U. of C. police clear protest encampment early Tuesday, days after president announces intention to intervene

University of Chicago Police cleared a pro-Palestine protest encampment in a brief raid at the South Side university early Tuesday morning, organizers said.

About 50 UCPD officers began dismantling tents and makeshift barriers surrounding them around 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, protester Christopher Iacovetti said.

“They started throwing everything in every possible direction,” said Iacovetti, a PhD student at the university.

There were no arrests, according to school officials. Protesters remained in the area and reentered the main quad at around 8 a.m., which was marked with patches of brown grass where tents had been hours before.

Police had brought printed “final notices” to occupants of the encampment, which were later ripped and strewn at protesters’ feet when they locked arms against a barricade and a line of UCPD officers outside a side entrance to the quad on South Ellis Avenue later Tuesday morning.

“If you are not arrest-ready, you need to back out because they’re going to arrest everybody,” Jessica Darrow, professor at University of Chicago’s Crown School of Social Work, Policy and Practice, warned to protesters.

U. of C. faculty members gather to support pro-Palestinian student protesters

Several dozen protesters faced university police and chanted, “we are the encampment! We are the encampment!” along with other slogans calling on the university of disclose and drop its financial ties to Israel.

Police put up a yellow plastic barrier and the chants got angrier. Some protesters screamed insults directly into officers faces.“How does it feel to be on the wrong side of history?” they asked. “Shame on you!”

Organizers had spent much of the night preparing for an anticipated police incursion, the second night in a row the expectation of clearance had circulated among those camping out beneath the gothic buildings that ring the university’s main quad.

The encampment has occupied the main quad of the University of Chicago since April 29. It’s one of many other large-scale student protests across the country in demanding the university divest from companies with ties to Israel, including weapons manufacturers supplying arms to Israel’s military amid the mounting death toll in Gaza. More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Health Ministry.

Israel launched its bombardment of Gaza after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, where the group killed some 1,200 people and took 250 hostages. President Joe Biden last week defended the right to protest but insisted that “order must prevail” at college campuses, as some in Chicago’s Jewish community demanded action at local universities to prevent hate speech.

On Friday, university president Paul Alivisatos claimed the encampment had produced a “systemic disruption” to daily life and announced the university was prepared to “intervene” hours before protesters had a brief confrontation with a group of fraternity brothers trying to place an American flag near a pole where activists had raised a Palestinian flag.

Alivisatos issued a statement Tuesday morning saying safety concerns had only grown over the past few days as negotiations failed. There had been no arrests in the police action, the statement read, but that discipline against students could be forthcoming.

“There were areas where we were able to achieve common ground, but ultimately a number of the intractable and inflexible aspects of their demands were fundamentally incompatible with the University’s principled dedication to institutional neutrality,” Alivisatos said in the statement.

“The University remains a place where dissenting voices have many avenues to express themselves, but we cannot enable an environment where the expression of some dominates and disrupts the healthy functioning of the community for the rest,” he said.

Protesters anticipated a police raid Sunday night and put out a call for activists and organizers to join them on the quad, though their preparations died down around 3 a.m. Monday morning.

After the encampment was cleared, some students gathered on the steps in front of the administration building. Four hours after the tents were removed, they spoke out with their last messages of protest, holding up Palestinian flags and banging on drums.

A spokesperson for Mayor Brandon Johnson said that the mayor and Chicago police department was “monitoring the situation.”

After receiving several inquiries about the University of Chicago Police Department’s (UCPD) intention to clear its student encampment at 3 a.m., Tuesday, May 7, Mayor Johnson and senior staff reached out to University of Chicago leadership to reiterate serious safety and operational concerns about this plan — a message conveyed to UCPD multiple times by the Chicago Police Department,” the statement from Ronnie Reese said.

Chicago Tribune’s Jake Sheridan and Sam Charles contributed.