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Police arrest 57 at pro-Palestine sit-in at UMass Flagship, protestors expected to return until demands are met



Sophie Hauck, Special to State House News Service

AMHERST, MASS., OCT. 26, 2023…..Fifty-seven pro-Palestine protestors at the University of Massachusetts Amherst were arrested by campus police Wednesday night for trespassing during a sit-in protest at the Whitmore Administration Building, where students demanded Chancellor Javier Reyes condemn the Israel Defense Forces’ attacks on Gaza and cut the university’s ties with defense contractor Raytheon Technology.

Students rallied in front of the student union at 2 p.m. before marching to the Whitmore building to meet with administrators to present their demands. They remained inside the building after hours, in spite of “multiple verbal warnings” that the building was closing at 6 p.m., the university said in a statement. UMass Police arrested 56 UMass Amherst students and one UMass Amherst employee, the university said.

“Our goal is to let the school know, let the administration know and let the chancellor know that we have a say in what our university is giving money to,” said Arsema Kifle, a founding member of the UMass Dissenters, a student group supporting demilitarization that helped to organize the protest. “If we were satisfied, we wouldn’t be here right now.”

Protestors were responding to a statement Reyes made to the campus on Oct. 10 condemning the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks against Israel.

“The attack on Israel by Hamas, with the kidnapping and murder of civilians — acts of terror which we vehemently condemn — and the escalation of the conflict to all-out war have led to untold suffering and tremendous loss of Israeli and Palestinian life,” Reyes wrote in the Oct. 10 statement.

The UMass Dissenters group demanded Reyes condemn the Israel Defense Forces’ retaliation against Hamas in Gaza, and acknowledge Israel has been occupying Palestinian land for decades.

“The protestors’ specific demands do not align with the university’s publicly stated positions and policies,” a university spokesperson wrote in a statement.

Dozens of students crowded outside of the building late into the evening while campus police officers arrested those who participated in the sit-in and escorted them into an awaiting van. Students led chants while they waited for officers to finish their arrests, shouting “1-2-3-4, we don’t want your dirty war” and calling out to nearby officers, “Who do you serve? Who do you protect?”

Officers guided protestors in groups of five out of the building over the span of five hours, and protestors left with their hands zip-tied behind their backs. They were taken to the campus police station, where many waited in a holding cell until early Thursday morning. By 7 a.m., all students had been released, and many were scheduled for arraignment Thursday at Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown.

Protestors said they will return to the Whitmore Administration Building Thursday afternoon and plan to remain there until their demands are met.

The Boston Globe reported Wednesday that the UMass Amherst protest was one of several held at public and private colleges in Massachusetts on Wednesday as part of nationwide walkouts and rallies to support Palestinians. The paper said similar demonstrations were also held at Harvard Divinity School, Smith College, University of Massachusetts Boston and Tufts University.

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