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Pro-Palestinian encampment at Drexel University clears out after protesters ordered to leave

Pro-Palestinian protest encampment cleared from Drexel University's campus
Pro-Palestinian protest encampment cleared from Drexel University's campus 02:15

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- A pro-Palestinian protest encampment has been cleared off Drexel University's campus Thursday morning, soon after police arrived with orders to clear the camp.

Tents were set up on Korman Quad on May 18, prompting a move to virtual classes early in the week as administrators repeated calls for the encampment to disband. By Wednesday the university had announced it would return to "normal operations" Thursday.

Drexel police entered Korman Quad around 5 a.m. and let protesters know the encampment was unauthorized, Philadelphia Police Sgt. Eric Gripp, a spokesperson for the department, told reporters at the scene.

"Seemingly without any pushback whatsoever, over the course of about 15-20 minutes, the campers packed up their belongings for the most part and left by their own free will," Gripp said.

Drexel President John Fry said there were no altercations, arrests or use of force as the camp was broken up.

"It's very important to protect people's First Amendment rights, but as Drexel has pointed out, this is private property," Gripp said.

Gripp said Drexel and Philadelphia police have a mutual aid agreement, meaning Philadelphia police can come to Drexel's aid when requested.

A large number of Philadelphia police officers were on campus Thursday morning, though Gripp did not provide exact numbers. 

CBS Philadelphia crews at the scene also saw a police officer with a megaphone reading a message off a piece of paper.


Gripp said the encampment had a few dozen protesters but members started leaving once officers arrived.

The Drexel Palestine Coalition, which set up the camp, said they were asking the university to divest from all companies and organizations that "actively participate in the colonization, occupation, and ethnic cleansing of Palestinian people."

Fry sent an email Thursday morning to the university community asking them to steer clear of the quad while Philadelphia and Drexel police cleared the encampment.

"An unauthorized encampment that involves large numbers of people unaffiliated with Drexel trespassing on our campus is illegal," Fry wrote. "The language and chants coming from this demonstration, underscored by protesters' repugnant 'demands,' must now come to an end. Moreover, our Public Safety personnel have been diverted from their work to serve and protect our entire Drexel community. That is unacceptable."

In a later update Thursday morning, Fry claimed "a considerable majority" of the protesters were not affiliated with Drexel while calling their demands, which included terminating Drexel's chapters of Jewish student organizations Hillel and Chabad, "repugnant" and "antisemitic."

The group had also called for a public statement from the university supporting a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war and labeling the deaths of Palestinians as genocide; public disclosure of investments and funding and to cut ties with Lockheed Martin, BlackRock and exchange programs with Israeli universities.

In a statement posted to social media Thursday morning, the coalition also claimed they were given no warning to clear the encampment but said they evacuated after seeing police set up.

The statement said, "We will return, and we will come back stronger."

Fry's letter provided a different account of events.

"In daily community messages and numerous efforts by our Police and Public Safety officers, we have repeatedly asked the encamped protesters to disperse and allow the University to resume normal operations. These requests have been ignored," Fry said in one of his letters Thursday.

The university's Korman Center will remain closed until further notice and all buildings on campus will be restricted to a single point of entry with a requirement to present a Drexel ID.

The Drexel encampment was part of a wave of pro-Palestinian protest camps that opened on university campuses like Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania. While those camps have since cleared, some tents remained at a camp on Swarthmore College's campus as of Wednesday afternoon.

Swarthmore relocated its commencement ceremony off campus due to the encampment, which is on the lawn where the ceremony was set to take place. Protesters at Swarthmore said on social media this week that they had been ordered to clear the site.

Another camp recently opened in West Philadelphia's Clark Park, though it doesn't appear to be affiliated with any university.

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