7 Duke students among those arrested at UNC encampment

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Seven Duke students were among those arrested April 30 at the “Triangle Gaza Solidarity Encampment” on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s campus.

According to records obtained by The Chronicle from the UNC Public Records Office, eight members of the Duke community were arrested by UNC Police between 6 and 6:30 a.m. April 30 at Polk Place, where the encampment was set up.

The eight Duke affiliates are included in the total count of 36 protesters who were detained, cited and held by UNC Police in Gerrard Hall on UNC’s campus the morning of April 30. Six of 36 were transported at 9 a.m. to the Orange County Courthouse, where they were released on bond with a written promise to appear in court at a later date. The 30 remaining in custody on campus were released on site within hours.

The “Triangle Gaza Solidarity Encampment” began April 26 as a joint effort by the UNC, Duke and North Carolina State University chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine. Participants’ demands included acknowledging what they describe as “the ongoing genocide in Palestine,” full transparency of UNC investments, divestment from companies they say are “complicit in this genocide” and ending UNC’s study abroad programs to Israel, according to an April 26 Instagram post by UNC SJP.

The encampment was entering its fifth day when UNC administration called in police forces to enforce the demonstrators’ dispersal from Polk Place.

UNC’s interim chancellor, Lee Roberts, and provost, Christopher Clemens, had issued a statement at 5:30 a.m. April 30 mandating protesters “remove all tents, tables and other items and depart” from Polk Place by 6 a.m. Law enforcement — including a number of officers from other North Carolina universities — arrived at 6 a.m. and began arresting those who remained on the quad.

Two members of the Duke community — one undergraduate student and one recent Class of 2024 graduate — were among the six protesters who were arrested and brought to the Orange County Courthouse. They were each charged with one count of second-degree trespassing and one count of resist, delay and obstruction of law enforcement, which are both misdemeanors.

According to the arrest records, the students “remained on scene after being given a lawful order to vacate the space by University officials and UNC Chief of Police Brian James.”

The records also noted that once detained, “the individual[s] continued to resist the processing efforts of officers by refusing to move, forcing officers to carry the individual[s] throughout a majority of the process. The individual[s] also interfered with the processing efforts inside Gerrard Hall by yelling, screaming [and] stomping their feet on the floor.”

“The six that are arrested — they were charged with more serious offenses, quite frankly,” said Orange County District Attorney Jeff Nieman in a May 3 television interview with ABC11.

In addition to the trespassing and resist, delay and obstruction charges, two of the six brought to the magistrate were also charged with assaulting a government official, which is a Class A1 misdemeanor under North Carolina law — the most serious class. They are not affiliated with Duke.

The six protesters with two or more charges are scheduled to be tried by the State of North Carolina later this month at the Orange County Courthouse.

The six remaining arrestees with Duke affiliations were each charged with one count of second-degree trespassing. They include one professor, two undergraduate students, two graduate students and one Class of 2024 graduate.

The six Duke affiliates with one citation are scheduled to be tried by the State of North Carolina in July — three at the Chapel Hill Courthouse and three at the Orange County Courthouse.

“... [O]n April 30th, UNC admin deployed police from throughout North Carolina to violently raid our camp while we slept, which resulted in detainments and arrests of 36 of us from across Duke, UNC, NC State, Meredith College and numerous community organizations,” wrote the arrestees with Duke affiliations, who declined to comment individually, in a May 15 email to The Chronicle.

“... We condemn the normalization of police violence and repression on our campuses and in our public spaces. At the same time we acknowledge that this violence pales in comparison to the horror that Palestinians in Gaza are currently facing,” they added, reiterating their demands for Duke to “disclose and divest … [and call] for an immediate and lasting cease-fire.”

Duke administration did not respond to The Chronicle’s request for comment about the arrests, possible violation of the Community Standard or other University policies governing conduct, or Duke students’ participation in the encampment.

Of the other 28 arrestees who are not affiliated with Duke, 10 are students at UNC-Chapel Hill, two are UNC alumni, three are students at other North Carolina universities and 13 are of unknown affiliations.

Duke Academics and Staff for Justice in Palestine organized a fundraiser to support the 36 arrested protesters, which received over $50,000 in donations as of May 18. The organization is “prioritizing funds to UNC student” arrestees, who were suspended May 1, but they noted that funds would “also go toward supporting all arrestees as material needs arise.”

The encampment’s aftermath

After the early morning arrests, police cleared Polk Place of protesters by 7 a.m. and removed “significant debris” soon after, according to a statement made by UNC officials later that afternoon. Barricades were installed around the flagpole at the center of the quad by 9 a.m.

The protesters reconvened at Polk Place around noon for another demonstration, which featured chants and speeches by student organizers.

Around 2 p.m., a number of students removed barricades around the flagpole and replaced the American flag with a Palestinian flag. Roberts later restored the American flag, flanked by police officers who forcibly removed students guarding the flagpole.

The campus began operating at Condition 2 of Adverse Conditions at 3:16 p.m., meaning classes were canceled for the remainder of the day and non-mandatory operations were suspended.

Students largely dispersed after the lockdown was announced, though over 100 remained in the area on and around Polk Place for the next few hours. Some students holding Israeli flags gathered on the back steps of South Building for a small counter protest facing students holding a poster that read “From Gaza to Greensboro, We Need Revolution.”

UNC’s administration has faced public backlash for its handling of the encampment.

Soon after the April 30 arrests, a number of student groups from around the state posted a statement on Instagram condemning the administration’s decision to call in police forces.

Students at UNC expressed further disappointment after University officials closed the Campus Y — a building that houses over 30 student-led social justice committees — in the aftermath of the encampment. The building was reopened May 6.

As of May 18, 880 UNC faculty members had signed onto a letter directed to Roberts and Clemens condemning the university’s actions April 30 as “dishonor[ing] the university’s noble traditions of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and respecting students’ rights to protest.” They called for the dismissal of all student suspensions, the return of student belongings confiscated from the encampment and the removal of the barricades around the Polk Place flagpole.

Eight council members representing Chapel Hill and Carrboro also criticized the university’s response, releasing a statement May 1 saying they “strongly condemn this overreaction by the UNC administration” and urging Nieman to drop all charges against those involved.

Not all community response to the UNC administration’s actions has been negative. A GoFundMe page was started May 1 by community members in support of UNC fraternity brothers who “defended their [American] flag” during the demonstration. The page — which is no longer accepting new donations — was capped at $515,517, and the funds will be used first to throw the brothers a “world-class party,” then to donate to charities “consistent with the fundraiser’s patriotic theme.”

The events at UNC are not unique, as encampments have been on the rise at college campuses around the country — many of which have resulted in hundreds of student arrests.

The movement began at Columbia University, where students pitched tents on the university’s South Lawn April 17. Columbia President Minouche Shafik authorized the New York Police Department to arrest 108 students the next day. Tensions between students, university administration and local law enforcement have intensified in the weeks since, with more arrests, suspensions and the student occupation of Hamilton Hall.

Many universities have opted for a similar approach to Columbia, with hundreds of students arrested in recent weeks at pro-Palestinian encampments at Emerson College, the University of California, Los Angeles and dozens of other campuses. Though, some administrations — including Brown University — have met some student demands, leading demonstrators to end their encampments.

Zoe Kolenovsky profile
Zoe Kolenovsky | News Editor

Zoe Kolenovsky is a Trinity junior and news editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume.


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