Police “surge” and arrest protesters at pro-Palestinian camp on UNH campus

However, some students, including an organizer, said the demonstration was completely peaceful before law enforcement intervened.

Signs litter the lawn in front of Thompson Hall at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, NH, after police cleared a camp of pro-Palestinian protesters on Wednesday, May 1, 2024. Steven Porter

Joshua Trombley, president of the Graduate Student Senate, said the “vast majority” of participants in the demonstration were UNH students. He said he tried to defuse the situation and begin negotiations, but university officials refused.

“I think it was clear from the beginning that they were going to move in with riot police and forcefully clear the camp, and that's exactly what they ended up doing,” Trombley said.

“What I saw tonight was the most violent demonstration of police violence I have personally seen, and I was truly shocked to see it on a university campus,” he added.

Several students who witnessed the protest and arrests but declined to reveal their names for fear of backlash expressed discomfort with how quickly and forcefully law enforcement responded. Some students mocked police and university staff as they removed the tents, banners and other debris left on the site after protesters were removed.

While the demonstration was promoted on social media by the Palestine Solidarity Coalition (UNH), the permit was held by Trombley and the Graduate Student Senate, which had held seven previously approved demonstrations without incident since October, according to university officials.

Dean said there was no indication this event would be any different.

“If they had simply continued their peaceful protest, it would have ended like any protest: uneventful,” Dean said. “But there was an outside influence here that I don’t think the permit holders could even control.”

The problem arose, Dean said, when protesters began setting up tents in violation of university rules. Police warned three times over a loudspeaker, announcing that the permit had been revoked and their gathering was unlawful. They waited about 45 minutes before police arrived, he said.

A copy of the permit for Wednesday's event obtained by the Globe notes restrictions on certain types of tents, but not an outright ban. UNH guidelines for peaceful protests stipulate that tents may not be used for overnight stays.

The ACLU of New Hampshire released a statement on be the first resort.”

A group called Palestine Solidarity Coalition UNH was one of several promoting an event themed “Working Solidarity with Palestine on May Day” that coincided with Wednesday's demonstration. A similar May Day event took place at Dartmouth College in Hanover, where about 20 people, including a faculty member and a student journalist, were arrested.

Camps have sprung up at Harvard University, MIT, Tufts, Emerson College, Columbia, UCLA, Brown University, Dartmouth College and more than 100 other campuses across the country where students are lobbying their universities calling for a ceasefire and urging them to divest their foundations from companies that profit from Israel's occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Given what has happened at other colleges and universities, a UNH spokesperson said officials interpreted protesters' references to their “encampment” as an expression of their intent to stay overnight in violation of UNH policy.

However, some students had doubts about this justification.

“If you make tents that much of an issue, I don't think tents are the problem,” said junior Olivia M., who declined to give her full last name.

This story has been updated with comments from the President of the Graduate Student Senate.

Steven Porter can be reached at [email protected]. follow him @reporterporter.

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