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Six arrested among 36 pro-Palestinian protesters detained at encampment at UNC following call to disperse

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Police officers from several departments, as well as North Carolina State Highway Patrol, stand in front of Gerrard Hall, where several protesters were being held on Tuesday, April 30, 2024. Other pro-Palestinian demonstrators who were not arrested stand in front of the officers.

At 6 a.m. on Tuesday morning, 36 protesters within the inner part of the pro-Palestinian "Triangle Gaza Solidarity Encampment" that began on Friday were detained by law enforcement and moved to Gerrard Hall.

Six of the 36 were arrested and transported to the magistrate's office in the Orange County Detention Center, according to Sofie, an organizer of UNC Students for Justice in Palestine who did not provide their last name. The arrested individuals were charged with trespassing and later released on a written promise to appear in court.

Three of the arrested protesters are UNC students and the other three are not affiliated, according to the University.

About a half hour before the arrests began, the demonstrators within the encampment received a letter from UNC interim Chancellor Lee Roberts and Provost Christopher Clemens demanding that all protesters "assembled in Polk Place must remove all tents, tables and other items and depart from the area." 

"Failure to follow this order to disperse will result in consequences including possible arrest, suspension from campus and, ultimately, expulsion from the university, which may prevent students from graduating," Clemens and Roberts said in the letter.

According to a statement from UNC Media Relations, UNC Police approached the encampment and detained individuals who refused to leave.

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Police officers push students away from the South Building doors as students attempt to enter the building in Chapel Hill, N.C. on April 30, 2024.

"During that time, the protesters attempted to block the UNC Police vehicles by standing in front of them and throwing items at officers," Media Relations said. "Polk Place was cleared in approximately 45 minutes. After the area was cleared, the remaining protesters escalated their tactics, attempting to forcibly enter South Building by pushing officers and refusing to comply with requests from Facilities and UNC Police."

An Orange County ambulance was stationed outside Gerrard Hall, with several officers standing in front of it, at approximately 6:45 a.m. The protesters who were not arrested gathered around the police, filming and chanting. 

"A member of the solidarity encampment has had their shoulder dislocated by [the] arrest," Sofie said.

Kevin Best, senior director of UNC Media Relations, said UNC received one report of heat exhaustion and one of vomiting. No one was transported for their injuries.

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Officers in riot gear stand in front of South Building after removing students from the solidarity encampment in Chapel Hill, N.C. on April 30, 2024.

Several deputies from the Orange County Sheriff's Office were present on the scene. At approximately 7 a.m., two sheriff's patrol vans arrived. 

Four unmarked gray vans with dozens of North Carolina State Highway Patrol officers arrived at about the same time. By 7:20 a.m., all the vans had dispersed. Several students were taken to the sheriff's patrol vans and then transported to the detention center.

"We will review the evidence and if we agree that a criminal law has been violated and was properly enforced, we will prosecute these cases, Orange County District Attorney Jeff Nieman said in a statement. "We will consider deferred prosecution agreements where appropriate, but as far as process, these will be handled the same as any other case.

The responding law enforcement presence included officers from UNC Police, N.C. State University's police, UNC Wilmington's police, Appalachian State University's police, and both state patrol officers and officers of the sheriff's office in what looked like riot gear. The Chapel Hill Police Department was not involved with the situation. 

"I don't see no riot here. Why are you in riot gear?" the demonstrators chanted at the police standing on Cameron Avenue outside Gerrard Hall.

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Highway Patrol officers leave as the battle between students and police officers deescalate outside of Gerrard Hall in Chapel Hill on April 30, 2024.

While the majority of the protesters moved to Cameron Avenue and Gerrard Hall, UNC Facilities Services workers in orange and yellow safety vests and UNC Police officers broke down the encampment.

They moved the protester's belongings to the sides of Polk Place and brought in metal barriers to place around the areas of grass where the encampment was located, including the flag pole. Several individuals from the encampment moved their belongings away from the Quad, toward the Campus Y and then into cars.

At about 7:30 a.m., the state patrol officers and other law enforcement moved away from Gerrard Hall. The demonstrators who were not arrested marched in front of South Building, where they continued to chant and tout signs saying "Free Palestine" and "Silence like a cancer grows," facing off with several UNC Police officers on Polk Place. 

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A portable security camera stood amid the protesters outside South Building.

