newsSchools & Higher Education

Protesters at Penn seek clash, police refuse to clear encampment

Police reportedly refused to remove trespassing demonstrators.

The University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia. Credit: SINITAR/Shutterstock.
The University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia. Credit: SINITAR/Shutterstock.

As tensions escalate at a Gaza Solidarity Encampment at the University of Pennsylvania, administrators are taking a dialogue and de-escalation approach, possibly because they have no choice.

Penn asked the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) to dismantle the encampment, but the police refused, the student-run Daily Pennsylvanian claimed on May 2.

Police asked that the university first provide proof that the encampment “presents an imminent danger,” reported the paper, citing a source familiar with the matter.

If accurate (and the Philadelphia police refused to confirm or deny the report), it suggests the PPD is creating a new standard for enforcing the law. As the university points out, “The encampment itself violates the university’s facilities policies.”

In response to JNS requests for clarification, the police said, “We do not publicly discuss specific planning or engagement strategies related to ongoing situations. Our response will be based on the specific circumstances of each situation.”

The office of the interim university president was also vague, telling JNS, “We have reached out to the City of Philadelphia to ensure we have the necessary resources to keep our community safe. The Mayor’s Office has asked for more information, and we are providing it.”

A George Soros-funded DA

The protesters may have sympathy among senior public officials. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, a George Soros-funded DA sharply criticized for his soft-on-crime policies, visited the protesters three times, saying the purpose of his third visit on May 2 was “to find out what the truth is.”

The encampment has not been peaceful, judging from a letter sent Monday to the Penn community by interim President J. Larry Jameson. (President Liz Magill was forced out after backlash for her testimony before Congress, in which she failed to recognize calls for genocide against Jews as violating the university’s code of conduct.)

“The encampment should end. It is in violation of our policies, it is disrupting campus operations and events, and it is causing fear for many in our large, diverse community, especially among our Jewish students,” the letter states.

“Some have aimed to characterize this as a peaceful protest. It is not. Two cherished Penn landmarks, the Benjamin Franklin statue and the Button, have been defaced and vandalized,” it said.

“There have been disturbing reports of harassing and threatening speech. On Wednesday night, protesters threatened and attempted to provoke Penn Public Safety police officers. On Friday, we were made aware of an alarming video that showed a Penn student being barred entry to the encampment and threatened.”

Despite the escalation, the letter called for a “measured approach” in line with advice from police and public officials, “who recommend that we continue to focus on de-escalation and dialogue before taking steps that could inflame tensions.

“However, we are concerned that many of the protestors occupying the encampment on College Green are seeking such a confrontation. We have heard reports of circulating documents with instructions for escalating a protest, including through building occupations and violence,” the letter notes.

While warning of the growing dangers (“Every day the encampment exists, the campus is less safe”) Jameson maintains a continued willingness “to pursue reasonable options” (despite then acknowledging the protesters’ “unwillingness to negotiate on reasonable terms to a conclusion”).

The schizophrenic nature of the letter lends credence to the student paper’s report that the administration wants to remove the protesters, yet doesn’t have the resources, i.e. police backing, to do so.

Police have entered the campus but on a limited basis. They came on May 2 to separate pro- and anti-Israel rallies.

That day, about 20 officers removed two anti-Israel protesters who hopped onto the Ben Franklin statue in front of College Hall, leading to a clash between organizers and police officers.

“Organizers knocked down all the barricades surrounding the statue and rushed the statue, linking arms around the base. Police fell back after the interaction,” the newspaper reported.

The pro-Israel rally on Thursday culminated in a march to the office of the interim president, where the Philadelphia chapter of the Israeli-American Council (IAC) delivered a petition signed by more than 3,000 verified Penn students and faculty.

Notice of trespass

The petition called for the university to enforce its notice of trespass and remove the anti-Israel encampment. (Penn has issued trespassing notices to protesters and posted signs reading, “Your activities are in violation of state and local laws, as well as university policy.”)

On April 26, the university ordered the encampment to disband. An email that day addressed to the Penn community indicates that the protesters caused problems from the start. (The encampment was only established the day before.)

Signed by interim president Jameson, provost John L. Jackson Jr., and senior executive vice president Craig R. Carnaroli, it states: “The harassing and intimidating comments and actions by some of the protesters, which were reported and documented by many in our community, violate Penn’s open expression guidelines and state and federal law, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.”

Failure to deal with the anti-Israel protesters forced a more than 100-year-old tradition on campus to make way. Hey Day, where Penn juniors mark their advance to the senior class, has been celebrated since 1916.

Normally, the juniors march down Locust Walk to College Green. Due to the protest, which has commandeered the green, the May 2 celebratory walk on May 2 ended a block earlier at Annenberg Plaza.

Christopher Tremoglie, a Penn alumnus, writing in The Washington Examiner on Friday, described the College Green as looking “like a dirty, trashy, polluted country. A malodorous stench emanated from the encampment. Tents and signs were propped up all over the lawn that contained the usual hyperbolic hysteria and left-wing messaging.”

He noticed that many at the encampment were not students. “Some seemed to be young adults who were either unemployed or professional protesters,” wrote Tremoglie.

ABC News reported that the protesters were a mix of people from nearby Drexel University, Temple University and other organizations.

That outsiders have joined the campus protests only recently came to light. On May 2, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced that nearly half of the anti-Israel protesters arrested at Columbia University and City College of New York were not students.

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