Students Tackled, 20 Arrested at Peaceful Pro-Palestine Protest at UT-Austin

State troopers, APD, and UT police violently disperse crowd

A protester is arrested at UT-Austin by state troopers April 24, 2024 (Photo by Lina Fisher)

This morning at 11:40am, hundreds of peaceful UT student protesters were gathered in front of Gregory Gym, set to walk to the South Mall and set up camp for the day in protest of the war in Gaza.

Specifically, they gathered to call for the University of Texas to divest in weapons manufacturers selling to Israel. (According to a 2021 report from Women for Weapons Trade Transparency, the company managing UT’s endowment held roughly $52.5 million worth of weapons and weapon systems manufacturer’s debt and equity securities in 2020.)

As protesters arrived Wednesday, Department of Public Safety troopers were stationed at the Speedway Mall on horseback and motorcycles. Protesters stood and chanted “Free, free Palestine,” beat drums, and waved the Palestinian flag. A crowd watched on the sidelines, held back by both DPS officers in riot gear and PSC organizers in yellow vests. Then troopers began pushing into the crowd, arresting people as early as noon with seemingly no provocation. Arrests included a man who identified as a member of the press with Fox 7.

Prior to the protest, UT’s Dean of Students Office sent a letter to the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC), which organized the protest, saying that UT “will not allow this campus to be 'taken' and protesters to derail our mission in ways that groups affiliated with your national organization have accomplished elsewhere," the Statesman reported.

After initial arrests, DPS told students to disperse because they were blocking the road, but “we were blocking the road because they weren’t allowing us to cross,” said a freshman student who declined to be named.

A member of PSC who did not want to be identified told the Chronicle that police told them they couldn't be there and “we told them we agreed. We said we would move, that it was unsafe for us to be there and we would relocate like they wanted us to, and they came out and kettled us.”

As they dispersed, protesters then proceeded to the South Lawn as planned, where they set up tents with food and were peacefully standing and chanting. APD and UT police then joined DPS, and over the next two hours, police pushed the crowd farther down the lawn toward the fountain. Law enforcement tackled and dragged protesters, arresting 20 along the way. It is unclear what provoked these arrests, and organizers with the Palestinian Solidarity Committee say their communication with police and the UT administration dropped off as the protest became more tense.

DPS has not responded to the Chronicle’s request for comment on why peaceful protesters were arrested. APD told us they were assisting with transporting arrestees at UTPD’s request, though the Chronicle witnessed them restraining protesters with hands behind their back on the grass. UT administration sent the Chronicle a statement: "UT Austin does not tolerate disruptions of campus activities or operations like we have seen at other campuses.”

“I don't think the students or anyone feel that UT is trying to keep them safe,” said a PSC member. “Originally it was intended to be a walkout to do educational activities and a study session.”

Austin City Council members expressed their disapproval of the university’s reaction on X: CM Vanessa Fuentes wrote, “Suppressing peaceful protest with intimidation is a needless escalation. We deserve an explanation for why such extreme actions are being taken to suppress the voices of seemingly peaceful protestors. Do better, UT.” CM Zo Qadri called UT’s use of force “flagrant” and “wasteful” and wrote, “This is Greg Abbott’s Texas – if you don’t fall in line with his agenda, your rights are violated.”

The protest was organized in tandem with many others on college campuses around the U.S. that are demanding their universities divest from weapons manufacturers selling to Israel, including New York University and Yale. At Columbia University, 100 pro-Palestinian students who had camped out on the green were arrested this week.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson has threatened to deploy the National Guard as protests have swept college campuses across the country. At Wednesday’s protest, there was a small contingent of pro-Israel counterprotesters, who told the Chronicle none in their party had been arrested. (There were several verbal clashes between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel students.)

“It feels like the entirety of Texas police is here,” the PSC member said. “People who were arrested were not escalating the situation. They were taken from the crowd violently. People are unhappy with the way that UT has approached the community and the way we are facing hate as Palestinian-Americans and Muslims.”

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