‘Imminent law enforcement action’: Emerson protesters in violation of city ordinances, school says

BOSTON — Several students protesting at a local college may soon be subject to “imminent law enforcement action”, officials said Wednesday.

Emerson College says the students encamping in Boylston Place Alley in protest of the War in Gaza violate Boston city rules.

School officials say that Bolyston Place is partially owned by the college but is also a public right-of-way. In a statement, Emerson College says the encampment violates ordinances prohibiting tents in a public right-of-way. There have also been violations involving blocking pedestrian access to the alley, excessive noise in public, and fire hazards posed by blocking doors and hydrants, Emerson says.

“Consistent with Emerson’s values and as a matter of principle, we support our community’s right to express their views through protest. However, they must do so in a manner consistent with the laws of the City of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” read a statement signed by college president Jay Bernhardt and several other school officials. “Earlier today, the Commissioners of the BPD and BFD directly informed Emerson’s leadership that some actions of the protestors are in direct violation of city ordinances, which could result in imminent law enforcement action.”

Tents and cardboard signs have populated Bolyston Place since students moved into the alley on Sunday night.

Pro-Palestinian camps also began at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and Tufts University Sunday night, joining Columbia University in protesting their school’s affiliations with Israel.

These students say they have four demands.

“Number 1, to call for a permanent and immediate ceasefire in Gaza, number 2, disclose all financial investments and connections towards Zionist entities, and 3, divest from those entities and number 4, drop any of the academic disciplinary charges on these students,” said Owen Buxton, an Emerson College student.

But Boston city leaders say these tents are now violating city code since it’s becoming a fire hazard with students blocking doors, hydrants and access to public buildings like the state’s transportation center.

“We’re gonna stay until our demands are met or until we’re forcibly dragged out,” said Amrita Bala, an Emerson College student who’s part of Students for Justice in Palestine.

Some Jewish students also say they’ve been harassed trying to come through here.

“I’ve had friends who have been verbally abused, I’ve had friends who have been physically assaulted trying to get to their dorms too because they’re blocking off hundreds of people’s living space,” said Ari Willis, a Jewish student at Emerson College.

Emerson College sent a letter to students warning them to clear the alley after the demands from the city.

The college also says they’ve had reports of protesters intimidating Jewish students and that behavior is unacceptable.

“This type of behavior is unacceptable on our campus. To ensure the safety of our community, Emerson has placed members of the Windwalker Security staff at the Boylston Place alley to ensure safe and consistent access to the alley as required by law. Students, staff, and faculty who feel unsafe may also request an escort from the Emerson College Police Department,” the school said in a statement.

At an unrelated event, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said Wednesday that the city is monitoring the situation.

“The city’s interest is in safety for everyone and access to the public building, the state transportation building and other offices that might be in that building,” Wu said. “It’s an important part of Boston’s traditions to protect free speech and making sure people’s voices can be heard, it just has to be done in line with public safety.”

“Emerson College remains steadfast in its support of community members’ right to peacefully protest,” the school said. “However, we must also emphasize that we cannot prevent the enforcement of Boston city ordinances or Massachusetts state law. We strongly urge the protestors and their supporters to immediately comply with these laws to avoid legal consequences beyond the College’s authority or control.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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