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Students speak out after 19 arrested for trespassing on Pomona College campus

Students speak out after being jailed, following Pomona College campus protest
Students speak out after being jailed, following Pomona College campus protest 03:02

A Friday Pomona College campus protest led to 19 students being arrested, with some students saying police reaction was heavy-handed and surprising to them.

A pro-Palestinian group of students gathered at the college Friday for a sit-down protest, but things ramped up when the protestors moved to occupy the college president's office.

The group that organized the protest, Pomona Divest Apartheid, said in a post on Instagram that they entered the campus' Alexander Hall to protest the "forceful removal of their apartheid wall" which had artwork from students supporting Palestine. The 32-foot-long paneled wall had been up since March 28.

In an April 5 letter addressed to the Pomona College community, college president Gabrielle Starr said for the past week, "masked individuals who are part of a protest have occupied a portion of the Smith Campus Center (SCC) lawn," Starr wrote.

She continued to write that the occupation was against campus policy, as tents were erected -- but the right to protest was still afforded.

"In preparation for events scheduled on Sunday, and in line with our policy, campus staff began to remove the signs and other material that remained. They informed the individuals present that they could move their own material or it would be stored for pickup," Starr wrote. This removal prompted the protesters to move to the president's office.

According to Claremont police, the campus security staff reported that between 100 to 150 protesters moved outside the president's office and another 30 to 40 stormed inside the building.

"Communication was immediately established by School Administration with the protesters, but they refused to leave the building," a representative from the Claremont Police Department said.

Pitzer College student Analise Bacosa Pugh detailed the police response. "When they walked in, they were in full riot gear, there were lots of them. A couple of them had big rifles, like two and a half feet long, strapped across their chest, they all had batons and they all had the helmets down," Pugh said.

The students were arrested for trespassing and taken to the Claremont Police Department. At the station, a crowd of demonstrators responded.

Saturday, after spending the night in jail, Pomona College student Diana Truong shared her surprise at the police response.

"We believed we were doing what was right, in terms of advocating and supporting each other," Truong said. "Like my hands are still bleeding – they had riot police and big guns."

President Starr wrote, "Campus safety and administrators offered to assist with moving the materials to the vicinity of Walker Wall, which has long been a zone in which active dissent can flourish."

"Offering notice both verbally and in writing, we repeatedly instructed the individuals to stop their harassment and provide identification. Individuals held on to the signs and continued their harassment for more than two hours. There is absolutely no excuse for this harassment, and there is no excuse for refusal to identify yourself on our campus," Starr wrote.

She continued to say that Pomona students who participated in Friday's events are subject to "immediate suspension."

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