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UNC community marches in solidarity with Palestine

Pro-Palestine protesters gather at the Peace and Justice Plaza on Franklin St. during the rain on Sunday, May 5, 2024.

UNC students, faculty and community members gathered Sunday afternoon for a rally and march to stand in solidarity with Palestine and students who have been arrested or suspended in correlation with their involvement in pro-Palestine protests on campus.

The crowd congregated at the Peace and Justice Plaza on Franklin Street and marched onto South Columbia Street and East Cameron Avenue, ultimately culminating in front of South Building. 

Despite rainy conditions, demonstrators walked in the street with signs and banners as police observed at intersections and from the sides of the road. Counter-protesters held up Israeli and American flags as they followed along with the moving group on the sidewalk.

The event began at around 3 p.m. with chants of “people of the world unite, Palestine is our fight.” As more protestors gathered, growing to around 250 people, speakers began.

Protestors march down Franklin Street in Chapel Hill during rally in support of Palestine on Sunday, May 5, 2024.

“We have done something both unprecedented and on the shoulders of anti-war protesters in Vietnam, for anti-Apartheid activists for South Africa and all of the other struggles for liberation worldwide and across history,” one speaker said when referencing the “Triangle Gaza Solidarity Encampment” at Polk Place, organized through UNC Students for Justice in Palestine, a student group that has been suspended by UNC administration.

The speaker also said that this off-campus event was the first UNC SJP-held rally since members of the solidarity encampment were arrested by UNC Police the morning of Tuesday, April 30. The speaker described the events of the day to the crowd, saying that the UNC administration stood by as the police "brutalized" their students.

Another member of the protest read a statement on behalf of one of the students who was arrested during Tuesday’s police escalation, and had spent four days in the encampment at Polk Place.

“Four officers pinned me to the ground and handcuffed me so tightly that my wrists were swollen for days afterwards,” the student wrote in a description of their arrest.

A pro-Palestine protester attends a protest at the Peace and Justice Plaza on Franklin St. on Sunday, May 5, 2024.

A faculty member read another statement on behalf of an additional student who was detained on Tuesday morning. In their statement, the student spoke about their reasoning behind participating in pro-Palestine protests.

“No sugarcoating the genocide, and no sitting idly by as human beings are ripped of their humanity,” the student said to the crowd through their written statement.

The group then stepped onto Franklin Street, chanting, “free the people, free the land,” as police blocked cars from driving. Before they left the sidewalk, demonstrators said goodbye to students attending the rally who had been part of the encampment on UNC's campus and were later arrested and suspended. These students are not currently allowed to go on campus, according to a post on UNC SJP's Instagram page.  

The crowd continued to grow and drew spectators and customers from Franklin Street businesses, many of whom were filming or taking pictures as they marched by. The group was led by a large truck with a few demonstrators standing on the back, one of whom was leading chants with a megaphone.

Hundreds of pro-Palestine protesters march through Chapel Hill on Sunday, May 5, 2024.

As the group made their way around the block and onto campus, they walked around the Quad and stopped outside the steps of South Building. 

Protestors and counter-protesters stood on the upper steps of South Building, holding up Palestinian and American flags, respectively, while standing next to each other. Speakers began to address the group, then amassing around 400 participants, discussing their demands and plans for the future.

A protestor holds up a sign at at a rally in support of Palestine at the Peace and Justice Plaza in Chapel Hill on Sunday, May 5, 2024.

A member of the faculty said that he was planning to withhold his grades from the University in an act of protest until some kind of amnesty was reached. While speaking to the crowd, he called on all others who are capable to do the same.

UNC SJP posted an Instagram statement Sunday night calling on all TAs, instructors and professors to withhold reporting official grades to the University in order to demand amnesty for all students suspended due to protesting for Palestinian liberation. 

When addressing the crowd, the faculty member referenced a letter signed by over 800 UNC faculty and staff for students' right to free speech and protest. The letter is addressed to interim Chancellor Lee Roberts and Provost Christopher Clemens, voicing concerns of signees about the handling of the encampment and “the sudden, unexplained closing of the Campus Y.” The letter said that the University must dismiss suspensions and charges against students involved in the protest, return their belongings, remove the fence around Polk Place and reopen the Campus Y.

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“We call for accountability for the administrators whose decisions during the protest dishonored the university’s noble traditions of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and respecting students’ rights to protest,” the letter said.

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