Police disband pro-Palestinian student encampments across the US

<span>Police gather after ejecting a group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators off the University of Arizona campus in Tucson on 10 May 2024.</span><span>Photograph: Kelly Presnell/AP</span>
Police gather after ejecting a group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators off the University of Arizona campus in Tucson on 10 May 2024.Photograph: Kelly Presnell/AP

Police moved in to disband several pro-Palestinian student encampments on US campuses on Friday morning as the foment over protests against academic ties with Israel over the war in Gaza continued to roil academia.

Tent encampments at the University of Pennsylvania, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Arizona, Tucson, were all dismantled in early morning raids that saw cordons of police sweep in and clear the makeshift protest settlements. In Tucson teargas was used, and demonstrators responded by throwing bottles at officers.

At the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, police in tactical gear formed a circle around the encampment that had been on campus for more than two weeks. Student protesters had been demanding that the Ivy League institution divest from companies doing business with Israel as a response to Israel’s ongoing military operation in Gaza.

The clearing of the encampment came hours after the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro, applied pressure on the university to take action. Speaking on Thursday night, he said it was “past time for the university to address this, to disband the encampment and to restore order and safety on campus”.

Related: Nearly all Gaza campus protests in the US have been peaceful, study finds

Pro-Palestinian campus protests began to proliferate across the US three weeks ago when students at Columbia University in New York became the first to pitch tents. Since then police have arrested more than 2,600 people on 50 campuses, according to the Associated Press.

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, about 100 police officers moved in at 4am on Friday and began clearing the protest site at MIT of tents, tarps and flags. Demonstrators chanted nearby.

Erica James, a professor of medical anthropology who has advised a group of faculty acting as a link between MIT students and the school’s administration, spoke to the Boston Globe as the police action was happening. “I understand there are a lot of different pressures that the administration is facing, but I wish that it had been possible for there to have been a little more time to see if mediation could have worked,” she said.

Some of the most violent scenes to erupt in the early hours of Friday occurred at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Police fired pepper balls at protesters who carried homemade shields made of wooden pallets, and teargas was used to clear the encampment.

In a statement issued on Thursday night, the university said it had initiated “a zero-tolerance approach to enforcing its campus use policy to protect the campus, students, faculty, visitors and university events”. The statement said that rocks and water bottles had been thrown at officers and university staff and that “those who have violated the law are subject to arrest and prosecution”.

Police also broke up a pro-Palestinian demonstration on the campus of George Washington University in Washington DC overnight. The confrontation came just a day after the GWU encampment was dismantled after two weeks of protests.