UPenn protest: 9 students among more than 30 arrested as police dismantle pro-Palestine tent encampment

More than 30 pro-Palestine protesters were arrested after police moved in and dismantled a tent encampment on UPenn's campus Friday morning.

The show of force came less than 24-hours after Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro called for the encampment to end

Officers dressed in riot gear and armed with clubs moved into the encampment around 6 a.m., tearing down tents and making arrests. 

The university said approximately 33 protesters were arrested "without incident" and cited for defiant trespassing. Of those arrested, a university spokesperson said that only nine had been confirmed to have been students. 

"A sad day, a low point at this university," Dagmawi Woubshet, a professor at the university, told reporters. "The students have engaged in a peaceful, first amendment-protected right of free speech – that's what they were doing – for Gaza in support of Palestine to demonstrate the genocide that has taken place in Gaza."

UPenn faculty members gathered Friday at 1 p.m. for a press conference to "condemn arrests and suppression of non-violent, anti-war protests." 

"This repressive action on the part of administrators was a violation of the University’s Guidelines on Open Expression, which explicitly take precedence over all other university policies," a letter from faculty members read. "It was a shameful attempt to single out, silence, and punish speech critical of the war in Gaza that administrators simply do not want to hear."

The encampment, which has occupied part of UPenn's campus for two weeks, recently grew to overtake another part of the College Green. Police and sanitation workers spent Friday morning dismantling tents and signs, and using a trash truck to haul away the remnants of the encampment.

Shapiro, a Democrat, claimed the encampment had become more unstable since it was established. In a statement on Friday, a spokesperson for the governor voiced his administration's acceptance of peaceful protests and free speech, but claimed the encampment had "reached an untenable point." 

"The situation at Penn reached an untenable point – and as the University stated publicly, the encampment was in violation of university policy, campus was being disrupted, and threatening, discriminatory speech and behavior were increasing," Spokesperson Manuel Bonder said. "After Penn's weeks-long efforts to engage protesters were met with further escalation, today, the University of Pennsylvania's leadership made the right decision to dismantle the encampment."

Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker said the university asked the city to provide general assistance from police on May 1. The Parker administration agreed to "provide backup assistance if arrests were made, or if the situation became dangerous or violent" and encouraged UPenn and encampment leaders to broker an agreement. 

"As is now clear, an agreement was not reached, and the University made the decision to clear the encampment. As such, Penn called, asked for assistance, and Philadelphia Police fulfilled its commitment to provide support.

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Student protesters gathered on UPenn's campus as police moved in.

In a letter to the school community, leaders said their outreach efforts with encampment representatives over the last two weeks was "met by unreasonable demands and a dangerous escalation of the encampment" and called dismantling the encampment "unfortunate but necessary."

"The protesters refused repeatedly to disband the encampment, to produce identification, to stop threatening, loud, and discriminatory speech and behavior, and to comply with instructions from Penn administrators and Public Safety," the letter read in part. 

"There are times when our abiding commitment to open expression requires balancing free speech with our responsibility to safety, security, and continuing the operations of the University. This is one of those times and why we have acted."