Not Just Columbia: Student Protesters Across U.S. Are Occupying Campus Buildings

Officials at the Portland State University in Oregon announced the closure of the campus on Tuesday over an “ongoing incident at the library,” a reference to students who, protesting the ongoing war in Gaza, broke into and took over the building late the previous night.

At a late-night news conference, school and local officials said that they had requested the city police’s help in the matter, suggesting that the occupation was illegal.

“Unfortunately tonight with the breaching of the library it has become a criminal event not a free speech event,” Portland Police Bureau Chief Bob Day said.

Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt added his office would prosecute anyone arrested as a result of the takeover. “I expect that felony charges could be filed depending on what evidence we gather, including burglary and felony, criminal mischief along with other potential misdemeanors,” he said.

Police had not intervened as of Tuesday night, and it was unclear if any action was being planned. At the news conference, PSU President Ann Cudd called for the protesters to leave the library before law enforcement got involved.

The beleaguered administrators were in good company, with similar occupations taking place across the country by student protesters this week.

The trend began on Monday at Columbia University, the epicenter of widespread campus unrest taking place across the country. Students broke into Hamilton Hall, one of the buildings also occupied during the 1968 anti-Vietnam War student protests.

Further downtown in New York City on Tuesday, police officers deployed pepper spray and clashed with protesters attempting to occupy a building at the City College of New York, according to The New York Times.

Student protesters at both Princeton University and Cal Poly Humboldt have similarly taken over buildings on campus in recent days. Early Tuesday, police swept into Cal Poly and arrested 35 people as they cleared occupied buildings, one of which had been informally renamed Intifada Hall.

The Portland State University protests on campus began last Thursday, according to Cudd, who said that by Monday morning the “encampment [had] grown and resulted in much more significant property damage and intimidation.”

The protesters were asked to disperse that afternoon, Cudd said, only for students to swarm into the school’s Millar Library hours later.

“Portland State University supports free speech. That’s what we’re all about. And we know that this issue, the war in Gaza, is important to many individuals in our community. Emotions are running high,” she said. “Many feel that the injustices are just too large to ignore, and I understand this, but I cannot condone or excuse breaking and entering. I cannot condone the property damage that has taken place at PSU’s library.”

Between 50 and 75 people were believed to be inside the building on Tuesday. Organizers have said on social media that protesters will not harm any books in the library, according to The Oregonian.

At Columbia, dozens were still barricaded inside Hamilton on Tuesday night, as scores of police officers gathered outside campus gates. On Tuesday morning, a department spokesperson told CNN that it had no plans to enter campus without an official request from the university.

But the network reported later that the department was expecting a letter from Columbia officials asking for officers to clear out the encampment. A department official cautioned that the situation remained fluid.

The White House has unilaterally condemned the takeover of campus facilities.

“President Biden respects the right to free expression, but protests must be peaceful and lawful. Forcibly taking over buildings is not peaceful—it is wrong. And hate speech and hate symbols have no place in America,” said Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates.

“President Biden has stood against repugnant, antisemitic smears and violent rhetoric his entire life,” he continued. “He condemns the use of the term ‘intifada,’ as he has the other tragic and dangerous hate speech displayed in recent days.”

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