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University protests over Israel-Hamas war lead to more clashes between police and demonstrators on campuses nationwide

Pro-Palestinian protests sweep college campuses
Pro-Palestinian protests emerge on more college campuses 02:06

Ohio State University joined the growing list of college protests against Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza. Clashes between protesters and police on the campus overnight resulted in over a dozen arrests.

Those who refused to leave after warnings were arrested and charged with criminal trespass, said university spokesperson Benjamin Johnson, citing rules barring overnight events. He said a preliminary report indicated there were 36 arrests, including 16 students and 20 people unaffiliated with the university.

Police try to break up protests over Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza, at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, April 25, 2024.
Police try to break up protests over Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza, at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, April 25, 2024. Cole Behrens/Columbus Dispatch/USA Today Network via Reuters

As the death toll mounts in the war in Gaza and the humanitarian crisis worsens, protesters at universities across the country are demanding schools cut financial ties to Israel and divest from companies they say are enabling the conflict. Some Jewish students say the protests have veered into antisemitism and made them afraid to set foot on campus, partly prompting the calls for police intervention.

Saar Noy Zylberman, a Jewish student at Columbia University in New York City who grew up in Israel, told CBS News correspondent Nancy Chen on Thursday that many students knew people at the music festival that was targeted in Hamas' deadly terror attack last year.

"And adding to that the situation where people scream hateful speech who have harassed and attacked both verbally and physically people, it's just making it impossible to be here," Zylberman told Chen.

On Friday, one of the Columbia student protesters walked back comments he'd made in an online video in January that recently received new attention. Khymani James said in the video that "Zionists don't deserve to live" and people should be grateful he wasn't killing them.

In a statement, he said he regretted his earlier comments. "What I said was wrong," he said. "Every member of our community deserves to feel safe without qualification." Protest organizers said the comments didn't reflect their values. They declined to describe James' level of involvement with the protest.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said police officers were hit with bottles and other objects at some of this week's protests. He blamed outside agitators for joining in with genuine protesters. Officials at Emory University in Atlanta and the University of Texas at Austin have said that not everyone at their schools' protests were students and that outside groups initiated or joined the demonstrations.

At Emory, local and state police swept in to dismantle an encampment Thursday. Some officers carried semiautomatic weapons, and video shows officers appearing to use a stun gun on one protester they had pinned to the ground. The university said late Thursday that objects were thrown at officers and they deployed "chemical irritants" as a crowd control measure.

Police officers arrest a demonstrator during a protest against the war in Gaza at Emory University on April 25, 2024, in Atlanta, Georgia.
Police officers arrest a demonstrator during a protest against the war in Gaza at Emory University on April 25, 2024, in Atlanta, Georgia. Elijah Nouvelage/AFP via Getty Images

Emory President Gregory Fenves said in an email Friday that some of the videos of a clash between police and people on the campus "are shocking" and that he is "horrified that members of our community had to experience and witness such interactions."

Fenves blamed the unrest at the Atlanta campus on "highly organized, outside protesters" who he said arrived in vans, put up tents and overtook the quad.

But in an earlier statement, school officials had said that 20 of the 28 people arrested were members of the university community.

Video circulated widely on social media shows two women who identified themselves as professors being detained, with one of them slammed to the ground by an officer as a second officer pushes her chest and face onto a concrete sidewalk.

In Texas, the UT-Austin campus was much calmer Thursday after 57 people were jailed and charged with criminal trespass a day earlier, when state troopers in riot gear and on horseback bulldozed into protesters.

Both police and protesters have at times crossed a line, said Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.

"You don't have a generalized First Amendment right to, you know, turn the public area of a campus into a camping ground," Lukianoff told CBS News. "But definitely we've seen at places like Emory and places like UT Austin, police taking things much, much too far."

At UT-Austin, officials have since pulled back barricades and allowed demonstrators onto the main square beneath the school's iconic clock tower. The Travis County Attorney's Office, which prosecutes misdemeanor crimes, dropped all 57 criminal trespass cases stemming from Wednesday's protests after finding they lacked sufficient probable cause to proceed, a spokesperson said in a statement Friday.

Protesters gather for a second day at the University of Texas, Austin, in Austin, Texas, April 25, 2024.
Protesters gather for a second day at the University of Texas, Austin, in Austin, Texas, April 25, 2024. Reuters/Nuri Vallbona

Most detained demonstrators have not been charged with violent offenses, but there have been several instances of threatening and abusive behavior.

After a tent encampment popped up Thursday at Indiana University Bloomington, police with shields and batons shoved into protesters and arrested 33. Hours later at the University of Connecticut, police tore down tents and arrested one person.

Columbia University protests

The clock is ticking as May commencement ceremonies near, putting added pressure on schools to clear demonstrations. At Columbia, protesters defiantly erected a tent encampment where many are set to graduate in front of families in just a few weeks.

