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Pro-Palestinian protest escalates, police engage with demonstrators after silent vigil


Water is thrown by protesters onto UNC police and interim Chancellor Lee Roberts on Polk Place on Tuesday, April 30.

Following a scheduled vigil for Palestine, a crowd of protesters knocked over barricades and removed the American flag from the UNC flagpole in Polk Place. After protesters raising the Palestinian flag, police forcefully entered the crowd of several hundred people, ultimately using pepper spray to disperse them. 

The silent vigil in solidarity with Palestine began outside the steps of Wilson Library at approximately 11:30 a.m. Around 50 members of the Faculty for Justice in Palestine Network group stood in front of around 200 students, staff and faculty members who were seated on the Quad.

Organizers then led the crowd to the steps of South Building where faculty members, students and community members spoke to spectators. About a dozen various police officers from UNC System departments stood on the side of the barricade, which had been left following the removal of a solidarity encampment earlier this morning.

“I am from Gaza and I have lost more than 30 family members so far,” a speaker said on the steps of South Building. “But seeing this crowd here, that gives me hope.”

Michael Palm, a UNC associate professor who has worked at the University for 16 years and is a member of FJP, said in his speech that he had never been prouder to be a member of the UNC community than since the encampment but criticized the University’s response.

“These administrators are failing in their duties to their institution, their faculty, their students and their obligation to our democratic society,” Palm said to the crowd. “In other words, shame on them.”

Palm also spoke about his perspective on antisemitism in the discourse surrounding the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

“As a Jew, I refuse to let them weaponize antisemitism,” Palm said.

Speeches outside of South Building concluded around 1:45 p.m. Organizers then led the crowd to surround the barricade put up around Polk Place, where the "Triangle Gaza Solidarity Encampment," was previously located. 


Multiple members of the crowd pushed apart pieces of the metal blockade, causing other protesters to join in. Soon, all of the blockades laid on the ground. 

Protesters then surrounded the flagpole in the center of Polk Place, removing the American flag and stringing up the Palestinian flag, while chanting “Free free Palestine.” Police observed the action near Hanes Hall.

Demonstrators remained surrounding the flagpole until about 15 police officers, one of which was carrying a folded American flag, emerged from the other end of the Quad. The officers were led by Roberts and UNC Police Chief Brian James.

They made their way to the center of the group, pushing over any remaining pieces of the barricade. One of the barricades that was knocked over fell onto a protester who uses a wheelchair, trapping her underneath until students could lift it up.

Student and community demonstrators, many of whom were masked, were forced to the outer edges of the cluster by law enforcement. Protesters immediately pushed against police, in an effort to get back to the center.

Yelling students fell to the ground as the officers pushed back, chanting, “Lee Roberts, you can’t hide, you’re funding a genocide.” Roberts took pictures as he returned the American flag to the flagpole, along with the police officers surrounding him.


Interim Chancellor Lee Roberts grasps the USA flag as it is put back up at Polk Place while he is surrounded by UNC police and protesters on Tuesday, April 30, 2024.

Students and faculty members stumbled out of the center in waves as demonstrators from the outside of the crowd led chants, linking arms. Protesters also threw water and empty plastic water bottles at officers inside of the circle.

At 2:45 p.m., police began pepper spraying the immediate crowd as they lifted the American flag. Students and community members cried and coughed as they moved away from Roberts and the officers. 

The 15 police officers stood in the center of Polk Place, with about three feet of space between them and protesters. Approximately twenty counter-protesters with Israeli and American flags, began chanting “USA, USA” toward protesters near the flagpole, clapping for Roberts.

At 3 p.m., Roberts and police officers walked from the flagpole back to South Building. Roberts shook the hands of students and community members in his path and stopped on the steps of the building to speak on the situation.

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Interim Chancellor Lee Roberts shakes hands with counter-protesters on Tuesday, April 30 after raising the USA flag at Polk Place and taking down the Palestine flag.

“The flag represents all of us,” Roberts said. “To take down that flag and put up another flag, no matter what flag it is, that’s antithetical to who we are, what this University stands for [and] what we have done for 229 years.”

Roberts then responded to a reporter’s question about the safety of Jewish students at UNC.

“I would tell those students that we’re going to keep them safe from a very small minority of students who want to disrupt their experience,” Roberts said. “This University is for everybody.”

When The Daily Tar Heel asked what Roberts would say to Palestinian students, he turned and walked back up the stairs into South Building.

Five minutes after escorting Roberts into the building, the entire police presence moved away from Polk Place and toward a growing crowd of chanting protesters. Police once again used pepper spray, reaching members of the media with visible press badges.

UNC police try to protect the flag pole as they replace the Palestine flag with a USA flag on Tuesday, April 30.

Protesters followed police up the stairs, continuing to call police “pigs” and “bastards.” One member of the police squad was held back from going after a protester and police began to use pepper spray again.

Police then retreated into Gerrard Hall, where members of the encampment were detained earlier that morning, as demonstrators cheered with the closing door.

Counter-protesters with Israeli and American flags stood in the area surrounding the flagpole, holding the American flag up from touching the ground. They later moved up to the steps of the South Building.

The American flag was reinstated by UNC Facilities workers around 6:45 p.m., protected by a new circle of barriers and an outer layer of fences.

"That flag will stand here as long as I am chancellor," Roberts said.


@dailytarheel |