to end Israel’s war in Gaza.

“This is a peaceful nonviolence movement that is growing across the globe and you are now joining that BDS movement,” he told the crowd.

Vote of no confidence

Some students are hoping to meet with Reyes in the coming week to further discuss their demands.

Hadiya Ahmad is a member of the Student Government Association which has gathered enough signatures — more than 2,000 — to call for a vote of no confidence in Reyes.

She said students would rather have a dialogue first.

“We are going to use it to have open conversation with the chancellor and have them come in front of the undergraduate student senate and have him negotiate with us,” she said. “If he continues to still, you know, give us nothing, we will go forward with the no confidence vote.”

Students for Justice in Palestine are also circulating a petition calling for Reyes’ resignation. The university did not respond to a request for comment regarding the resignation or pending vote.

Disclosure: The license for NEPM’s main radio signal is held by UMass Amherst. The newsroom operates independently.

Disclosure: Some NEPM employees are in the Professional Staff Union at UMass Amherst. That affiliation does not affect how we cover the news.

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