The aftermath of April 27: protesters denounce police response, administration condemns encampment, and students and faculty suspended

, and | Managing News Editor, Investigative News Editor, and News Editor

Protesters gathered around the George Washington statue where they made their initial encampment (Alan Zhou | Student Life)

Protesters have spoken out against Washington University’s administration after the WashU Police Department (WUPD) carried out more than 100 arrests at a pro-Palestine encampment, with some calling the response unnecessarily violent, April 27. 

23 students and four faculty members were arrested, leading to students being suspended indefinitely and faculty being put on paid administrative leave. The demonstration marked the third weekend in a row where a pro-Palestine protest led to police response after three students were suspended for disrupting an admitted students event on April 13 and students tried to start an encampment during alumni weekend on April 20. 

The April 27 encampment was set up on the East End of campus for roughly four hours before WUPD and other local police departments began arrests at 7:27 p.m. Photos and videos circulating online show police officers pulling people down to the ground to zip-tie their hands and pushing a bike into the crowd. 

After being arrested, protesters were loaded into transport vans and taken to the Buzz Westfall Justice Center, where they were processed and released. The last individuals were released at around 4 a.m., according to eyewitnesses.

Police officers arresting protester and destroying the encampment of tents. (Alan Zhou | Student Life)

Junior Andrew de las Alas, who was arrested and suspended after participating in the protest,  said that the police officers demonstrated a lack of empathy.

As police began making arrests, de las Alas pointed them out to people who were filming so they could document them. 

“[I was] trying to make sure we had proper information in case people were being held on bonds,” he said. “I think the officers definitely noticed what I was doing, and within 20 minutes of me doing that I noticed two of them walking over, cutting through the other people that were filming.”

When the police came up to him, de las Alas said that he started to leave. 

“I started to walk away and said, ‘OK, I’m leaving,’ and held my hands up,” de las Alas said. “[The police officer] said, ‘Too late’, grabbed me by the shoulder, put my hands behind my back, and cuffed me with the zip ties that held for me for the next two hours.” 

De las Alas was wearing a keffiyeh throughout the day, a traditional scarf worn in many parts of the Middle East that is a symbol of Palestinian culture and has become associated with the pro-Palestine movement. 

“The [police officers] said, ‘Nice scarf,’ and grabbed my keffiyeh,” he said. “I didn’t know where it went. One of my friends was able to get it, but there was a degree of just carelessness and apathy from the officers involved.”

Inside of a transport van on campus, de las Alas said that he saw police interact with a woman who had lost feeling in her fingers and had requested the police to redo her zip-tie.

“They go to re-cuff her and they get the shears,” de las Alas said. “When they cut her zip-tie, they cut off a bracelet that she said was given to her by her deceased mother. The cops laughed. No remorse.”

Presidential Candidate Jill Stein being led to a police vehicle by officers after being arrested. (Alan Zhou | Student Life)

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein was one of the protesters who was arrested. Stein was charged with assault and was given a court date of June 4, according to her campaign manager.

In an interview with Student Life the day after the protest, Stein said that she was physically assaulted by a police officer with a bike.

“The police basically charged into the crowd with bicycles, where the handles were used to ram into us repeatedly,” Stein said. “They were attempting to push us backwards and down to the ground, and one officer picked up one of my legs and lifted [it] up to throw me back onto my head.”

Stein said that after she shook the officer’s hand off her leg, he told her that she had just assaulted a police officer. 

The following day, as she drove to a campaign event in Columbia, Missouri, Stein said she considered going to the emergency room due to her injuries, which include bruising and what she believes are potential rib fractures. 

Sophomore Natalia León-Díaz, who participated in the protest but was not arrested, said the arrests were distressing to watch.

“There were brutalizing assaults,” León-Díaz said. “It was jarring to see my friends being treated like empty sacks of organs, entirely dehumanized, with no respect for their dignity. I had seen it online like at other campuses, mainly Emory. But I never thought I would see it with my own eyes, seeing that happen to my own friends.”

At 6:10 p.m., as the encampment was taking place on campus, Jackie Levey, the Executive Director and CEO of WashU Hillel, sent out an email to students on the Hillel mailing list stating that the organization was aware of the situation. 

“I urge you to not engage at this time and not to go to the location,” Levey wrote. “The University is responding and working to get the group to disperse. It’s important that we not bring additional people to the area so WUPD can do its job.”

She also wrote that she understood it was a challenging moment and added that Hillel staff is available for support. When asked for further comment, Levey told Student Life that Hillel was not going to comment on the arrests and suspensions. 

During the protest, there was a noticeable number of students standing off to the side and watching, including junior Sam Gil.

“I’m a Jewish student, I’m half-Israeli, and I have family members who were killed on Oct. 7,” Gil said. “I wanted to see if there was anyone I know at the protest because I know some of my friends are in support of Palestine, and I wanted to see what was going to happen.”

Gil said that he believed the students who were arrested made a conscious choice because they stayed at the encampment after receiving warnings to leave from police.

