Police Force Protestors Out of Gaza Solidarity Encampment; 133 Demonstrators Arrested

Officers arrested demonstrators when they refused to disperse from the Parker Quad encampment (Photo courtesy of Dylan Murphy).
Officers arrested demonstrators when they refused to disperse from the Parker Quad encampment (Photo courtesy of Dylan Murphy).
Video courtesy of Dylan Murphy and Lilly Sabella

Less than two days since its inception, the New York State Police and the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office have dismantled and forced demonstrators out of the Palestine solidarity encampment on Parker Quad — the courtyard surrounded by four residence halls on campus. Police arrived on foot outside of the encampment at approximately 10:40 p.m. and arrested and forced protestors out of the area until they cleared the encampment entirely at 1:00 a.m. Approximately 150 officers were present on campus that arrested 133 students and other demonstrators on Parker Quad. 

SUNY New Paltz students have followed the lead of other U.S. colleges by protesting and occupying campus zones. Columbia University sparked widespread campus protests after April 17, when students occupied campus and demanded the school divest from its financial ties to Israel. Other SUNY colleges have organized campus encampments, including SUNY Purchase, University at Buffalo and Stony Brook University. Police have shut down each encampment and made arrests on these campuses within the last 48 hours. Officers have arrested more protestors at SUNY New Paltz’s encampment than at any other SUNY, with the 133 arrests on Parker Quad surpassing the 70 arrests made at SUNY Purchase on Thursday evening. 

A key demand of demonstrators in the liberated zone included “divestment,” in which SUNY New Paltz would “sever contracts, withdraw investments and end all financial relationships with companies responsible for genocide in Palestine including immediate termination of Siemens contracts C991285 and OC42022.” The university responded that such contracts, relationships and investments are not under the authority of SUNY New Paltz, but rather handled by “the SUNY or State level or via the SUNY New Paltz Foundation, a nonprofit organization that is a separate entity from the University,” according to University Spokesperson Andrew Bruso in a written statement.

Around 200 people were present in the encampment at 7 p.m., which was the time SUNY New Paltz President Darrell P. Wheeler stated in a campus-wide email for demonstrators to “completely and peacefully [dismantle]” the encampment. He offered demonstrators amnesty regarding campus conduct policies if they dispersed by this time. Protestors did not comply with his request, and at 7:09 p.m., an organizer warned people in and around the encampment to expect a police presence from anywhere between 7:10 – 10:30 p.m. Hundreds of onlookers gathered outside of the roped-off encampment, anticipating the arrival of the police. 

A second-year student who was observing the encampment stated, “You can at least say it’s for something. This is exactly what we should be promoting in our country — communicating and having a discussion with each other. I wish there was more than that here.”  

At 7:15 p.m., administrative members Michael Patterson and Kathleen Lieblich from Student Affairs arrived at the encampment. The two representatives told demonstrators they appreciated them taking their tents down, and announced an extension for the protestors to disperse by 9 p.m. They stated that Wheeler agreed to meet with a private group of negotiators from the encampment on the condition that protestors disperse.

Student Affairs members Michael Patterson and Kathleen Lieblich requested the encampment demonstrators disperse by 9 p.m. (Photo courtesy of Dylan Murphy)

The demonstrators made no move to disperse, and by 7:30 p.m. encampment organizers began preparing people for arrest and the possibility of “escalation” via law enforcement. As surveillance drones hovered above the encampment, organizers ran demonstrators through safety training regarding police arrests, prepping them on what to say to police when arrested as well as teaching “ready, set, sprawl, down, leg lock” commands to form a human chain for protestors to lock bodies against arrest.

Demonstrators within the encampment formed a human chain to resist arrest from police (Photo courtesy of Dylan Murphy)

At 9:30 p.m., around 30 state police officers gathered in Route 32 Resident South Lot alongside two Ulster County Sheriff correctional vans. At approximately 10:00 p.m., an officer inside a cop car arrived at Parker Quad and gave the first issue for protestors to disperse on a loudspeaker from his car. He issued the warning that they had 10 minutes to clear the quad and that the gathering was an unlawful assembly. He issued another warning at 10:18 p.m., then a third at 10:28 p.m. warning the gatherers they had two minutes to disperse. 

At 10:30 p.m., police officers gave orders for demonstrators to immediately leave Parker Quad. As protestors braced themselves for police officers to arrive and sat with their arms locked on the grass, around 50 state police officers arrived outside of the encampment. Officers lined up outside of Gage Hall with two police dogs and donning riot shields, helmets, zip ties and batons. Officers approached the encampment and began ripping down Palestinian flags and ropes that marked the encampment. Police began forcibly lifting demonstrators from the encampment, tearing protestors away from one another and restraining them in zip ties. 

State police officers lined up outside of Gage Hall before closing in on the encampment. (Photo courtesy of Dylan Murphy)

Residents from Bliss, Scudder, Capen and Gage Halls stuck their heads out of their dorm windows and looked on from outside their lobbies as police cleared the quad and made arrests for over two hours. Students sustained both internal and external injuries from altercations with the police. Following their arrests, some had to go to the hospital to treat injuries and were not discharged until early hours of the morning. 

The Office of Residence Life sent an email to Parker Quad residents after 10 p.m. that informed them of the police presence on campus and advised residents to stay indoors “until the demonstration and all temporary structures have been removed.” 

