PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence police took 20 protesters into custody on Wednesday during a large demonstration at Brown University.
Dozens of people were singing and praying outside the main administration building as a group of students staged a sit-in protest inside.
According to a news release, the students were members of the group BrownU Jews for Ceasefire Now. One student at the protest who did not want to be identified said, “We’re hurt, we’re grieving and we’re angry.”
The group’s plan was to refuse to leave until Brown President Christina Paxson publicly committed to taking steps to divest its endowment from any companies that are profiting off the ongoing war in Israel.
“Divestment from companies profiting from ongoing violence in Gaza is a material way for Brown University to promote an immediate ceasefire and a lasting peace,” the group wrote.
Organizers told 12 News they remained in Paxson’s office until it closed at 5 p.m., then were given a half-hour extension from Brown police. It was then that Providence police arrived on campus with prisoner transport vans.
Another Jewish student at the university condemned his peers’ actions. Gabriel Burstyn said, “I personally was very upset that this could happen on my campus.”
He added, “This view that Israel is responding above their weight is not represented by most Jews on campus.”
Brown University later released a statement saying that when the demonstrators entered University Hall around 12:15 p.m., staff informed them of their right to protest during operating hours. After those passed, the university said it gave the students “multiple trespass warnings” before moving forward with the arrests.
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“At Brown, all community members are responsible for abiding by our codes, policies and protocols related to protests and demonstrations,” the statement said. Those policies make clear that protest is a necessary and acceptable means of expression on campus. They also make clear that because Brown respects and upholds freedom of expression, the ‘time, place and manner’ of exercising those rights is subject to regulation only ‘to prevent interference with the normal functions of the University.'”
The university noted that the building’s fire code allows for “no fixed capacity of any kind” in the hallway where the protesters were situated.
Brown leaders, according to the university, have been and will continue to meet with student groups to hear their concerns about the conflict overseas and its impacts.
“Recent events in Israel and Gaza are bringing to the forefront deeply held and often conflicting views,” the statement continued. “At Brown, we recognize our responsibility for being an educational institution that manages challenging discussions in a way that remains true to the fundamental principle of freedom of expression while emphasizing the importance of safety for all community members.”
“We know that many community members are feeling the effects of these events in deep and personal ways,” the university added. “Our focus remains on providing care and empathy, and supporting the safety of our students, faculty and staff who are Israeli, Palestinian, Muslim, Jewish, have ties to the region, and are feeling impacted by current events.”