Police officer preparing for the second wave of arrests. (Alan Zhou | Student Life)

After the protest, Gil spoke to a police officer who had cuts all over his arms. A statement written by Julie Flory, Vice Chancellor for Marketing and Communications, stated that three police officers sustained injuries including a severe concussion, a broken finger, and a groin injury.

“I didn’t see any police officers hitting people; I definitely saw them take people to the ground, but that’s kind of what happens when you get arrested,” Gil said. “You get put on the ground if you’re not willing to be in handcuffs while you’re standing.” 

Senior Emma Platt, a Jewish student, said that she did not believe the protest was peaceful due to some of the chants protesters used, including “globalize the intifada.” However, she was critical of the police response. 

“My safety should not come at the expense of someone else, and vice versa,” Platt said. “I don’t know what the alternative was, how they could deal with the encampment if they hadn’t done that, but I do feel in my gut that they should have figured something else out.”

Multiple students also reported physical discomfort and uncomfortable interactions with police officers during transit from campus to the Buzz Westfall Justice Center.

A student, who wished to remain anonymous for safety reasons and will be referred to as Z, was arrested and said that police officers were not accepting of their non-binary gender identity. 

When the police walked Z to the vans, they tried to take them to the vehicles holding the male arrestees. When Z said that they were not a man, another police officer asked them about their biological sex. 

“The [WUPD officer] directly in front of the van said, ‘Oh, I’m not dealing with all that. What are you?’” Z said. “I said, ‘I would feel more comfortable being with the women’. And he said, ‘No, you can identify however you want, bits or no bits. Do you have bits or not?’”

Z said that they tried to tell the officer that they didn’t want to answer that question, but that the officer talked over them. Ultimately, they were allowed to be housed with the women after telling the officer their biological sex. 

“I was like, ‘Okay, I have a vagina. So please put me with the women because I will not feel safe with the men,’” Z said. 

Senior Nash Overfield was arrested and held in a University City Police Department van with other arrested protesters. He said that the environment in the van was uncomfortable. 

“They sat us in the van and left us there for well over an hour,” Overfield said. “It was hot [and] there was no AC.”

A police officer putting a protester into the back of one of the transport vans on scene. (Alan Zhou | Student Life)

After the detained protesters had been transported to the Buzz Westfall Justice Center, others who had not been arrested waited outside and led chants, including, “The people united will never be divided.” 

The day after the protest, students each received a letter from Dean of Students Rob Wild informing them of their suspension, taking away their access to campus housing and dining. Student Life was able to obtain a copy of the letter that Wild sent to students. Any identifying information has been removed for the purposes of student safety. 

According to the letter, suspended students are not allowed to be on campus, participate in club events, or attend in-person classes until a student conduct hearing has occurred. 

“Your continued presence on campus poses a substantial threat to the ability of faculty and other students to continue their normal University functions and activities,” Wild wrote. “The reported behavior is of serious concern to the University.”

Overfield, who serves as a student agent in Constellation, a living learning community for first-generation, low-income students, said his housing was taken away and he was not given an alternative place to live.

“The University [is saying] that students protesting on campus in a way that they don’t like means they do not deserve to have housing,” Overfield said. “Housing should be a human right. To actively choose to inflict homelessness on their own students is barbarous.”

Overfield said that he got the email from Wild about his suspension at 10:00 a.m. on April 28 and that at 11:30 a.m., he got a call saying that he had until 8:00 p.m. that night to remove all of his belongings from WashU housing.  

Overfield, who has been couch-surfing since the arrest, expressed concern about finishing his finals since he is banned from completing academic coursework on campus. Additionally, all of the seniors arrested and suspended will not be allowed to walk at graduation, per an email that Wild sent to one of the suspended seniors.

Sophomore and co-founder of Jewish Students for Palestine Max Schreiber attended the protest and was not arrested. He emphasized that some students no longer have access to one of their food sources since they cannot eat on-campus. 

“[W]e have students who are now essentially homeless, who can’t use their meal plans, which they rely on for food,” Schreiber said.

Students, such as Z, are also dealing with the academic repercussions of being suspended, and are working with professors to take any in-person exams remotely. 

“Yesterday I was sending a lot of emails and formulating a way to ask my professors to let me finish my courses,” Z said. “The physics department has been really accommodating. They’ve said, ‘Yeah, we’re hosting two different remote exam sessions for anyone affected,’ which is just fantastic of them.”

Reflecting on the reaction to the attempted encampment and the University’s response, Schreiber urged people to recenter their thoughts on the suffering occuring in Palestine.

“We experienced police violence and it was horrible on Saturday, but it’s nothing compared to what people our age are going through, what people of any age are going through in Palestine.”

After the protest, some students expressed concerns about antisemitism. Gil said he was worried about the safety of Jewish students on campus based on national trends, including a Jewish student who reported being jabbed in the eye with a flag at Yale

“I had friends who were there and were getting insulted just for wearing [a] kippah [a traditional Jewish head covering] and getting called Zionist pigs,” Gil said. “If you want most Jews to feel safe or comfortable, you can’t go around chanting all these calls for war, like ‘intifada’ or ‘from the river to the sea.’”

