Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Deering Meadow encampment heads into first night amid threats of police escalation

Protesters retreated into tents late Thursday night to stay the night on Deering Meadow.

After more than 18 hours on Deering Meadow, several hundred pro-Palestine protesters prepared to spend the night in tents and on the grass as part of an ongoing encampment, despite threats of police escalation.

Northwestern Divestment Coalition set up the ‘Northwestern Liberation Zone’ Thursday morning to pressure the University to divest from and cut ties with institutions connected to Israel. The coalition includes student activists from NU Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as non-NU affiliates.

The encampment hosted over 1,000 people by sunset, according to organizers. The first day on the Meadow saw chants, songs, traditional dances, shared food and drinks and speakers throughout the day. The day also saw encounters with police and counterprotesters. 

Students on campuses across the country — including Columbia University, Yale University and Emory University — have set up similar encampments and faced violent encounters with police. 

The nationwide encampments come as Israel’s military action in Gaza has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to Palestinian officials. Israel’s ground and air offensive follows the militant group Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel which killed about 1,200 Israelis, according to Israeli officials.

Police notified protesters they were not in compliance with University policy upon arrival. The University requires reservations for events on the Meadow, which organizers had not made. NUPD asked organizers to remove the tents and threatened protesters with criminal citations if they did not comply, citing NU’s demonstration policy prohibiting tents. 

Several students started dismantling tents for fear of criminal citations, but others, who organizers said were willing to be forcibly removed by police, kept their tents up. After regrouping, all tents were reerected. 

“The main ask from Palestinians right now is for Americans and supporters around the world to help disrupt the war machine, which Northwestern is invested in,” one NU alum told The Daily. “I see this as our responsibility as human to stand up against genocide.”

When NUPD advanced on the encampment, protesters gathered with linked arms in a line facing the officers. Faculty members in support of the encampment created a line of defense between students and police and faced the brunt of a violent encounter. Police officers charged into the protesters and pushed and grabbed faculty members. 

“I came out to support the students in their demands that the University divest from Israel,” Feinberg Prof. alithia zamantikas told The Daily Thursday morning. “We’ve been witnesses to an ongoing genocide for several months, and I’m here to make sure students have the right to free speech. I will be protecting the students.

Medill Prof. Steven Thrasher, who stood in what he called the “faculty line of defense,” told The Daily that protecting students outweighs the potential repercussions he could face as a protesting faculty member. 

“This morning we held the line to try to keep the police from touching and assaulting our students,” Thrasher told The Daily. “I would lose my job if that means I could keep the police from harming our students.” 

NUPD vehicles left the Meadow by noon, eliciting cheers from protesters. 

In a statement sent to the community at 9:37 a.m., University President Michael Schill stated that all tents had been removed from the Meadow and that students who did not comply were cited. Tents were still pitched when the email went out to the community. While NUPD was seen forcibly taking some tents, no demonstrators has received citations as of 1 p.m., University spokesperson Jon Yates told The Daily. 

Schill also announced an interim addendum to the Student Code of Conduct, effective immediately, which includes new campus protest policies on using chalk on University property, use of outdoor sound amplification and regulations on pitching tents on campus.

After an afternoon of dances, chants and soccer games, those gathered heard from social organizer, educator and author Imam Adeyinka Mendes, the Muslim-cultural Students Association’s spring speaker, who was originally slated to speak at 555 Clark St.

At around 8:30 p.m., a terse exchange between protesters and a group of three individuals who projected the Star of David onto the west facade of the Jacobs Center. 

“We’re just supporting Israel just like you’re supporting Palestine,” one person in the group told the demonstrators.

The addendum explicitly states that “only authorized University officials are permitted to alter or project light onto University buildings or property.”

Both coalition representatives and the University confirmed that negotiations between organizers and Schill, Provost Kathleen Hagerty and Vice President of Student Affairs Susan Davis lasted about two hours Thursday evening. 

According to several students present at the meeting, administrators said they would give two warnings before sending in University Police if students do not remove their tents and exit Deering Meadow. They expected police to arrive at around 11 p.m. 

Despite the threat of arrests, few protesters left the Meadow. 

Students present at the meeting also said Hagerty told them the best she can do regarding their demand for the disclosure of NU’s investments is to ask the Board of Trustees whether they’d be willing to do so.

Michael Simon, executive director of Northwestern Hillel, said some of the students and parents he works with expressed concern about Thursday’s protests. 

“The campus should be a safe and welcoming one for every student,” Simon said. “With both the reality of what’s happening but also the awareness that a lot of folks have that these kinds of things have happened at Columbia and other places with students being at times harassed, I think that really had people highly concerned.”

In a statement released just before noon Thursday, Simon and other NU Hillel community leaders condemned Associated Student Government Senate’s Wednesday night vote to sign onto the Northwestern People’s Resolution and said the encampment reflects “a disturbing and quickly escalating trend of antisemitic rhetoric and actions both nationally and on our own campus.”

The organizers returned to a sizable and energetic crowd just before 9 p.m. and proceeded to lead the demonstrators in chants, listen to music and share instructions for possible police escalation.

Just before 11 p.m., the University announced it had asked organizers to remove tents, bullhorns and speakers being used in the demonstration. The message said organizers declined, and announced the University’s plans to move forward with “other options” to ensure safety and continued operations on the Evanston campus. 

Protesters prepared to spend the night on Deering Meadow Thursday with knowledge that University Police may come to arrest them. A Jewish senior and organizer said protesters are not leaving Deering until every single one of their demands is met.

“(Administrators) were not prepared to give us an answer, but that’s okay, because we’re not prepared to leave,” she said.

Protesters later received word that police would not be coming until at least 5 a.m. Students ended the night with chants.

“No matter what happens tonight, we will be back tomorrow,” protesters chanted.

— Jacob Wendler, Nicole Markus, Shannon Tyler, Beatrice Villaflor, Jake Epstein, Casey He, William Tong, Samantha Powers, Saul Pink

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