Watch CBS News

Emerson College protests broken up by Boston police, 108 arrested at pro-Palestinian camp, 4 officers hurt

Emerson students arrested during pro-Palestinian protest, police clear out tents
Emerson students arrested during pro-Palestinian protest, police clear out tents 03:15

BOSTON - Boston Police arrested more than 100 people as they cleared out pro-Palestinian protesters and their encampment from Emerson College early Thursday.

108 arrests at Emerson College, 4 Boston police officers hurt

"108 arrests," a Boston Police spokesperson told WBZ-TV in an email. "4 injured officers, 3 minor, 1 more serious. All non-life threatening."

Police said none of the protesters in custody have reported any injuries "at this time." Some of the 108 students were brought into Boston Municipal Court late Thursday morning. They were not arraigned, but had court dates scheduled for next week. Some thought police were too aggressive.

"I don't think that they needed to use full riot gear. I don't think that they needed to slam people into statues and then slam people into the ground. You can arrest people without assaulting them," a student who only identified himself as Oliver told WBZ at court.

Boston Police move in to arrest pro-Palestinian supporters who were blocking the road after the Emerson College Palestinian protest camp was cleared on April 25, 2024. JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images

Attorneys showed up at court, volunteering legal representation for students who were arrested. "I think peaceful protest is really important and I think that's the goal of these students right now and we'll see how each individual case plays out," said Marat Erkan, who's with the National Lawyers Guild.

Emerson College protesters warned

Emerson students started camping out in the 2B Alley off Boylston Street late Sunday night and had remained there for three days. Boston Police warned them Wednesday that they were violating city ordinances in the alley, which is not solely owned by Emerson College.

The student protesters stayed in the alley until Boston police officers moved in around 1:30 a.m. Thursday. Body camera video from Boston police shows officers warning them to leave and many who didn't were arrested.

"These students they were protesting peacefully at night, chanting their slogans," Emerson College student Kyle Graff told WBZ-TV. "They refused to comply with the police, and within 5, 10 minutes the police vans, they pulled up and they started forcing their way into the encampment, and basically taking these students away."

"Dragging people out"

Another Emerson student, who did not want to be identified, described to WBZ what he saw Thursday morning.

"They kept being like, this is your last chance. If you are here you will be arrested. But they didn't start saying things like that until after they had already like started grabbing and dragging people out. It was not so much a last chance of not being arrested more so, a last chance of not being brutalized," he said.  

"Seeing, like handcuffs on the officers' belts. There were people getting thrown down to the ground, arms put behind their back, dragged away, pushed away. Just really, however, they could, however, the police could get them out of the alley as quick as possible, without much regard for the safety of those they were removing."

Boston Police cleared out Emerson College protesters on city property, April 25, 2024. Henry De Groot - DSA Working Mass

Boston Police and the Public Works Department later cleared out the alley, removed all tents, signs and banners and re-opened that section of Boylston Street.

Emerson College cancels classes

Classes at Emerson were canceled for the day Thursday and students were offered counseling. Some said they're focused on getting their friends out of police custody.

"Now it is mostly an effort of gathering back everyone who has been taken from us," a student who didn't want to be identified told WBZ.

Emerson College President Jay Bernhardt said staff and administrators were "at the scene" and at police precincts and courthouses with students who were arrested.

"The College will receive them back on campus when they are released," he said in a letter to the school Thursday.

"Emerson College recognizes and respects the civic activism and passion that sparked the protest in Boylston Place Alley in support of Palestine while also holding and communicating concerns related to the numerous ordinance violations caused by their encampment. We also understand that clearing the encampment has significantly and adversely impacted our community."  

Student leaders say they plan to give Bernhardt a vote of no confidence, saying he has not offered enough support.   

"We are the ones who are paying our tuition, and whose voices are represented, and it's our student body that's being brutalized at the moment," said Emerson Student Body President Charlize Silvestrino. 

Boston's anti-tent ordinance

The ACLU of Massachusetts said the police response "risked the safety" of everyone in the area.

"There is a distinction between removing encampments to ensure safe access to a public right of way and using physical violence against students engaging in peaceful expression," Executive Director Carol Rose said in a statement. 

"City and campus officials should take great care to distinguish between the two; if the alley is considered a public way for purposes of Boston's anti-tent ordinance, then it is also a public way for purposes of free speech. Students and other Boston residents should be able to voice their support for Palestine or Israel without fear of becoming a target of the Boston Police Department."

Other Boston protests

The protest at Emerson was just one of several at college campuses across the country this week. They were inspired by pro-Palestinian protests at Columbia University that began back on April 17. More than 100 people were arrested at Columbia.

Pro-Palestinian camps have been set up at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tufts University and Harvard University in the Boston area. All three camps remained active as of Thursday morning.

A group of students at Northeastern University started a protest on campus Thursday. There was a large police presence nearby, as dozens of students encircled a tent encampment on school property.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.