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MPD clears U-Yard encampment, arrests 33 pro-Palestinian protesters

Sage Russell | Senior Photo Editor

Updated: May 8, 2024 at 3:37 p.m. 

Hundreds of police arrested 33 protesters at the University Yard encampment early Wednesday morning, clearing the pro-Palestinian encampment just before hitting its second week.

University President Ellen Granberg said in statements that, like other colleges across the country, she has repeatedly asked police to clear the demonstrators out of U-Yard, which MPD reportedly declined for more than a week because the protest remained peaceful.

Police surrounded U-Yard from every side when they delivered their first of three warnings to protesters at about 3:24 a.m. to leave the encampment.

Officers delivered their second warning about two minutes later. A different officer delivered the third and final warning at about 3:30 a.m., saying that anybody currently on GW property was in violation of a D.C. code prohibiting unlawful entry on property.

Before the final warning, dozens of protesters filed out of the encampment, some with their belongings, some leaving items like bags and tents behind. An officer in a white shirt holding a megaphone repeated that protesters can exit at the corner of H Street and 21st Street. Some protesters inside the encampment sobbed, holding their friends as they debated whether to stay and risk arrest or leave the demonstration.

More than a dozen, who appeared willing to risk arrest, then linked arms and formed a circle in the center of U-Yard, chanting “Free, free Palestine.”

The students in U-Yard were surrounded by hundreds of police officers from all sides, who moved in to arrest the demonstrators.

A Hatchet reporter on scene exited the encampment upon MPD’s final warning that everyone remaining in the encampment would face arrest. No media were inside U-Yard to record the arrests.

Protesters who left the encampment formed a crowd at the corner of H Street and 21st Street, chanting “IOF, KKK, MPD, you’re all the same” as a line of officers wearing helmets blocked access to H Street.

Dozens of officers manned each corner of U-Yard and roughly 100 officers formed a line in the center of the encampment and along the sides of U-Yard. Dozens of MPD units blocked access to the block surrounding U-Yard.

At about 4:13 a.m., a group of roughly 30 protesters raced to an area near the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and 20th Street, where police were blocking further access to 20th Street. Protesters pushed against the barricade police formed with their bikes, and officers brandished their batons and began pepper spraying protesters after a few minutes of struggle.

“We’re not leaving,” the protesters chanted as they pushed against police. The police pushed back, batons out, and one officer yelled, “Get ready.”

About nine protesters collapsed to the ground, covering their eyes in pain as other protesters poured water to aid their injuries.

Outside Western Market, protesters dragged chairs onto the sidewalk and set up a makeshift medical treatment area, with demonstrators flushing out other students’ eyes with water. Some protesters vomited from the pepper spray, and medics assisted and urged demonstrators to leave and rinse off the irritant in a cold shower.

Medical responders from GW Emergency Medical Services soon arrived on Pennsylvania Avenue and began to provide medical assistance to protesters. Organizers urged the crowd to allow EMeRG to transport them to the hospital if their injuries were severe.

A video shows MPD officers loading protesters into MPD cars and vans on the corner of 20th and G streets. Protesters chanted, “We see you, we love you, we will keep fighting for you.”

“I f*cking love Palestine,” a detained demonstrator called back to the crowd before entering the MPD vehicle.

Students were brought to the police academy in southeast D.C., where more than 30 other protesters greeted them as they were taken into custody.

The University released an unsigned statement at about 1:30 p.m. that said it had conducted a “safe and orderly” operation clearing the encampment in U-Yard. The statement said “most” protesters “heeded” the GW Police Department and MPD’s warnings to leave and that the remaining demonstrators were arrested on charges of assault on a police officer and unlawful entry. 

The statement said the University had not heard any reports of serious injury during the clearing and that they are “grateful” for MPD’s assistance. It was not stated if minor injuries were reported.

MPD, GW Police Department officers, and additional security personnel maintain a presence on University Yard and the surrounding area,” the statement reads. “GW staff have cleared the yard.”

While the University will be “open and operating normally” and continuing final exams as scheduled, U-Yard and Kogan Plaza will be closed through May 19, according to the statement. 

The statement also said all activities, including free expression on campus, will “require reservation” through the Division of Student Affairs because of heightened safety concerns related to the “recent illegal demonstrations” and final exams and that no sound amplification will be allowed for “such events.” 

MPD Chief Pamela Smith said officers arrested 33 demonstrators at a press conference Wednesday morning.

The arrests come prior to Mayor Muriel Bowser’s planned testimony at a House Oversight Committee hearing on Bowser and MPD’s prior reported refusal to clear the encampment Wednesday at 1 p.m. The committee chair said the hearing was canceled after the clearing.

At the Wednesday press conference, Smith said the encampment protests began “very peacefully” but began to escalate in recent days. She said protesters allegedly pushed a GW Police Department officer Thursday and grabbed an item from an officer’s hand.

“This included a simple assault reported to GW police, security probing of a GW building, indicators that counter-demonstrators were covertly in the encampment, and information that protesters from other schools were traveling to GW,” Smith said. “In addition, items that could potentially be used for offensive and defensive weapons were being gathered.”

MPD Executive Assistant Chief of Police Jeffery Carroll said at the press conference that officers saw indications that protesters attempted to enter restricted buildings during the protests. He said officers found a group of individuals inside a University facility Tuesday, and following other “indications” of escalation, decided to clear the encampment.

“That’s what really caused us to change our posture to ensure that we maintain the safety, not only for the demonstrators of their encampment, students at the University, but also the community as well,” Carroll said.

The Hatchet was not immediately able to verify Smith’s or Carroll’s claims of student traveling to GW, the presence of counterprotesters inside the encampment, attempts made by demonstrators to enter restricted buildings or protesters’ alleged collection of weapons.

At about 4:30 a.m., officers began clearing items from the encampment, like tents and sleeping bags, into a truck parked on H Street. Around 5 a.m., another truck began spraying chalk messages from the sidewalks outside U-Yard and the steps of the School of Media & Public Affairs.

An officer posted a notice on a street lamp outside the School of Media of Public Affairs building at about 5:40 a.m. which states that officers collected “various items of property” Wednesday and individuals seeking to collect their belongings should contact the Evidence Control Division, otherwise officers will throw the items away after 90 days.

Through the morning, GW facilities parsed through the abandoned tents remaining in U-Yard, tossing them into a garbage truck as they worked to clear the space. Boxy patches of yellow grass mark where the tents once stood.

This story is developing and will be updated.

This story was updated to include the following: 

This post was updated to include a University statement on the clearing of the encampment in U-Yard.

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About the Contributors
Faith Wardwell, Managing Editor
Faith Wardwell, a junior majoring in journalism from Boston, Massachusetts, is the 2024-25 managing editor for The Hatchet.
Ianne Salvosa, Managing Editor
Ianne Salvosa, a junior majoring in journalism and international affairs from Lake Saint Louis, Missouri, is the 2024-25 managing editor for The Hatchet. She was previously a news editor and assistant news editor for the administration and finance beat and a contributing news editor for the academics and administration beats.
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