top of page

Police make multiple arrests as Penn students attempt to launch a new encampment

Penn students launched a new encampment at Fisher Bennett Hall around 8 p.m. Arrests were prompt as police descended on the building.

A protester with the Penn Gaza Solidarity Encampment is arrested at South 34th Street near the Penn campus in Philadelphia on Friday, May 17, 2024 [Steven M. Falk | Staff Photographer]

Penn students launched a new, short-lived, pro-Palestinian encampment Friday night, leading to multiple arrests and additional protests spreading across campus.

The encampment inside the school’s Fisher-Bennett Hall came one week after Philadelphia and campus police disbanded one that had lasted a little more than two weeks and had led to 33 arrests.

Members of the Penn Gaza Solidarity Encampment announced the new installation at about 8 p.m.

Within the hour, police could be seen closing in. By 9:20 p.m. there were reports from the scene that police had some people in custody. That’s when groups began to spill into nearby streets.

Encampment organizers said they had renamed Fisher-Bennett Hall the Refaat Alareer Hall during their takeover in honor of the late Palestinian poet and professor who was killed in an airstrike in Northern Gaza in December.

“A group of individuals entered Fisher-Bennett Hall on Penn’s campus and attempted to occupy it,” a school spokesperson said. “Penn Police, with support from Philadelphia Police, escorted them out and secured the building, taking several individuals into custody.”

Pro-Palestinian faculty and students had held protests on campus and erected an encampment on the College Green in late April. Since the launch of that encampment, organizers have demanded that school administrators disclose the university’s investments, divest from Israel, and defend pro-Palestinian protesters and scholars.

Over the next two weeks, protesters and counter-protesters clashed, while Penn faced criticism from all sides. Some blamed the school for not dismantling the encampment; others chastised it for not supporting student protesters and their right to free speech.

University police, backed by city police, ultimately moved in early on the morning of May 10 and dismantled the encampment, arresting 33 people, nine of them students. School leaders cited “threatening, loud, and discriminatory speech and behavior,” an expansion of the encampment, and vandalism as reasons. Gov. Josh Shapiro had called for the dismantling of the encampment.

Organizers of the new encampment said it was a direct response to how Penn administration reacted to their past negotiation attempts and the College Green encampment.

“They refused to negotiate in good faith, lording threats of arrest and discipline over students and training the Penn police in ‘civil disorder’ tactics while still actively meeting with the negotiations team,” a statement from Penn Gaza Solidarity said.

Following the arrests, protests flowed onto 34th Street with participants chanting things like, “No more bombs with our tuition” while clapping their hands, playing small drums, and waving flags.

Arms locked, a group of protesters faced police holding their shields and batons. A crowd surrounding law enforcement chanted “Who do you serve, who do you protect?” as police cars continued to close off nearby roads

From there, the movement extended across campus, reaching Penn Museum Courtyard, where an alumni party was taking place inside, before dispersing shortly after.

At around 10:30 p.m. protest organizers advised supporters to “go home, disband.” Some migrated to Philadelphia Police headquarters.

Organizers noted that the encampments are the latest in a deep history between the West Philadelphia Ivy League university and antiwar demonstrations.

“These last few weeks, Penn has shown its true colors,” organizers said. “It is complicit in the oppression of people from Philly to Palestine and will silence anyone who demands change.”

The latest protest came at the start of Alumni Weekend on campus. Graduation is scheduled for Monday.

Staff writer Jesse Bunch contributed to this article.


© 2024, The Philadelphia Inquirer


Featured Review
Tag Cloud
bottom of page