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Police break up pro-Palestinian camp at the University of Michigan

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — (AP) — Police broke up a pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Michigan before dawn Tuesday, citing a threat to public safety and coming less than a week after demonstrators stepped up pressure by placing fake body bags on the lawn of a school official.

Officers wearing helmets with face shields cleared approximately 50 people from the Diag, known for decades as a site for campus protests. Video posted online showed police using what appeared to be an irritant to spray people, who were forced to retreat.

“UM is not a campground,” Sarah Hubbard, chair of the university's governing board, said on the social platform X.

At least four people were arrested, which caused protesters to shift to the Washtenaw County jail where they marched outside in support of their allies.

“We will not stop, we will not rest,” a coalition of pro-Palestinian student groups said on social media.

The campus encampment was set up on April 22, near the end of the school year and just before families began arriving for spring commencement. Posters taunting President Santa Ono and other officials were also displayed.

After the camp was cleared, nearby buildings including the undergraduate and graduate libraries were closed and police turned away students who showed up to study.

Ono said in a statement that the encampment had become a threat to safety, with overloaded power sources and open flames. Organizers, he added, had refused to comply with requests to make changes following an inspection by a fire marshal.

“The disregard for safety directives was only the latest in a series of troubling events centered on an encampment that has always violated the rules that govern the Diag — especially the rules that ensure the space is available to everyone,” Ono said.

Protesters have demanded that the school's endowment stop investing in companies with ties to Israel. But the university insists it has no direct investments and less than $15 million placed with funds that might include companies in Israel. That's less than 0.1% of the total endowment.

“There’s nothing to talk about. That issue is settled,” Hubbard said last week.

A group of 30 protesters showed up at her house on May 15 and placed stuffed, red-stained sheets on her lawn to resemble body bags. They banged a drum and chanted slogans over a bullhorn.

People wearing face coverings also posted demands at the doors of other board members.

“This conduct is where our failure to address antisemitism leads literally — literally — to the front door of my home,” board member Mark Bernstein, a Detroit-area lawyer, said at a Regents meeting last Thursday. “Who’s next? When and where will this end? As a Jew, I know the answer to these questions because our experience is full of tragedies that we are at grave risk of repeating. Enough is enough.”

Students and others have set up tent encampments on campuses around the country to press colleges to cut financial ties with Israel. Tensions over the war have been high on campuses since the fall, but demonstrations spread quickly following an April 18 police crackdown on an encampment at Columbia University. Arrests at campuses have surpassed the 3,000 mark nationwide.

An encampment of pro-Palestinian protesters at Philadelphia's Drexel University persisted Tuesday despite an earlier threat by the school's president to have it cleared.

University administrators tried to open a line of communication to the protesters but were rebuffed, Drexel President John Fry said in a statement Tuesday. He said city and campus police planned to monitor a rally at the encampment scheduled for Tuesday night.

Lecture classes will remain virtual for a third day Wednesday because of the encampment, and some events will have to be rescheduled, Fry said.

“Many of you have expressed your frustration over our decision to scale back in-person classes and activities. I understand and share your frustration. But please rest assured that we are doing everything we can to return our campus safely to normal operations,” he said.

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White reported from Detroit. Associated Press reporter Michael Rubinkam in northeastern Pennsylvania contributed to this report.

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