A first-year Capen Hall resident stated, “It’s been weird. We all got an email the first night the encampment was going on that talked about how we would have extra security in our lobbies, and I thought it would be campus police, but it’s our untrained, young RAs.”

At 11:00 p.m., police slowed down their arrests of demonstrators by asking them whether they would resist arrest before binding them in zip ties. As police continued to tear down the demonstrators’ tarps and signs, approximately 50 more officers from the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office arrived and joined the line alongside the state police. Demonstrators refused to leave and continued chants that demanded “end the genocide” and “free Palestine.” 

Police in riot gear stormed at protestors within the encampment. (Photo courtesy of Dylan Murphy)

Student protestor Rae Ferrara stated amidst the police arrests, “I’m hungry, I’m tired and I’m ready to get arrested for Palestine.” 

At 11:47 p.m., police spread out to cover the entire length of the quad, which prohibited anyone from getting past them and into Gage Hall. The administration placed residence halls on lockdown, and officers restricted residents from entering and exiting Bliss and Scudder Halls. Both halls were located behind the police barricades. 

Onlookers stood around the quad, watching the confrontation between the officers and student protestors unfold. At 12:20 a.m., police made it halfway across the quad, continuing to dismantle the encampment. Officers pushed gatherers further and further off Parker Quad by arresting and charging at protestors with their batons until they crossed the entirety of the quad and cleared the encampment at approximately 1 a.m. 

Officers dragged demonstrators away before restraining them in zip ties. (Photo courtesy of Dylan Murphy)

Around 70 demonstrators remained on their feet after police had crossed Parker Quad, and police continued to force them past Parker Theatre until demonstrators dispersed at 1:15 a.m. Officers remained in a line facing the Student Union Building and blocking off Parker Quad. 

Students and other protestors who were arrested waited in the parking lot of the Health and Wellness Center, waiting to be processed and taken to one of many jail locations, including ones in New Paltz, Esopus, Highland, Ellenville, Kingston and Wappingers Falls. 

Officers pushed students off of Parker Quad and past Parker Theater after over two hours of arrests. (Photo courtesy of Dylan Murphy)

While administration authorized the police clearing the encampment, law enforcement agencies controlled the number of officers present and their conduct, according to Bruso. 

The conduct charges students will receive for participating in the protest have yet to be made public. “The University is in the process of reviewing the specific details of arrests and citations,” said Bruso in a written statement. “The campus will fully enforce its code of conduct, with all appropriate consequences.”

In an email released to the SUNY New Paltz community Thursday night, President Wheeler announced that police would remove the encampment, noting conduct violations and safety concerns regarding his decision. “The safety of our students and campus community is paramount, and I cannot allow the encampment to remain unchecked,” he stated. 

By Friday morning, the encampment at Parker Quad was completely cleared, with tents, signs and other personal belongings removed and taken to dumpsters behind the South Classroom Building. The grass was raked of discarded food and supplies.

At noon on Friday, students walked out of their classes in solidarity against the university’s actions. Approximately 200 students met outside the Haggerty Administration Building, where the offices of President Wheeler’s cabinet and staff are located. Participants chanted “40,000 people dead, you’re arresting kids instead” and sang the protest song Solidarity Forever. 

First-year education major Soph Rullo said, “I wasn’t too involved in what was going on. I saw what happened last night, and it was completely unnecessary and disgusting. Now, I feel like I need to get involved.” 

Another first-year student who attended the walk-out said, “I’m here for the people who were arrested last night and couldn’t come here today. I want to stand for Palestine but also for the students that were taken.” 

Residents of Scudder Hall watched from their dorm rooms as officers spread out to cover the entire length of the quad (Photo courtesy of Dylan Murphy)

On Friday at 5 p.m., President Wheeler released another letter that called his decision to send police to remove the Parker Quad encampment “the most difficult [he has] had to make at any point in [his] career,” and stated that, “We did not want to see this happen.” 

Following the events of Friday evening, SUNY New Paltz Residence Hall Association and Student Association made the decision to cancel the SpringFest Block Party and SpringFest performance featuring Leon Thomas. Resident Assistant Abby Selnick explained how this decision was made entirely by a board of students from both associations. “We had residents get arrested in front of us who are our own residents,” Selnick said. “We watched our professors get brutalized over and over again, and it’s clear with the text from the New Paltz alert and email saying that they want everything to go back to business as usual. But business is not usual anymore. They militarized our campus … it’s not the time for a celebratory event.”

5/4/24 7:41 p.m. update: On May 4th, students who police arrested on Parker Quad received emails from the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards stating they would be disciplined according to violations of the Student Handbook/ Code of Conduct. According to the email, the disciplinary action includes “sanctions that may be applied up to and including expulsion.” The email warned that further conduct violations would result in increased consequences including “immediate interim suspension,” which means afflicted students cannot sit for final exams nor participate in commencement activities such as graduation. The email also stated that students must wait a “3-week period” to be informed of the violation campus administration will charge them with.

News Editor Emily Clayton contributed to this article.

An earlier version of this article was corrected to say that Student Affairs administrative members told demonstrators they appreciated them taking their tents down at 7:15 p.m., and that police tore down tarps at 10:00 p.m. — not tents.

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About Lilly Sabella 60 Articles
Lilly Sabella is a third-year student from Queens, NY. This is her first semester as Features Editor and her fifth semester on The Oracle. Previously, she served as News Editor. You can reach her by emailing sabellal1@newpaltz.edu and read more of her writing on Substack at barbierot.substack.com.

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