Chicago police clear DePaul’s pro-Palestinian encampment

Chicago police dismantled DePaul University’s pro-Palestine encampment Thursday morning after administrators signed a complaint alleging trespassing by the protesters, officials said.

On Saturday, university leaders said they had reached an impasse in negotiations with protest organizers but did not intervene.

The encampment, erected April 30, had been Chicago’s last-standing university demonstration against the ongoing war in Gaza. Around 100 tents were on the university’s main quad in Lincoln Park. Encampments were previously erected at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago.

On Thursday morning, about two dozen police officers were on West Fullerton Avenue outside the main quad. They stood their bikes in a line to make a barricade while a group of organizers faced them and yelled messages in protest.

“Let’s wake up the neighborhood,” said one.

No protesters or police officers were injured during the clearing, though two people were arrested afterward for blocking traffic, according to CPD spokesman Tom Ahern.

President Rob Manuel alerted the DePaul community of the removal in an email at 5:30 a.m., which said that student leaders were uncompromising as the encampment “steadily escalated.” All protesters were given the opportunity to leave peacefully without arrest, he said.

“From the beginning of the encampment, I have said that we would protect free speech and the ability to dissent until it either prevented us from carrying out the operations of our university or threatened the safety of the members of our community,” Manuel said. “I am deeply saddened to say the encampment has crossed that line.”

The university said that it received more than 1,000 complaints of discrimination and harassment over the course of the encampment, including one death threat. Some protesters vandalized buildings and other structures in the quad, causing an estimated $180,000 in damage, according to Manuel.

Video taken by DePaul student body president Parveen Mundi shows Chicago police clearing DePaul University’s pro-Palestinian encampment. (Parveen Mundi)

The DePaul Divestment Coalition, which organized the demonstration, said in a statement that police were “brutally arresting at least two students, pulling off the hijab of one, and injuring others.”

At a news conference at the scene, CPD Chief of Patrol Jon Hein said the clearing was peaceful.

“There were no confrontations,” Hein said. “As we approached, all the subjects voluntarily left the area.”

Thursday afternoon, the university briefly issued an alert advising students to avoid the area of the Lincoln Park Student Center because of continued protests outside. Officials said earlier that classes were proceeding as scheduled.

Rumors of a possible raid had been circulating through the encampment for days. Early Thursday, organizers warned international students and those who didn’t want to risk getting arrested to get off campus, senior Simran Bains said.

“The platitudes about keeping people safe … it was all a lie,” she said.

Parveen Mundi, DePaul student body president, woke up at 5:30 a.m. to protesters warning of the raid through megaphones. When police arrived, students were forced off the lawn, she said. Later, DePaul staff loaded tent frames, signs, clothes and trash into garbage truck compressors.

“The cops had already surrounded the camp by the time I woke up,” Mundi said. “The biggest question we all had was whether this university would have the decency and personalism to say whether or not they would use police to intervene.”

The DePaul Divestment Coalition said students will continue to protest the war in Gaza.

Meanwhile, the Anti-Defamation League Midwest praised DePaul’s decision to dismantle the site, citing an “unsafe environment for Jewish students.” The university released photos of several weapons found at the encampment, including a pellet gun and knives.

“We appreciate (that DePaul) took the necessary steps to finally clear out the campus encampment,” the nonprofit said in a statement. “For more than two weeks, the encampment has been marked by antisemitism and the celebration of violence against Jews. It’s about time the encampment came down.”

When the encampment went up, DePaul said that although the tents violate “a variety of university policies,” the administration remained “steadfastly devoted to academic freedom and free speech.”

Since then, campus unrest has become more widespread. Aside from the raid last week at the University of Chicago last Saturday, Chicago police arrested nearly 70 protesters last Saturday at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the Loop.

Mayor Brandon Johnson’s press office released a statement Thursday afternoon distancing him from the CPD response without answering what role his administration had in the final authorization to sweep the encampment.

“On Thursday morning, DePaul University officials signed a criminal trespassing complaint asking the Chicago Police Department to clear an on-campus encampment,” the statement read. “The Johnson administration supports the right to lawful and peaceful protest and will continue to work with stakeholders to ensure the safety of all those involved.”

News of the sweep garnered criticism from progressive Aldermen Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez, 33rd, and Andre Vasquez, 40th.

Rodriguez Sanchez, a Johnson ally who was one of City Council’s first to condemn Israel in the wake of the Gaza war, said the police response was “shameful” in a tweet, while Vasquez said it was “egregious” and “not the direction the city needs to be going in.”

“Arresting students for ‘trespassing’ at institutions they pay so much to attend that they remain in debt for decades is absolutely insane,” Rodriguez Sanchez wrote.

Meanwhile Lincoln Park Ald. Timmy Knudsen, 43rd, sent an email blast to constituents with a link to DePaul’s statement on clearing the encampment.

“As the conflict in the Middle East continues, we will continue to advocate for the city to balance a commitment to upholding First Amendment rights to protest, while ensuring our neighborhoods remain safe,” Knudsen wrote.

Israel launched its bombardment of Gaza after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, in which the group killed some 1,200 people and took 250 hostages. Since then, more than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Chicago Tribune’s Alice Yin contributed.