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Police arrest multiple protesters during pro-Palestinian demonstration at UT Austin

Dozens of people were arrested during a pro-Palestinian protest on the UT Austin campus Wednesday. The protest, organized by the Palestine Solidarity Committee in Austin, was the latest in a wave of demonstrations sweeping college campuses across the U.S.

The Texas Department of Public Safety said state troopers were called at the request of the university and Gov. Greg Abbott to "prevent any unlawful assembly and support UT Police in maintaining the peace by arresting anyone engaging in any sort of criminal activity, including trespass."

The day before the protest, UT Austin administration sent a letter to PSC warning organizers not to hold the event.

PSC "has declared intent to violate our policies and rules, and disrupt our campus operations," the letter said. "The University of Texas at Austin will not allow this campus to be 'taken' and protesters to derail our mission in ways that groups affiliated with your national organization have accomplished elsewhere."

The letter also said students and PSC could face discipline for protesting.

Crowds began to gather on campus shortly before noon Wednesday. Protesters, many wearing masks and Palestinian scarves, chanted, "Free, free Palestine. Killing children is a crime."

A crowd of people chanting and making peace signs, with a sign saying "Ceasefire now."
Michael Minasi
KUT News
UT Austin administration had warned organizers not to hold the event on the South Lawn of campus.

UT Austin student Ammer Qaddumi said the demonstration was a "continuation of our call against our institution's complicity in the ongoing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza."

Qaddumi said UT Austin has also remained largely silent on the harassment and violence that Muslim, Palestinian and other Arab students have faced around campus.

"The university has not had adequate responses to really address our concerns and has sort of fostered this environment where racist individuals feel actually empowered to continue conducting these harassments against us," he said.

Large police presence heightens tensions

Law enforcement officers from multiple agencies ordered students to disperse at the start of the protest. As the crowd began to disband, police largely funneled them onto one of the campus' main roads, and protesters regathered close to their original starting point.

Throughout the demonstration, Qaddumi repeatedly reminded students to remain peaceful and follow police orders to disperse. Police then arrested him. It is unclear why.

Ammer Qaddumi, a third-year UT Austin student, is arrested while taking part in a pro-Palestinian walkout and protest on April 24, 2024, at the University of Texas at Austin.
Michael Minasi
KUT News
Police arrest Ammer Qaddumi, a third-year UT Austin student taking part in a pro-Palestinian walkout and protest on campus Wednesday.

At around 2:30 p.m., officers again ordered protesters to leave and said they were trespassing. State police shouted "move" as they used horses to push protesters away. Protesters responded with chants of, "Off our campus."

Shortly after, officers went into the crowd and arrested more people.

Around 5 p.m., UT Police used the university broadcast system to order protesters to disband. A voice echoed across campus.

"I command you in the name of the People of the State of Texas to disperse, and if you do not, you shall be arrested," Assistant Chief Ashley Griffin said.

In a tweet Wednesday afternoon, the governor said the arrests would continue until the protesters left.

Devon, a sophomore at UT Austin who declined to share his last name, said he thinks the police presence unnecessarily escalated the demonstration.

"It made me feel nervous that we were on a powder keg about to explode," he said.

He said he thinks if the protesters were allowed to proceed to their route as planned, arrests could have been avoided. The student group had planned a series of workshops and teach-ins as part of the occupation.

"I hate to see students arrested," he said.

George Lobb, an attorney helping to coordinate the release of the protesters held at the Travis County Jail, said around 54 people had been arrested. He said he expected most to face misdemeanors, such as criminal trespass and obstruction of a highway.

He said the protest was peaceful until law enforcement showed up.

"There was no crime committed until the police showed up and used an unlawful exercise of force to unlawfully order them to disperse," Lobb said. "They are UT students. They are on a campus. They weren’t disrupting class. They weren’t disrupting events."

David DeMatthews, an associate professor of education at UT Austin, said it was concerning to see such a large and "militarized" police presence on campus in response to a peaceful protest.

"I was really surprised at the number of officers on motorcycles, bikes, horses, and in what looked to me to be riot gear, so it was pretty shocking for me," he said.

A police officer arrests a person wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh
Michael Minasi
KUT News
Law enforcement officers arrest protesters taking part in the demonstration.

He said in his 11 years as a faculty member at two different UT institutions, he has never seen this many police respond to a demonstration.

"We should care about free speech and students should be able to protest, regardless of the topic that they're concerned about," he said.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations chapter in Austin said the arrests raised serious questions about the protection of free speech and assembly.

Fayyaz Shah, the group's board chair, said law enforcement's response was surprising given that the walkout was peaceful.

“A peaceful protest at a campus where difference of opinion needs to be cherished was stopped by force," Shah said outside the Travis County Jail, where a couple hundred people had gathered waiting for protesters to be released.

At times, the crowd broke into chants pointed straight at the jail doors.

“Free our comrades, free them all! Drop the charges, let them fall,” they said.

Inside, a dozen young people gathered to fill out bond paperwork for their arrested friends. One said most expected to be in jail overnight.

In a statement late Wednesday, UT President Jay Hartzell defended the crackdown on protesters.

"The University did as we said we would do in the face of prohibited actions," it read. "We were prepared, with the necessary support to maintain campus operations and ensure the safety, well-being and learning environment for our more than 50,000 students."

UT faculty plan second protest

On Wednesday evening, UT faculty released a statement condemning the police presence on campus and announcing another protest Thursday. The letter tells people to gather on the lawn in front of the UT Tower — the same location as Wednesday's demonstration — at 12:15 p.m.

"Instead of allowing our students to go ahead with their peaceful planned action, our leaders turned our campus into a militarized zone," the letter reads. "No business as usual tomorrow. No classes. No grading. No work. No assignments."

Audrey McGlinchy, Stephanie Federico and Lauren McGaughy contributed to this report.

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

Becky Fogel is the education reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @beckyfogel.
Chelsey Zhu is the digital producer at KUT. Got a tip? You can email her at
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