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Students arrested at School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Fashion Institute of Technology amid crackdown on Palestinian solidarity encampments

As universities across the US continue to crack down on campus protests and encampments in support of Palestine, 68 protesters at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and around 50 at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York were arrested on 4 May and 7 May, respectively.

Protesters from SAIC and Columbia College Chicago had set up an encampment in the North Garden of the Art Institute of Chicago, renaming it “Hind’s Garden” in honour of Hind Rajab, a six-year-old Palestinian girl who was killed along with her family by Israeli forces in Gaza. The protesters told Axios that the SAIC administration initially agreed to let them stay in the garden until the morning of 5 May if the encampment subsequently moved to an academic building. While the protesters were discussing the offer, they said, the school’s administration informed them that police were en route.

Protesters who were arrested were reportedly held overnight at the Chicago Police Department’s 19th district station and allege that they were denied phone calls and the return of personal property. Several protestors also reported cuts and bruises; video shot by a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times shows an officer forcibly shoving a protestor and other images from the scene seem to show officers pinning protestors to the ground. The encampment was dismantled by around 5p.m. on 4 May.

In a joint statement, the SAIC’s president, Elissa Tenny, and provost and senior vice president of academic affairs, Martin Berger, said that the protest began to “escalate on Michigan Avenue outside of [the] museum” and that for the safety of visitors and employees, a decision was made to find an “alternative location”.

“The school also agreed to meet with a student group to discuss their demands,” Tenny and Berger’s statement continues. “After approximately five hours, an agreement could not be reached. The Chicago Police Department ended the protest in the safest way possible.”

In a statement posted on Instagram, SAIC protesters calling themselves The People’s Art Institute disputed the administrators’ account of events. “The goals of the encampment were clear: to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people, demand SAIC and AIC divest from entities profiting off of the occupation and genocide in Palestine, starting with cutting ties with the Crown Family’s weapons manufacturing money,” the protesters’ statement reads. “Leadership at SAIC and AIC have… released statements claiming they acted against us in the name of safety with no mention of the reasons for our encampment. To be clear, at NO POINT did our negotiating liaisons reject an offer from the administration. They only requested changes to be considered.”

The pro-Palestine student encampment at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan before it was dismantled by the NYPD on 7 May Photo: Mpi099 / Media Punch / Alamy Live News

On Tuesday (7 May) evening, the last remaining pro-Palestine student encampment in New York City—following similar raids by the New York Police Department at Columbia University, New York University, The New School and elsewhere—was dismantled amid mass arrests at FIT.

The encampment there, which had begun nearly two weeks earlier inside an academic building before moving to an outdoor area on West 27th Street, had been one of the protest movement’s most enduring. According to the New York Daily News, around 50 people were arrested during the crackdown.

Protests against the war in Gaza have erupted at colleges and universities across the US and beyond over the past month, leading many institutional leaders to summon local police forces to dismantle encampments and arrest students. Manhattan’s Columbia University, whose students set up the first such encampment before taking over a campus building, has opted to cancel its main commencement ceremony and asked the NYPD to remain on campus for weeks. Student protesters at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island, continue to occupy a campus building.

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