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Protesters dispute UT claims about weapons, say they've been searched

University police watch over an empty south mall lawn after protestors postponed their event on May 1, 2024, at the UT Austin
Michael Minasi
KUT News
University police watch over an empty south mall lawn after pro-Palestinian protestors postponed their event on Wednesday at UT Austin.

A demonstration billed as the largest campus protest yet against Israel’s war in Gaza was rescheduled from Wednesday to Sunday.

The organizers, a coalition of local and UT Austin student groups, had originally planned the protest for May Day, traditionally associated with workers' rights. The delay comes after an intense police crackdown on pro-Palestinian demonstrations on Texas’ flagship campus. Since last week, there have been nearly 140 arrests during demonstrations, and state and local police have donned riot gear and used pepper spray to disperse crowds of protesters.

The university has continued to stand by its decision to call in state police. On Tuesday, it claimed protesters brought weapons to the demonstration on Monday, including guns, buckets of large rocks, bricks, steel-enforced wood planks, mallets and chains.

Even though the main protest Wednesday was rescheduled, about a dozen people involved in the demonstrations this past week still gathered on the south lawn. The protesters told KUT the university's claims aren't true.

"That's not what's happening," said one of the protesters who was chosen to speak for the group. "And even if it was happening, UT is a concealed carry campus, so we were in our legal rights."

He said protesters brought in the rocks to hold down papers and posters on the lawn. When they were done using them, they placed them in orange buckets away from the area.

"We are opposed to using any form of violence," he said. He declined to share his name because he was afraid for his safety, given the arrests.

Since last Thursday, UT administrators and police officers have checked their belongings every time they have assembled on the lawn, he said.

"We are within our rights to deny it, but for now, we're complying and letting them know that we don't have anything, and they're free to look through it," he said.

UT spokesperson Brian Davis confirmed the protesters have undergone several searches.

UT's reaction to the protests has outraged students, faculty and staff. Since last week, hundreds of faculty and staff have pushed for a vote of no confidence in the president, who coordinated with Gov. Greg Abbott to arrange the presence of DPS troopers at protests.

The arrests, including 79 on Monday, have led to a backlog of cases for Austin’s local prosecutor — and delayed jail release for demonstrators. Travis County Attorney Delia Garza said she’d received nearly all of the misdemeanor court cases from this week and that it would take some time to process and investigate them.

All the protesters arrested Monday have been released from the Travis County Jail, the Travis County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Garza called on UT to take a lighter hand with demonstrators, calling the current policy “unsustainable.”

Kevin Eltife, head of the UT System Board of Regents, said Tuesday afternoon that wasn't going to happen — that UT Austin would exhaust "every effort" to make sure demonstrators in violation of university policy are arrested.

KUT journalists are employees of the University of Texas, but UT has no editorial control over their reporting.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
Maya Fawaz is KUT's Hays County reporter. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @mayagfawaz.
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