Second day of Gaza protest on U. campus moves to Salt Lake County Jail after organizer’s arrest

Apr 30, 2024, 8:37 PM | Updated: 11:56 pm

UPDATE: Much of the crowd protesting dispersed before 9 p.m. 

SALT LAKE CITY — Approximately 200 people who started protesting for a second day at Presidents Circle on University of Utah campus moved their demonstration to the Salt Lake County Metro Jail Tuesday night, where they said they plan to remain until a student protester is released.

The protest started with chanting and talks rooting for Palestine in the Gaza war about 6 p.m., but shortly after the protest started, one of the student organizers was arrested.

Protest organizers said that because they can’t camp on campus, they will do it at the jail. University of Utah officials confirmed Tuesday evening the student was arrested for trespassing, failure to disperse and disorderly conduct in connection to Monday’s protest.

Denise Weaver, one of the protest organizers but not a student, said the student was arrested “with no just cause” and that he was tackled by police “for no reason.”

Weaver said they wanted to continue the protest Tuesday to show the police that “We are not scared of them. And what they showed us today is that they are scared of us.”

The protest was moved to the Salt Lake County Metro Jail, where people gathered to continue chanting and cheering about their support for Palestine. Deputies stood outside the jail, and authorities closed the jail to members of the public. A sheriff’s deputy told KSL.com the jail was closed for safety purposes.

At first, the protestors blocked the majority of a walkway to get into the jail. Community members who were trying to get into the jail got mad at the protestors for filling up the parking lot and blocking the entrance to the jail.

The protestors also chanted “let him go” in reference to the student organizer who was arrested.

After about 30 minutes, the protesters moved onto 900 West to continue their protest, while shouting “the people united, will never be defeated.”

One speaker at the protest said that like the students in the ’60s and ’70s who pressured universities to cut ties with South Africa during the apartheid, “We’re going to pressure the university to cut ties from Israel.”

The university said in a statement that students have the right to protest, but setting up camping structures is against school policy. Monday night saw 19 arrests, as well as a confiscated hatchet and the dismantling of around a dozen tents.

Campus police, Salt Lake police, Unified police, Utah Highway Patrol and West Valley City police cleared the encampment after midnight Monday.

“Utah college campuses around the state are not exempt from the significant unrest that currently exists in our country and world,” said Keith Squires, chief safety officer at the U., after the protesters were cleared off the campus shortly before midnight on Monday. “Campuses serve as a stage and forum for not just students, but for members of the community who want their voice to be heard. We honor all voices, but the right to speech on our campus must occur within the confines of state law and campus policies.”

A wave of pro-Palestine protests have been hitting universities across the country, and around 300 students and community members participated at the protest at the U. Monday night.

Protesters Monday called on the university to disclose and divest investments in defense contractors that manufacture weapons used by Israel. Following a number of student speeches and chants among those gathered on the steps of the Park Building, the group moved onto the lawn on Presidents Circle and erected nearly 20 tents.

At just before 10 p.m. Monday, the protesters were given 15 minutes to disperse. Police officers, some in full riot gear, said they would use reasonable force if necessary.

University President Taylor Randall on Tuesday said school officials made several attempts to “connect and listen” to the protesters.

“I hold an unwavering belief in the power of freely expressed ideas to improve our state and world. I want the students and faculty who lawfully protested yesterday to know their voices are heard and matter. They are welcome to continue to express their views legally and peacefully,” Randall said in a statement.

He asked people to support graduates on Thursday when the school will “celebrate 8,652 graduates and confer 9,266 degrees to students from every state and 64 countries,” by “expressing views in a dignified, peaceful, and legal manner.”

The ACLU of Utah on Tuesday urged campus administrators and law enforcement to respect First Amendments right and safety of protestors.

“Utah colleges and universities must resist pressure to restrict or prohibit student protest – even on contentious issues – and adhere to their stated commitment to free speech, peaceful protest, and dissent on campus,” the organization said in a statement.

The ACLU of Utah also said universities and law enforcement exhibit “great restraint” when dispersing protests and dismantling encampments that are part of demonstrations.

The organization alleged the police response at the U. on Monday night “risked the safety and well-being” of those involved and said that it is “gravely concerned” campuses nationwide are cracking down on political expression and having law enforcement rush in with “aggressive treatment.”

“Such forceful clampdowns on protests severely affect free speech rights on every issue. In an election year when student protests are erupting nationwide, we call for more – not less — tolerance and respect for free speech, open debate, and peaceful dissent,” the statement concluded.

A protest is being organized for Utah State University, to occur from noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, where participants will be protesting the United States’ support of Israel in the ongoing war, according to protest organizers.

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Second day of Gaza protest on U. campus moves to Salt Lake County Jail after organizer’s arrest