2nd day of Gaza protest on U. campus moves to Salt Lake County Jail after organizer's arrest

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SALT LAKE CITY — About 200 people who started protesting for a second day at Presidents Circle on the University of Utah campus moved their demonstration to the Salt Lake County Jail Tuesday night to support a student protester who was arrested.

The protest started with chanting and talks rooting for Palestine in the Gaza war about 6 p.m., but shortly after the protest started, officers arrested one of the student organizers.

U. officials said the person was arrested Tuesday for investigation of disorderly conduct, trespassing higher education premises, failure to disperse based on Monday's protest, and for investigation of resisting arrest Tuesday. That brings the total arrest count to 20.

Protest moves to jail

The protest was moved to the Salt Lake County Jail in South Salt Lake, where people gathered to continue chanting and cheering about their support for Palestine. Deputies stood outside the jail, and authorities closed the jail to members of the public. A sheriff's deputy told KSL.com the jail was closed for safety reasons.

Protest organizers said they planned to spend the night there since they couldn't camp at the U. At first, the protesters blocked the majority of a walkway to get into the jail. Community members who were trying to get into the jail got mad at the protesters for filling up the parking lot and blocking the entrance to the jail.

The protesters also chanted, "Let him go," in reference to the student organizer who was arrested.

After about 30 minutes, the protesters moved onto 900 West to continue their protest, while shouting, "The people united will never be defeated."

At 8:30 p.m., one of the organizers announced the process for the arrested person's release would take several more hours and invited others to leave if they wish.

"If you choose to stay, we're here with you," she said, to cheers from the crowd. A majority of the crowd dispersed, but by 9:15 p.m., about 30 protesters remained at the jail.

Denise Weaver, one of the protest organizers but not a student, said the student was arrested "with no just cause" and that he was tackled by police "for no reason."

Alastair Dunn said the man arrested, whose identity has not been confirmed by police, was an organizer of the protest and is a member of Mecha de U of U, which describes itself as an "anti-imperialist, anti-colonial," and socialist on-campus organization. He alleges the organizer was tackled by police when walking to the bathroom.

Dunn said he thinks the man was targeted by police. He said the university's statement that the man was arrested for actions on Monday night is "false" because he was the first organizer to leave the protest. Due to "prior charges" from December, the organizer didn't want to risk getting arrested, Dunn said.

Dunn said the rally's main focus was to get the university to "divest from Israel" and companies that are allied with and funding Israel, citing academic programs that are connected to Israel.

One speaker at the protest said that like the students in the '60s and '70s who pressured universities to cut ties with South Africa during the apartheid, "We're going to pressure the university to cut ties from Israel."

The university said in a statement that students have the right to protest, but setting up camping structures is against school policy. Nineteen protesters were arrested Monday night at the University of Utah, and police confiscated a hatchet and dismantled about a dozen tents.

"The university reiterates its support of free expression. Demonstrators are welcome to continue to express their views in a peaceful and legal manner. If tents go up or unlawful occupancy or trespass occurs, the university will enforce the law," the university said.

U. President Taylor Randall said, "I ask for the community's patience as we manage a complex situation and balance free expression with lawful conduct. We are investing time and resources now to support free speech and prevent further escalation."

A wave of pro-Palestine protests have been hitting universities across the country, and around 300 students and community members participated at the protest at the University of Utah Monday night.

Randall on Tuesday said school officials made several attempts to "connect and listen" to the protesters.

"I hold an unwavering belief in the power of freely expressed ideas to improve our state and world. I want the students and faculty who lawfully protested yesterday to know their voices are heard and matter. They are welcome to continue to express their views legally and peacefully," Randall said in a statement.

He asked people to support graduates on Thursday, when the school will "celebrate 8,652 graduates and confer 9,266 degrees to students from every state and 64 countries," by "expressing views in a dignified, peaceful and legal manner."

ACLU urges officials to use 'great restraint'

The ACLU of Utah on Tuesday urged campus administrators and law enforcement to respect First Amendments right and safety of protesters.

"Utah colleges and universities must resist pressure to restrict or prohibit student protest — even on contentious issues — and adhere to their stated commitment to free speech, peaceful protest and dissent on campus," the organization said in a statement.

The ACLU of Utah also urged universities and law enforcement to exhibit "great restraint" when dispersing protests and dismantling encampments that are part of demonstrations.

The organization alleged the police response at the U. on Monday night "risked the safety and well-being" of those involved and said that it is "gravely concerned" campuses nationwide are cracking down on political expression and having law enforcement rush in with "aggressive treatment."

"Such forceful clampdowns on protests severely affect free speech rights on every issue. In an election year when student protests are erupting nationwide, we call for more – not less — tolerance and respect for free speech, open debate and peaceful dissent," the statement concluded.

A protest is being organized for Utah State University, to occur from noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, where participants will be protesting the United States' support of Israel in the ongoing war, according to protest organizers.


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Cassidy Wixom covers Utah County communities and is the evening breaking news reporter for KSL.com.


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