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Are campus protests against war in Gaza illegal? Here's what experts say

Expert weighs in on whether campus encampments are legal
Expert weighs in on whether campus encampments are legal 02:12

BOSTON - Tents cities constructed across campuses in Massachusetts are housing demonstrators protesting the war in Gaza. But are they legal and if not, what happens next?

Hundreds of students have been arrested and removed from college campuses, including local schools like Emerson College, Tufts University and Northeastern University.

What's allowed under the law?

"The guidelines for protests happen to be unusually clear," said civil liberties attorney and former board president of the Massachusetts ACLU, Harvey Silverglate.

The First Amendment protects protests but there restrictions like time, place and manner that if violated, can lead to legal repercussions.

"You can demonstrate at times when it would not be disruptive, not your classrooms or dormitories at night and manner that is peacefully," said Silverglate.

"People I know had to move to hotels to escape the noise," said one student who disagreed with the encampment at Emerson.

Demonstrators were hit with a range of charges after violating city ordinances and schools' codes of conduct, including trespassing, disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace.

"If, in fact, they have created a hazard, they can be arrested and the tents taken down," said Silverglate.

"We're going to stay until our demands are met or until we are dragged out," said a student in Emerson's encampment.

Concern from civil liberties groups

Police did confront students on campus, including at Northeastern. That's a concern for groups like the ACLU, warning universities of police involvement saying, in a statement, "Schools must recognize that armed police on campus can endanger students and are a measure of last resort.

"It is the police's duty to protect lawful protest and to make arrests when the protest is illegal," said Silverglate.

With the end of school and commencement ceremonies coming up, it's unclear what steps universities will take to remove the demonstrators. Some schools, including Tufts, have promised to do so. 

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