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19 people arrested after attempting to occupy building on Penn campus, 7 still in custody, university says

Several arrested following Penn's community alert of large crowd at University City campus
Several arrested following Penn's community alert of large crowd at University City campus 02:56

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Nearly 20 pro-Palestinian protesters were arrested on the University of Pennsylvania's campus Friday night after groups attempted to occupy Fisher-Bennett Hall near 34th and Walnut streets.

A university spokesperson said 19 people, including seven Penn students, were taken into custody and 12 were given citations for failure to disperse or failure to follow police commands. Those 12 were later released.

Seven more people are still in custody facing felony charges, including one person facing a charge of assaulting a police officer, the spokesperson added.

CBS Philadelphia videos from the scene showed Penn police and Philadelphia police escorting several people out and they were taken into custody.

The university sent a community alert out to the public ensuring police were on the scene investigating and asked people to use caution and avoid the crowded area.

"Earlier this evening, a group of individuals entered Fisher-Bennett Hall on Penn's campus and attempted to occupy it. Penn Police, with support from Philadelphia Police, escorted them out and secured the building, taking several individuals into custody," a university spokesperson said Friday night.  

According to a news release from Freedom School Palestine, the Penn Gaza Solidarity Encampment members came together at 8 p.m. to occupy Fisher-Bennett Hall on campus. They began referring to the building as "Refaat Alareer Hall." Alareer was a Palestinian poet and writer who was killed in Gaza months after he was set to appear at the Palestine Writes Literature Festival on Penn's campus.

The September 2023 festival sparked criticism of former Penn President Liz Magill and pushback from donors for allowing the event to continue on campus. Critics claimed the event allowed speakers who had a history of antisemitic remarks, including rock musician Roger Waters, while organizers said the festival was a chance for Palestinian students "to feel seen on campus."

As Friday night's protest got underway, members of Penn's Gaza Solidarity Encampment said they stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people and their demands remain for the university to "disclose Penn's investments, divest from the Israeli apartheid state, and defend pro-Palestine protesters and scholars," the release read in part.

The organization stated the hall where they demonstrated would remain occupied until the university divests from Israel. The protest has since cleared.

Dozens of Philadelphia police officers were on the side of the street as some tense moments played out.

Around 10:15 p.m., the protesters left that area of campus and police remained on the scene.

"Upon clearing the building, Penn Police recovered lock-picking tools and homemade metal shields fashioned from oil drums. The exit doors had been secured with zip-ties, barbed wire, and barricaded with metal chairs and desks, and the windows were covered over with newspaper and cardboard. Bike racks and metal chairs were also found blocking outside entrances. Penn remains focused on maintaining the safety and security of our campus," a university spokesperson added in an email.

Watch Chopper 3 coverage of pro-Palestinian protesters on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus 18:38

Police said the crowd dispersed after 11 p.m. but officers remained in the area.

Later in the evening, about 100 pro-Palestinian protesters were chanting and linking arms nearby in the middle of 34th Street.

Protesters later marched to Philadelphia police headquarters on North Broad Street and some camped out overnight after the arrests.

It was a week ago that police were on the campus' College Green dismantling a pro-Palestinian protest encampment and making arrests. A university spokesperson noted that 33 people were arrested and released on May 10.

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