Police dismantle UW-Madison anti-war encampment protests, but tents return • Wisconsin Examiner (2024)

  • Education

Dozens arrested, but most released without charges

Campus and state police officers broke up University of Wisconsin-Madison students’ anti-war encampment protest Wednesday morning — physically removing tents and arresting several protesters in the process.

A total of 34 people were arrested, the UW-Madison Police Department said Wednesday afternoon, but most were released without being given citations. Four people were booked into the Dane County Jail.

By late afternoon, however, some tents had returned and the UW-Madison encampment site was peaceful. Over 15 tents were again set up on Library Mall and students were spread out across the lawn eating, talking and screen printing t-shirts.

Hours earlier the protest was entering its third day when officers arrived shortly before 7 a.m. and began issuing warnings to people to leave the encampment and remove the tents to avoid being cited or arrested. Video posted by the Daily Cardinal showed students encircling several of the tents as officers issued the warnings.

Shortly after the warnings, officers forced their way in to remove the tents. The removal was led by the UW Police Department and assisted by the Madison Police Department, the Dane County Sheriff’s Office and the Wisconsin State Patrol.

Students at UW-Madison started the encampment on Library Mall on Monday morning, joining protests happening across the nation against Israel’s ongoing attacks on Gaza, which have killed over 30,000 people, as part of the country’s war against Hamas. The students are demanding that the university cut ties with Israel.

Marc Lovicott, UW-Madison Police executive director of communications, told reporters that the main issue was the tents.

“We remain on the scene here to ensure everyone is safe and things remain peaceful. We are not asking protesters to leave. We support their constitutional right to be here, but the main issue we moved into today is because they were in violation of Chapter 18, which does not allow camping or camping equipment on campus properly,” Lovicott said.

According to a statement by UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin, approximately 30 protesters were cited and several others, who police said resisted their action to remove tents or otherwise interfered with the operation, were arrested.

Camping on university lands is prohibited unless it is on an area specifically designated as “picnic or camping grounds” or is authorized by the university’s chief administrative officer, according to state law. Mnookin had said she wouldn’t authorize the encampment protest.

According to the UW Madison police, three Dane County deputies were injured as well as a state trooper, who was struck on the head with a skateboard by a protester.

Of the four people arrested, one — who was affiliated with the university — was charged with battery to a police officer, the UW-Madison PD said Wednesday afternoon.According to UWPD, three Dane County deputies were injured as well as a state trooper, who was struck on the head with a skateboard by a protester.

Dahlia Saba, a member of UW-Madison’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and a first-year graduate student, said students were sleeping on the lawn when officers showed up.

“The police came in, they told people that they had to leave. Students got out of their tents and the police started clearing out people’s stuff,” Saba told reporters. “They took people’s belongings, they destroyed the tents and then we saw them start to attack students.”

Saba called the action “shameful.”

“All of this is to show that our chancellor, our administration would rather attack the UW-Madison community directly than listen to our demands to ask that they simply end their complicity in an ongoing genocide,” Saba said.

Throughout the first two days of the protest, things were mostly peaceful, with students hosting teach-ins, talking and eating at the site. The tents, however, were an issue for university administration.

On Monday night, UW-Madison issued a statement saying that university officials would be willing to talk to students if they stopped camping. On Tuesday, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers weighed in on the protests, saying, “at some point in time, the encampments have to go. Whether that’s done voluntarily or not. We will eventually take action if we have to.”

Lovicott said police were brought in on the third day because officers and the administration “finally reached a point where a decision was made that Chapter 18 had to be enforced, and that’s what we did.”

The police move to dismantle the encampment Wednesday “was a decision made by campus police,” Lovicott said. “It was a group decision made by administrators.”

Police quickly detained Samer Alatout, a UW-Madison associate professor who was present at the protests throughout the week, once officers started to work to dismantle the encampment. He said he thought he was targeted by officers.

“It’s really isolated to the only Palestinian-American professor who is in defense of the group of students, and they targeted me specifically for violence,” Alatout said. “They did not come to me and say, ‘come with me.’ They pushed me to the ground.”

Alatout said he was released and told that he would receive a citation. He then returned to the protest with cuts and blood on his face.

“They hit me with the shield several times… hit me in the face and they hit me several times,” Alatout said. “I’m feeling okay. I told them I don’t want them to clean it because really, I mean they have to face the f—ing responsibility of what they did.”

Alatout, who told the Examiner on Monday that he hoped the university would avoid the “militarization” seen at other college campuses across the U.S., said encampment participants tried to find a different way forward.

“We tried. I think the administration’s position is that [they] are the power. The students are not the power and therefore they were like ‘We are not going to talk to the students unless the tents come down,’” Alatout said. “Students refused and they refused that precisely because the tents became a symbolic kind of expression around the United States, about Palestinian resistance and resistance in favor of Palestine.”

Sami Schalk, a UW-Madison associate professor of gender and women’s studies, was also detained during the protest and eventually released.

“I’ve been released & am at the hospital to be checked out for injuries,” Schalk wrote on social media. “A cop grabbed my dress & ripped it half off my body, injuring my arm. Another put his hands around my throat from behind to get me on the ground.”

Students at the protest cheered when law enforcement left at around 9 a.m., taking confiscated tents away in a truck. All but two of the tents were cleared away. Some students chanted “Chancellor Mnookin shame on you, you imprison students too,” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

Shortly after police officers left, Dean of Students Christina Olstad and Argyle Wade, chief of staff to the vice chancellor of student affairs, arrived at the protest, where they were met by screaming from students.

Students also said that they would be getting more tents, and were starting to set more up by late morning. By noon, about 15 tents were back up on Library Mall, and groups of police were watching from the side.

Mnookin said in a statement following the removal of the tents that students were free to resume peaceful protests if they remained within university guidelines.

“Now that the tents have been removed, and as long as protest abides by campus and state rules and policies, members of my leadership team stand ready to continue to listen to the concerns of the members of our community involved in this week’s protest. This was a condition we communicated to protesters repeatedly,” Mnookin said.

Reacting to the day’s events, Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman commended Mnookin for her “reasonableness and resolve, as well as her commitment to free expression and the safety and security of her students.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) called the removal of the encampment a “good move” and thanked Mnookin for “doing the right thing by enforcing campus policies and standing up to that unruly mob.”

Others were more critical of the university’s decision to remove protesters. State Rep. Ryan Clancy (D-Milwaukee) called the move an “unnecessary escalation that flies in the face of the values the university claims to uphold.”

“The same law that prohibits camping also prohibits picnics, which happen in these exact same spaces on a near daily basis during warm weather,” Clancy said. “The decision to enforce this policy — and how to enforce — is entirely up to the discretion of chancellors.”

ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Dr. Melinda Brennan said in a statement that responding to “peaceful acts of dissent” with police makes things worse and dangerous. She said that students shouldn’t be sanctioned for participating in non-violent, peaceful acts of civil disobedience.

“Inviting armed police into a campus protest environment can create unacceptable risks for all students, faculty, and staff,” Brennan said.

This report has been updated.

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Police dismantle UW-Madison anti-war encampment protests, but tents return • Wisconsin Examiner (2024)

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