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79 arrested amid second crackdown on UT-Austin campus

Authorities and protesters clashed during the latest pro-Palestinian demonstration at the university on Monday.
Posted: 12:47 PM, Apr 30, 2024
Updated: 2024-04-30 13:47:05-04
Protesters chant “off our campus” to law enforcement at the University of Texas at Austin on Apr. 29, 2024.

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(Texas Tribune) — Authorities arrested 79 people during the second police crackdown on pro-Palestinian demonstrators at the University of Texas at Austin since last week, according to the Travis County Sheriff’s Office.

The protesters were arrested Monday during a campus demonstration and booked into the Travis County Jail, a sheriff’s office spokesperson said Tuesday. Seventy-eight of the people arrested are charged with criminal trespassing. One of them has an additional charge of obstructing a highway or passageway, while another person has been charged with interfering with public duties.

None of those arrested had been booked before a judge as of Tuesday morning.

[Dozens more arrested at UT-Austin as police use pepper spray, flash bangs to break up protests]

The arrests came after protesters started an encampment at the university’s South Lawn on Monday morning. University officials said protesters created a barricade using tables secured by metal chains and became "physically and verbally combative" when school staff approached. University staff said encampments are prohibited on campus and requested support from the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Law enforcement warned protesters they would arrest them for criminal trespassing if they didn’t disperse. Officers eventually marched down on the protesters, dragging dozens of them before deploying pepper spray and flash bang explosives to disperse hundreds of people.

On Tuesday morning, a crowd of nearly 100 people waited outside the Travis County Jail waiting for the release of protesters arrested the day before. Various people brought food and water as students sat around preparing for their finals this week. A feeling of frustration and determination permeated the gathering.

“I have finals, and I don’t know if I can go back to campus again because it feels unsafe due to the people who are supposed to protect us,” said Arwyn Heilrayne, a UT-Austin student arrested during another pro-Palestinian protest last week.

From left, University of Texas at Austin students Ana Maria, Piper Leleus, Daniella Alfonso and Eliza Sommers camp outside of the Travis County Jail as they await the release of pro-Palestinian protesters who were arrested Monday from an encampment on the UT campus on Tuesday, April 30, 2024, in Austin.
From left, University of Texas at Austin students Ana Maria, Piper Leleus, Daniella Alfonso and Eliza Sommers camp outside of the Travis County Jail on Tuesday, April 30, 2024, as they await the release of pro-Palestinian protesters who were arrested Monday from an encampment on the UT campus. Credit: Eli Hartman/The Texas Tribune

Piper Leleux, a UT-Austin sophomore who was also in the crowd outside the jail waiting for her boyfriend to be released, said they hadn’t initially planned on being at Monday’s protest.

Leleux had just gotten off work at Urban Outfitters and was planning to meet her boyfriend for dinner when she got a text about the protest. It was a hot day, so they first met up to bring some water to protesters.

When they arrived, they were greeted by a chaotic scene that ended with her getting hit in the face and her boyfriend in handcuffs.

[Gov. Greg Abbott and UT-Austin shift from championing free speech to policing protesters’ intentions]

Leleux said she found herself stuck in a crowd of people when police started to pepper-spray the area. She said she accidentally ran into a cop and was trying to apologize when the officer elbowed her in the face.

“I fell to the ground and hit my head and then I was just angry because I was being polite,” Leleux said.

She then noticed her boyfriend being arrested, and the pain disappeared.

“I just started running towards him not even realizing I was somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be,” Leleux said. “One of my friends grabbed me and pulled me back or I might have been arrested, too.”

Leleux said she spent the next 24 hours outside the Travis County Jail.

“Once he is released, I will go to the hospital to make sure I don’t have a concussion. It hasn’t been fun, but it’s a lot better than what he is dealing with right now,” Leleux said.

Daniella Alfonso, another UT-Austin student outside the jail, said she went to the protests Monday when she learned one of her friends had been hit by a law enforcement officer on a bicycle. She said when she arrived she saw the cops had started to circle around protesters.

“I noticed one of my friends get pepper-sprayed and the skin on her arm starting turning red and burning,” Alfonso said.

Alfonso said she felt like she was in the middle of a television scene.

“I wasn’t expecting someone we know to get arrested and charged with criminal trespassing. We pay to be there,” Alfonso said.

Monday’s arrests came days after another police crackdown on protesters at UT-Austin last week. On Wednesday, authorities arrested 57 people during a pro-Palestinian demonstration that started as a student walkout on campus. There was no indication of violence before police intervened. The Travis County District Attorney’s Office dropped all charges against them last week, saying law enforcement lacked probable cause.

UT-Austin President Jay Hartzell justified the university’s response Wednesday by saying officials had reason to believe that protesters planned to set encampments and disrupt school activities, as it has happened with demonstrations at other universities across the country.

"The University strongly supports the free speech and assembly rights of our community, and we want students and others on campus to know that protests on campus are fully permissible, provided that they do not violate Institutional Rules or threaten the safety of our campus community," a statement from university officials said Tuesday.

Some people outside the jail on Tuesday said the university’s response so far would not dissuade them from continuing to participate in the protests.

“I am still going to protest because if I stopped they win,” Leleux said. “They are using scare tactics to try and intimidate us, and we can’t let that happen.”

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