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Charges dropped against all 57 pro-Palestinian demonstrators arrested on UT campus

Protesters participate in a pro-Palestinian walkout and demonstration on the UT Austin campus Wednesday.
Michael Minasi
KUT News
Protesters participate in a pro-Palestinian walkout and demonstration on the UT Austin campus Wednesday.

Travis County will not pursue misdemeanor charges against protesters arrested during a pro-Palestinian demonstration on UT Austin campus.

Demonstrators rallying against Israel's war in Gaza packed the south lawn of Texas' flagship university Wednesday, prompting University President Jay Hartzell to request support from state police. Department of Public Safety troopers arrived in force, along with UT and Austin police, to break up the protest organized by the student-led Palestine Solidarity Committee.

Police arrested 57 people for criminal trespassing, a misdemeanor akin to loitering. Travis County Attorney Delia Garza's office said Friday all those charges have been dismissed after a county judge found insufficient evidence to proceed.

DPS said Friday it was investigating whether a Fox 7 cameraman assaulted a trooper during the protest. KUT has reached out to both DPS and Fox 7 for comment, but has not heard back.

The protest response sparked outrage among UT students and faculty, who called for Hartzell's resignation at a second day of protests. A petition was also circulated online Thursday asking for Hartzell to be removed from office.

Hartzell said in a statement Thursday night that he requested state police help because he didn't want to see the campus "severely disrupted," alluding to the wave of pro-Palestinian demonstrations at campuses across the nation.

"We had credible indications that the event’s organizers, whether national or local, were trying to follow the pattern we see elsewhere," he said, echoing previous assertions that the demonstration was put on by people without ties to the Forty Acres.

Forty-six of the cases against demonstrators were dropped Thursday morning. Of the remaining 11 dropped Friday, at least seven people listed as defendants were also listed as students in the UT directory, according to a review by KUT and The Texas Newsroom.

Jumana Fakhreddine, one of the students arrested and charged Wednesday, said four to five officers lifted her off her feet, put her in zip tie handcuffs and placed her in the back of a police car.

She wants to graduate and go on to medical school, and did not want the charges to impede her future. But she said going to the protest was more than worth it, even as university leaders show no sign of backing down from their stance.

"I think [Hartzell] thinks because the charges are dropped that everything's OK now. But I think it would be almost shameful to not acknowledge the emotional and psychological damage that he instilled on his students," she said. "This kind of suppression is really unacceptable, and I think a lot of students, even who weren't arrested, just feel betrayed."

The Texas Newsroom’s Lauren McGaughy contributed to this report.

Copyright 2024 KUT News. To see more, visit KUT News.

Andrew Weber