The day after the protest, Chana Novack, co-Director of WashU Chabad, also sent out a statement to students on their mailing list expressing sadness and concern.

“Now I worry about you students who should be studying for finals, celebrating Pesach [Passover], getting ready to go on Birthright Israel trips, and saying goodbye to friends,” Chana wrote. “Instead we are watching in horror as the world around us throws hate on the very grass we call home.” 

Novack also praised WUPD, among other security groups. 

“We are grateful to parents of the Chabad Security Committee who raised funds for security, and to the WUPD and the Jewish Federation Community Security Group while also saddened that we need this support,” she wrote.

The encampment of tents set up by protesters on the East End of campus. (Alan Zhou | Student Life)

One faculty member, who wished to remain anonymous due to concerns about legal retribution and will be referred to as Y, pushed back against the administration’s claim that the police enforcement was for Jewish safety. 

“The police presence put many students in danger, many of whom are Jewish. So the idea that they’re protecting Jewish students is ridiculous — they’re putting Jewish students in danger,” they said. 

Y said that they were one of two faculty members put on paid administrative leave despite not having been arrested at the protest. 

The four faculty members who were arrested were informed of their paid administrative leave by Provost Beverely Wendland on April 29 via email. 

Michael Allen, a lecturer in the American Culture Studies and Architecture departments, was one of the four faculty members who was arrested after participating in the protest. In an email to Student Life the day before faculty members were put on leave, he said he disagreed with the University’s response.

“It’s grossly unjust for the University to place its own students at risk — legally and academically — for participating in a respectful, peaceful demonstration that harmed neither person nor property,” Allen wrote. 

A different anonymous faculty member sent Student Life a copy of the letter they received from Wendland, which states that they were “relieved of all job duties and are not authorized to engage in further work activities or to otherwise represent or act on behalf of the University.”

Wendland said that she recognized that it was the end of the semester and that faculty had classes to finish teaching. 

“In order to ensure an orderly conclusion to the students’ academic year, you will be contacted by your Dean’s office about ways to complete your instructional obligations for the semester and any limited exceptions your Dean may authorize to the restrictions outlined above,” Wendland said. 

Additionally, Wendland wrote that faculty put on leave were expected to avoid contacting students and work colleagues. 

Sociocultural anthropology professor Bret Gustafson was also arrested and put on leave. When asked for comment by Student Life, Gustafson noted that the terms of his leave did not allow him to. 

“I have been placed on administrative leave and am not allowed to speak to students,” Gustafson said. “My freedom of speech has been effectively ended.”

Students look onward at the encampment before police begin making arrests. (Alan Zhou | Student Life)

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Dr. Anna “Dr. G” Gonzalez and two other administrators sent out a joint email statement about the protest on April 27. On April 29, Chancellor Andrew Martin issued a statement via email to the WashU community condemning the demonstration, saying that protesters intended to “disrupt, do harm, and interfere with educational activities and campus life.” 

Flory told Student Life that the University is unable to comment on individual student conduct cases and that no changes are being made to regularly scheduled activities, including commencement. 

Multiple organizations, including Resist WashU, Faculty for Justice in Palestine, and Jewish Students for Palestine, have criticized Martin’s portrayal of the events, while executive members in WashU’s Hillel and Chabad sent out messages expressing support for the administration, as well as sadness and concern for their students. 

Gregory Magarian, Thomas and Karole Green Professor of Law, was at the protest for the first hour of the event when it was outside Olin Library and left after the first dispersal order was given. He was critical of the University’s response to the encampment, which he views as a historically common form of protest. 

“I just don’t think you can reconcile what happened on Saturday with any serious institutional commitment to free speech, peaceful assembly, and open discussion and dissent,” Magarian said. “The administration’s actions, and the way they responded to the protest, suppressed free speech, foreclosed peaceful assembly, and stifled dissent.”

De las Alas said that he recently took a class on free speech taught by Martin, who emphasized the importance of protecting the First Amendment. 

“I find it ironic that when students, community members and faculty are out there protesting, the response is police,” de las Alas said. “That doesn’t sound like the kind of community that the chancellor seems to construct in his emails and in his blog posts, or the ones that Dr. G seems to promote.”

Resist WashU posted a statement on Instagram signed by 14 WashU student groups condemning WUPD and the administration and criticizing their description of the protesters.

“You say we ‘did not have good intentions on [our own] campus’? What words or actions by peaceful protesters communicated to you the potential of disorder and ‘danger?’” the post said. 

The post also said that there would be more pro-Palestine events soon.

“In the wake of the University’s decision to ignore our demands, a group of students and alumni are committing to a hunger strike. More details to come.” 

 

Additional reporting done by Tanvi Gorre, Avi Holzman, and Elizabeth Stump

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