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Police arrest protesters, demolish encampment at George Washington University

Metropolitan Police Department pepper spray demonstrators GW Hatchet via Associated Press/Photo by Sage Russell

Police arrest protesters, demolish encampment at George Washington University

Metropolitan Police Department Chief Pamela Smith confirmed officers arrested 33 pro-Palestinian protesters at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., early Wednesday morning. About 29 were charged with trespassing, and several others received charges of assault on a police officer, she said. Police deployed pepper spray on several protesters. No officers or members of the public received any serious injuries, Smith said. Campus police also cleared tents and the rest of the encampment from university grounds on Wednesday, she added. Police gave six warnings for protesters to disperse, and many left before law enforcement took action around 3 a.m., Smith said.

Protesters were there for almost two weeks. Why act now? The decision to clear the encampment came after administrators and police noticed escalations from protesters. Protesters assaulted a GW campus police officer and grabbed an item from her hands while she performed her duties, Smith said. Authorities also saw protesters gathering improvised weapons and casing campus buildings, possibly to occupy them, said MPD Executive Assistant Chief Jeffery Carroll. Leadership received reports of outside demonstrators joining the university encampment and had general safety concerns over potential counter-protesters, Smith said.

Was pepper spray necessary for peaceful protesters? The deployment of pepper spray came in response to assaults on police officers, Carroll said. Protesters began shoving officers while attempting to push through a police barricade to get to other arrested protesters. Shoving devolved to punching, which led officers to deploy three rounds of pepper spray, he said. Footage shows protesters attempting to pull fellow demonstrators out of police custody. She said that the spray was not used as a tactic to disperse the group.

What did protesters do besides mounting an encampment? The dispersal came after a series of controversial and unpatriotic protests. Protesters covered a university statue of President George Washington with a Palestinian flag and stickers, along with an Arabic head-and-face covering. The word “genocidal” was also painted at the statue’s base. Protesters flew the Palestinian flag on a campus flagpole. The message “Gaza lights the spark that will set the empire ablaze” was also projected across a large American flag on campus. The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Accountability had scheduled a Wednesday hearing with Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on the GWU protests. Committee Chairman Rep. James Comer canceled the hearing when the encampment was dispersed hours before the hearing’s scheduled start time.

Dig deeper: Read my report in The Sift on several pro-Palestinian protests across the country becoming violent.

Christina Grube

Christina Grube is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.

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