As other students began to arrive on campus for 8 a.m. classes, a helicopter flew above Polk Place and the standoff between police and protesters continued. At nearly 8 a.m., some police officers returned to stand in front of the doors of Gerrard Hall and the demonstrators followed them. Thirty protesters were released from the hall to the cheers from the crowd of other demonstrators, with citations for trespassing. Ten of the protesters were UNC students and 20 were not affiliated with the University.

When the doors of Gerrard Hall opened, chants could be heard from the protesters detained inside.

By 8:30 a.m., the Quad had been cleared and portions remained barricaded. About two dozen police officers milled around the area.

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Police officers stand outside South Building following the detention of approximately 30 demonstrators from the "Triangle Gaza Solidarity Encampment" on April 30, 2024.

"For the last several months, we have spoken regularly and respectfully with the demonstrators on our campus, consistently supporting their right to assemble and express their views," Clemens and Roberts said in the letter to protesters. "We have also clearly communicated the University's long-standing policies on the use of shared public spaces. We have been clear that students and community members can assemble and make their voices heard, but University policies must be followed. "

According to University policy, demonstrator's signs and items staked into the ground and tents violate Section II.D.2. of the Facilities Use Standard.  The materials taped to the flag pole at the center of the Quad violated Section IV.B.1. and the signs and banners that hung on campus trees violated  Section II.D.7. of the same standard.

As of 11 a.m. on Tuesday, there is no record on the Orange County Sheriff's Office's daily custody report that the protesters have been booked at the Orange County Detention Center. 

Alicia Stemper, communication manager for the sheriff's office, explained that the magistrate’s goal is to place individuals on the least restrictive set of pre-trial release conditions that will ensure their appearance in court.

“For most young people arrested for the first time, they're not flight risks there. Therefore, they are most likely to get a written promise to appear in court and sent on their way with a court date,” she said.

UNC SJP posted a graphic on its social media calling for jail support at the detention center a few minutes after 9 a.m. A silent vigil and protest for Palestine and for those arrested on Tuesday morning began at 11:30 a.m. on the steps of Wilson Library and moved to South Building. Several hundred community members attended, marching across Polk Place. 

In a formal notice sent to the entire campus at 11:47 a.m., Roberts and Clemens expressed disappointment that they “had to take action this morning regarding protesters, including many who are not members of the Carolina community, who violated state law and University policies that provide for peaceful demonstration.”

The two University leaders said the administration had been in communication with the protesters over the weekend, but noted that no individual has the right to disrupt campus operations or intimidate students.  

They said the constructive communication changed on Sunday when the tents came back up and dialogue ended. 

“We must consider the physical safety of all of our students, faculty and staff,” Clemens and Roberts said. “In addition, we are alarmed at the rising accounts of antisemitic speech, and we categorically denounce this and any other incidents of prejudice.”

The two campus leaders also reaffirmed that commencement will remain as planned. 

“We deeply appreciate the efforts of our facilities workers, UNC Police, the campus police of other UNC System universities, the State Highway Patrol and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in keeping our community safe,” Roberts and Clemens said.

At about 1:45 p.m. on Tuesday, demonstrators began to take down and move over the barricades set up by police and facilities workers earlier that morning. Once back on the grass of the Quad, the protesters gathered together as several UNC Police officers and UNC Facilities workers stood along the perimeter of Quad but did not interact.

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Pro-Palestinian demonstrators lower the American flag to raise a Palestinian flag on the flag pole at the center of Polk Place on April, 30, 2024.

Some individuals lowered the American flag from the center flag pole and began raising a Palestinian flag in its place. Dozens of protesters locked arms with one another around the flag pole as they chanted and held signs in support of Palestine. 

Several pro-Israel counter-protesters held Israeli flags as they stood outside South Building, watching the pro-Palestinian protesters. Others attempted to begin putting the barricades back up.

Police officers and Facilities Services workers denied interviews with The Daily Tar Heel. 

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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Law enforcement officers detained approximately 30 demonstrators from the "Triangle Gaza Solidarity Encampment" on April 30, 2024. UNC Facilities workers and UNC Police cleared the encampment and placed barriers around the area on Polk Place by 8:30 a.m.

CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this article included incorrect information about the number of students and non-students who were given citations due to an error made by UNC Media Relations.

@emmymrtin | university@dailytarheel.com


Emmy Martin

Emmy Martin is the 2023-24 editor-in-chief of The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as the DTH's city & state editor and summer managing editor. Emmy is a junior pursuing a double major in journalism and media and information science.