Friday, May 24, 2024

University protests turn ugly as US House Speaker calls for Columbia head to go

HomeWARUniversity protests turn ugly as US House Speaker calls for Columbia head...

From New York to Texas to California, American university campuses have descended into anarchy this week as pro-Palestinian protests over the escalating Israeli-Hamas war have sparked violent clashes, mass arrests, and demands for a college president’s resignation.

At the eye of the storm is Columbia University in Manhattan, where an encampment of student activists has occupied the campus lawn for over a week with tents, barricades and a belligerent refusal to back down. The protesters insist they will not end their occupation until Columbia cuts all ties to Israeli academic institutions, pulls all investments connected to Israel, and meets other strident demands.

As the 48-hour deadline to clear the camp approached on Wednesday evening, negotiations between the protesters and university administration broke down completely, with tensions reaching a boiling point.

“The negotiations have become totally unstable. It’s a tinderbox situation right now,” said Esha Karam, managing editor of the Columbia Daily Spectator student newspaper. “After the deadline passes, anything could happen. Some students want to give President Shafik a chance to resolve this, while others have written her off as hopelessly incompetent.”

Indeed, the university’s embattled president, Minouche Shafik, faced blistering condemnation and a shocking demand for her resignation from the Speaker of the U.S. House, Republican Mike Johnson.

In an explosive speech on the House floor, Johnson accused Shafik of allowing the protests to spiral out of control, creating an unsafe environment where Jewish students are being “threatened and harassed.”

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“President Shafik has completely lost control over the situation at Columbia,” Johnson thundered. “This is unacceptable at an American university that claims to value free speech and diversity. If President Shafik cannot bring swift order to this chaos, then she must resign immediately.”

The demand drew raucous cheers from conservative Republicans, but Shafik was unmoved. In a defiant statement, Columbia’s Board of Trustees said they “strongly support” the president and her efforts to resolve the conflict through dialogue, while taking a “firm stance against hatred, harassment and discrimination.”

As darkness fell over the protest camp in New York, there were scattered reports of fires being lit and radical elements vowing to “escalate tactics” if the administration refused to capitulate to their demands for boycotting Israel.

Meanwhile, in scenes more reminiscent of a war zone than a campus, police in riot gear arrested dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters at the University of Texas at Austin after they refused to disperse from the campus grounds.

Footage from the chaotic evening showed phalanxes of officers wielding batons and shields lining up against chanting, flag-waving activists before moving in to start making arrests of those who defied orders to leave.

“This was a clear case of police overreach and violence against peaceful protesters,” claimed student organizer Ahmad Abuawad. “We were practicing our free speech rights when they attacked us like criminals.”

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By nightfall, 34 protesters had been arrested, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. Among those detained was a photojournalist from a local TV station who was covering the unrest.

The mass arrests followed a tense day of escalating confrontations in Austin between the two sides over the pro-Palestinian demonstrations on campus.

Hundreds of miles away on the West Coast, an even larger number of arrests took place after a pro-Palestinian campout and rally at the University of Southern California was violently dismantled.

After ordering the activists to disperse from Alumni Park or face arrest for trespassing, USC public safety officers and Los Angeles police moved in and arrested a staggering 93 protesters. An additional person was taken into custody on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, though details were not provided.

“It was a brutally excessive overreaction to a peaceful protest. We were trapped like animals and then snatched away one by one,” claimed Nisreen Eltahir, a 21-year-old USC English major who was among those arrested.

Footage from USC showed ranks of riot police aggressively clearing out the protest camp in Alumni Park, as activists screamed and clung to their tents before being roughly handcuffed and hauled away by officers.

As night fell, USC officials shut down the entire campus following the jarring confrontation and mass arrests. LAPD officials defended the heavy-handed approach as necessary to regain control.

“The university is a private campus and the group had been violating some of their orders,” said LAPD Captain Kelly Muniz. “It was a trespass at that point and we assisted with the arrests.”

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The university unrest also impacted the California State Polytechnic University in the town of Arcata, which will remain closed through the entire weekend after “unidentified non-students” occupied two campus buildings.

Officials said the “unpredictable” situation had created extreme safety risks, including barricaded entrances that could trap people in the event of a fire. The occupiers have also allowed restrooms to back up and become unusable, they alleged.

“There are unidentified non-students with unknown intentions in Siemens Hall,” the university said in a statement, claiming the squatters had “shown a willingness” to lock themselves inside rooms and steal equipment.

“The University condemns in the strongest terms all forms of hatred, bigotry, and violence. Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, hatred, and bigotry in all forms have no place at Cal Poly Humboldt,” the statement added.

As Friday dawned, it remained unclear how the universities at the center of the rapidly escalating Israeli-Palestinian conflict protests planned to resolve the explosive situations on their campuses.

With radical elements on both sides appearing to gain strength and police tactics being criticized as excessive, the growing crisis shows no signs of deescalating anytime soon. From New York to Austin to Los Angeles, esteemed institutions of higher learning have been transformed into battle zones.

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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