UPenn Students Arrested at Palestine Demo After Building Occupation Attempt

Philadelphia, PA – Nearly twenty University of Pennsylvania students and supporters were arrested after briefly occupying Fisher-Bennett Hall along 34th Street Friday night. Officers including UPenn’s Emergency Response Teams worked to shove hundreds of pro-Palestine demonstrators away from what they renamed Refaat Alareer Hall. (Alareer was a prominent Gaza professor killed by Israel late last year.) UPenn has also been a site of rallies against Ghost Robotics, an incubator spinoff company that has fast become a key world supplier of military robots including for Israel. We heard that the action was an extension of the UPenn protest encampment organizing that was swept by police action a week earlier, and was aimed at forcing UPenn to divest from companies that do business with Israel.

Philadelphia, UPenn, Drexel and SEPTA Transit Police were all activated during the evening’s events, and the Philly PD “Counter-Terrorism” team which often shows up at demonstrations was also spotted.

According to student reporters UPenn Police were seen with evidence bags at Fisher-Bennett.

Unicorn Riot was live for much of the street demo on 34th Street and after. Full live video stream (YouTube):

Legal observers and other members of the media were shoved away from the scene; approximately 18 people were arrested; at least two people were reportedly tasered, however this is not confirmed.

Team of police lifts a cuffed arrestee into the police van on 34th Street.

UPenn cleared the Palestine solidarity camp a week earlier; a similar action at the University of Chicago on Friday led to the occupation of the Institute of Politics building.

Amid a large number of Philadelphia Police Department officers present, a group of them looked at their cell phones while away from the line.

Law enforcement largely controlled 34th Street most of the time.

The arrival of another set of demonstrators on the west sidewalk after it had already been cleared, brought cheers from the crowd:

An additional group of protesters arrived from the north onto the west side of 34th Street.

The police moved their lines south in a couple steps away from the hall and tried to isolate the crowd onto the east sidewalk. However, the crowd took 34th Street then, moving quickly, turned east onto South Street and down to the Penn Museum alumni weekend event.

Drums crafted from water jugs have been a common element since they were used to bonk police officers at Cal Poly Humboldt in April.
More demonstrators and observers on the west side of 34th Street were eventually dislodged south and off these stairs by police.

The vast majority of officers didn’t seem to tail the demonstrators to the museum — showing the utility of cat-and-mouse moves that are difficult for burdened police units to match. (This is one reason the cavalry-like mobile field force program continues to be America’s leading, standardized anti-protest planning template — it is designed to get ahead of, and split up, quick protest formations.)

Besides the UPenn Emergency Response Teams, SEPTA Transit Police, and Drexel campus police also activated. A Drexel officer was spotted assembling zipties.

Officer Adkins from Drexel University Police assembling zipties.

Unicorn Riot heard from one demonstrator that an international student was barred from their dorm room earlier without reasonable options to retrieve their possessions — similar to other tactics seen recently in other campuses.

As of May 9, six UPenn student organizers were put on mandatory leaves of absence. We also heard that more recent disciplinary messages had just been sent out which might have chilled participation on Friday night.

An alumni event attendee clasped hands with a demonstrator through the fence and compared Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to apartheid-era South Africa.
A Palestine supporter on another’s shoulders holds the Palestinian flag outside the Franklin Fest alumni event.

According to a series of updates by the Daily Pennsylvanian student paper, the alumni event was closed down around 11 p.m. after the protest encounter at the gate. Demonstrators dispersed and dozens headed to jail support to Philly police headquarters at 400 N. Broad Street.

Social media clips and live video camera operation for the second half of the event by Chris Schiano.

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