Students said Friday afternoon that they had reached an impasse with administrators and intended to continue their encampment until their demands are met. Columbia officials had earlier said that negotiations were showing progress.  

The school's self-imposed early Friday deadline to reach an agreement on dismantling the encampment came and went. Despite dozens of journalists on campus and scores of police officers outside the gates, an unassuming spring day unfolded Friday with students sitting on the library's steps or grabbing a quick bite while soon-to-be-graduates posed for photos in their powder-blue gowns.

"We have our demands; they have theirs," said Ben Chang, a spokesperson for Columbia University, adding that if the talks fail the university will have to consider other options.

Inside protests over Gaza war that have swept across U.S. college campuses 06:23

Student negotiators representing the Columbia encampment said that after meeting with administrators for 11 hours Thursday and another hour Friday, the university had not met their primary demand for divestment, although they had made progress on a push for more transparent financial disclosures.

"We will not rest until Columbia divests," said Jonathan Ben-Menachem, a fourth-year doctoral student.

Meanwhile, Columbia's president, Minouche Shafik, faced a significant — but largely symbolic — rebuke from faculty Friday but retains the support of trustees, who have the power to hire or fire the president.

A report by the university senate's executive committee, which represents faculty, found Shafik and her administration had "taken many actions and decisions that have harmed Columbia University." Those included calling in the police and allowing students to be arrested without consulting faculty, failing to defend the institution in the face of external pressures, misrepresenting and suspending student protest groups, and hiring private investigators.

Just past midnight, a group of some three dozen pro-Palestinian protesters handed out signs and started chanting outside of the locked Columbia University gates. They then marched away as at least 40 police officers assembled nearby.

On Friday morning, hundreds of counterprotesters gathered on the streets outside Columbia, many holding Israeli flags and chanting for the hostages being held by Hamas and other militants to be released.

People hold signs and Israeli and American flags at a pro-Israel rally held in support of hostages taken on Oct. 7, 2023, outside of Columbia University on April 26, 2024, in New York City.
People hold signs and Israeli and American flags at a pro-Israel rally held in support of hostages taken on Oct. 7, 2023, outside of Columbia University on April 26, 2024, in New York City. Adam Gray/Getty Images

California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, has been negotiating with students who have been barricaded inside a campus building since Monday, rebuffing an attempt by the police to clear them out. Faculty members met with protesters Thursday to try to negotiate a solution. However, the school announced Friday that all classes and school business would be conducted remotely through the end of the semester, which runs through May 10.

A dean at the school, Jeff Crane, suggested during the meeting that the university form a committee that would include students to do a deep dive into the school's investments. Crane also suggested faculty and students continue meeting every 24 hours to keep an open line of communication. The sides have yet to announce an agreement.

The school's senate of faculty and staff demanded the university's president resign in a vote of no confidence Thursday, citing the decision to call police in to remove some barricaded students Monday.

On the other end of the state, the University of Southern California canceled the school's May 10 graduation ceremony. The announcement was made a day after more than 90 protesters were arrested on campus. The university said it will still host dozens of commencement events, including all the traditional individual school commencement ceremonies.

Tensions were already high after USC canceled a planned commencement speech by the school's pro-Palestinian valedictorian, citing safety concerns.

USC cancels valedictorian's graduation speech amid safety concerns over pro-Palestinian post 03:27

At the City College of New York on Thursday, hundreds of students who were gathered on the lawn beneath the Harlem campus' famed gothic buildings erupted in cheers after a small contingent of police officers retreated from the scene. In one corner of the quad, a "security training" was held among students.

Elsewhere in the city, around a dozen protesters spent the night in tents and sleeping bags inside a building at the Fashion Institute of Technology. The institute's museum, which is located in the building where the demonstrators set up camp, was closed Friday.

Protesters also stayed overnight at the encampment at George Washington University. The university said in a statement Friday morning that those who remain are trespassing on private property and officials will pursue disciplinary actions against students involved in the unauthorized demonstrations.

At Emerson College in Boston, 108 people were arrested at an encampment by early Thursday. Video shows police first warning students in an alleyway to leave. Students linked arms to resist officers, who moved forcefully through the crowd and threw some protesters to the ground.

"As the night progressed, it got tenser and tenser. There were just more cops on all sides. It felt like we were being slowly pushed in and crushed," said Ocean Muir, a sophomore.

Muir said police lifted her by her arms and legs and carried her away. Along with other students, Muir was charged Thursday with trespassing and disorderly conduct.

Boston police said four officers suffered injuries that were not life-threatening during the confrontation.

Since the Israel-Hamas war began, the U.S. Education Department has launched civil rights investigations into dozens of universities and schools in response to complaints of antisemitism or Islamophobia. Among those under investigation are many colleges facing protests, including Harvard and Columbia.

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