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Police again arrest pro-Palestinian protesters setting up camp at UT Austin

State troopers form a line in front of the UT Tower during Monday's protest.
Michael Minasi
KUT News
State troopers form a line in front of the UT Tower during Monday's protest.

At least 50 people were arrested Monday at a protest on the south lawn of UT Austin's campus, according to an attorney who helped coordinate the release of protesters arrested last week.

Defense attorney George Lobb said 10 of the people arrested Monday require immediate medical attention, including a protester who was hit by a police motorcycle.

Around 100 protesters had gathered around midday Monday with tents and blankets to begin an "encampment." They used folding tables to barricade themselves into a circle and held signs that said, "Divest from genocide," "UT supports war crimes" and "Free Palestine."

Similar to Wednesday, officers from the UT Police, Austin Police Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety came to the scene. The state troopers — who wore face shields and carried batons and zip ties — stood arm and arm to create a physical barrier between the tower and the lawn. Protesters chanted, "Off our campus" and "You failed Uvalde."

The university issued a statement late Monday saying it believed many of the people who erected the encampment were not affiliated with UT and that they were "physically and verbally combative" when asked to leave. It said it requested help from DPS to protect the safety of the campus community.

"Because of the encampments and other violations of the University’s Institutional Rules related to protests, protestors were told repeatedly to disperse," the statement said. "When they refused to disperse, some arrests were made for trespassing. Others were arrested for disorderly conduct."

Protesters stood with linked arms on the lawn. Police pulled them apart and arrested some but not others — it's unclear why.

UT Police issued multiple orders to disperse throughout the protest, accusing protesters of disorderly conduct and trespassing, and threatening arrest.

As temperatures rose into the high-80s, protesters called for medics. Some people took to social media to ask for water at the encampment.

Late Monday afternoon, protesters moved away from the lawn to block buses from leaving with those who were arrested. Police responded by arresting more people, throwing flash-bangs and spraying the crowd with what seemed like pepper spray; some people hit were only a couple feet away.

A smaller group of protesters returned to the south lawn. Many began to pick up trash.

By 6:30 p.m., only a handful of officers remained on the scene. A group of about 150 people sat quietly in a circle created by A-frame barriers. There were no tents set up.

UT Austin warns about online threats

In a statement Monday afternoon, the university implied the protest could get violent. The school said it has received "extensive online threats from a group organizing today's protest," which it reported to law enforcement. It also said protesters "ignored repeated directives" to remove their tents and "physically engaged with and verbally assaulted" UT staff members trying to take them down. The school also said baseball-sized rocks were "found strategically placed" on the lawn.

KUT asked the university for more details about the online threats and who made them, but has not heard back.

In its statement, UT repeated a claim it has made over the past several days that protests are being organized or attended by a significant number of people unaffiliated with the university.

Sebastian Robledo, a second-year film student at UT, attended Wednesday's and Monday's protests. He said he disagrees with that assessment.

"I'd say 2% of the people here are outsiders, but the rest of us are students," he said. "[Protesters are] people who live here in Austin, who live here in the dorms."

He called what's going on unfair.

"We can't voice our own opinions and have cops come and show up," he said. "It's not right. It's not fair. It's our First Amendment speech."

Temperatures reached the high-80s during Monday's protest.
Michael Minasi
KUT News
Temperatures reached the high-80s during Monday's protest.

State Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, was at Monday's protest to try and deescalate the conflict between protesters and university administration. She said she has spoken to UT and is trying to get into contact with protest organizers.

"I don't know what seeds I'm planting," she said. "I'm planting as many seeds as possible."

The latest in a series of campus protests

The demonstration comes just a few days after police arrested 57 people during a pro-Palestinian protest. Wednesday's protest, organized by the student organization Palestine Solidarity Committee in Austin, called for a cease-fire in Gaza and for UT to divest from weapons manufacturers that provide supplies to Israel. Those arrested were charged with criminal trespassing, but the charges were dismissed.

UT Austin President Jay Hartzell and Gov. Greg Abbott called in state troopers to break up Wednesday's protest. In emails to the campus community, Hartzell cited the organizers' "intent to occupy campus" and the influence of groups outside of UT as reasons for the university's response. He said 26 of the people arrested "had no UT affiliation."

There have been protests at the same place on campus every day since Wednesday, according to social media posts from local groups supporting Palestinians. That includes a UT faculty-led protest on Thursday that criticized the university's decision to bring in police. Only UT Police — not APD or state troopers — responded to that protest.

Olivia Aldridge and Ben Philpott contributed to this report.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Copyright 2024 KUT 90.5

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