Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

57 protesters arrested at Whitmore sit-in

Over 500 people protested Israel’s occupation of Gaza
Kira Johnson
The UMass Students for Justice in Palestine and the UMass Dissenters organize a march between the Student Union and Whitmore Building on October 25th.

Kalina Kornacki, Katie Katz, Jack Underhill, Kira Johnson, Shanti Furtado, Dylan Nguyen and Ethan Brayall-Brown contributed to the coverage of the protest. 

On Wednesday, Oct. 25 around 500 people participated in a demonstration objecting to Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the University of Massachusetts’ response to the Israel-Hamas conflict. The demonstration included a march to the Whitmore Administration Building, a delivery of demands for Chancellor Javier Reyes and a sit-in protest that resulted in the arrest of 57 protesters. 

At 2 p.m. protesters gathered outside of the Student Union and marched to the Whitmore Administration Building where roughly 250 demonstrators congregated on the third floor outside of Reyes’ office. 

When the building closed at 6 p.m., 57 protesters remained inside the building, stating that they would not leave the building until their demands were met. Over the course of more than five hours, the UMass Police Department arrested those that remained inside for trespassing, transporting them in groups of five to the UMass police station. 

The UMass protest was one of many being held on college campuses throughout the nation, as part of the #DivestfromDeath Week of Action advocated by a student group coalition that included UMass Dissenters, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Center for Education Policy & Advocacy, UMass Black Student Union, Arab Cultural Association and Prison Abolition Collective. 

#DivestfromDeath began as a response to the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war earlier this month. In response to a terrorist attack by militant organization Hamas, where 1,300 people died and more than 150 people were kidnapped, Israel launched a massive airstrike operation that has killed more than 5,000 people and destroyed humanitarian resources. 

Outside the Student Union: 2 p.m.

Kira Johnson

Speakers from UMass Dissenters and Students for Justice in Palestine addressed those assembled outside the Student Union. This included reading the list of demands outlined by SJP and Dissenters, requiring UMass to divest and cut ties with companies that contribute to the arming of Israel’s military, such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and Raytheon. 

The statement emphasized that UMass should not allow these companies to recruit at UMass and should begin “partnering with groups working towards a sustainable and demilitarized future.” 

They also mandated that Chancellor Reyes condemn Israel’s genocide in Gaza and state support for Palestinian, Arab, Jewish and Muslim students.

“UMass’ slogan for so many years has been ‘Be Revolutionary,’ but we cannot be revolutionary if we’re a school that’s partnered with big f***ing military corporations,” UMass Dissenter Toby Paperno said. “We, the people gathered here today, are the people who are the actual revolutionaries.” 

The assembled protesters, who totaled approximately 500 people at its peak, proceeded up past the Old Chapel and Herter Hall to the north entrance of the Whitmore Administration Building. 

As they walked, call-and-response chants included, “Chancellor Reyes, you can’t hide, you’re supporting genocide,” “Hey Netanyahu what do you say? How many kids did you kill today?” and “Long live the Intifada.” 

Outside Whitmore: 2:45 p.m.

Dylan Nguyen

Protestors congregated again at the main entrance of the Whitmore building, displaying a banner that read “UMass is complicit in genocide” and holding signs reading “Free Palestine, end the blockade,” “Stop U.S. aid to apartheid Israel” and “Your $$$ funds genocide.” 

In a speech to those assembled, Terrell James, an anthropology Ph.D. student, illustrated how Palestinian oppression relates to Black oppression. 

“As a Black person … the reason why I came here is that Palestinians have always been in solidarity for Black liberation,” he said. “Anytime Black folks turn out in the streets, Palestinians turn out in the streets.”

“We must understand … that Isreal is occupying Palestine and is committing genocide, but that genocide doesn’t just happen when the bombs are falling, that genocide happens every day when Isreal is occupying Palestine,” James continued. 

SJP and the Dissenters had volunteer “police liaisons” in hi-vis vests at the protest to handle interactions with police officers. Thomas Morrison, a police liaison and a philosophy Ph.D. student at UMass, explained the intention behind remaining in Whitmore after hours.

“If you just play by the rules, is that political dissension? No,” Morrison said. “Given the rules the University wants to follow, there’s clear tensions, and we hope that those tensions can be dealt with in a way that’s [positive for] the students.” 

Aidan Sabine, a sophomore sustainable community development major, noted that “the sit-in is more for us than [UMass administrators], it’s something we can do,” he said. “The sit-in is a way to put in the action and convey the feeling of solidarity.” 

“Protesters presented their demands as part of their march to the Whitmore Administration Building. The protestors’ specific demands do not align with the university’s publicly stated positions and policies. The Chancellor previously detailed the university’s position on the war in the Middle East in his statement to campus on October 10, 2023,” University Spokesperson Ed Blaguszewski said in a statement to the Collegian regarding the Whitmore protest.

“In advance of a planned sit-in in the Whitmore Administration Building on Wednesday, October 25, students notified several administrators of their plan to occupy the building until its closing, at which point some students intended to be arrested. The university counseled students against this, expressing that being arrested was not in their best interest,” Blagueszewski said.

Many students on the outskirts of the protest were there to gain a deeper understanding of the long-standing conflict.

Michaela Kirby, a sophomore wildlife conservation major, was walking by the area and stopped to hear the speakers. “I came here to listen … I wanted to see people’s perspectives,” she said. “I’m definitely angry with the way the Israeli government is handling it … [Palestinians] don’t all support the terrorist groups.” 

“I do wish [the protest] was a little more narrowed. It seems to be under the veil of going after Raytheon, which I completely agree with, but then they throw in catch phrases that feel propagandistic … I feel like there’s a lack of cohesion,” Sam Nathan, a freshman member of J Street, said. J Street is an organization that “is working to create an open dialogue on campus about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and advocates for a two-state resolution through diplomatic means,” according to their website.  

“They’re pushing for a ceasefire, but also the delegitimization of Israel as a state. You hear chants like ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ … in between that is Israel. Does that mean Israel won’t exist then?” Nathan said. “I don’t know, but I’ll definitely hear them out.” 

Hampshire College student Sandy Sellens noted, “I have a lot of emotion and it’s beautiful. I hate that we are coming together for this reason but it gives me hope.” She grew up in the United Arab Emirates, surrounded by a strong Palestinian community and was always aware of the crisis in Gaza.  “Coming here to the U.S. I really feel like we have a power to make a difference,” Sellens said. “If you are new to it you kind of feel like you are at a loss for what you can possibly do. At the most basic level we can share and talk about it.” 

Inside Whitmore: 3:30 p.m.

Kira Johnson

At about 3:30 p.m., approximately 250 demonstrators entered Whitmore. They congregated on the third floor outside of Chancellor Reyes’ office, repeating “Chancellor Reyes, you can’t hide, you’re supporting genocide” and “Free free Palestine.”

They sat in the hallway while about five members of SJP and Dissenter leadership took a physical copy of their demands into Reyes’ office. 10 protesters also entered the Provost’s office to deliver a copy of the demands and remained sitting in the reception area. 

Reyes was not present, so they gave the demands to Michael Malone, the interim provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs. Malone did not comment on the protest, and urged protesters to allow faculty to leave the building. 

Co-President of SJP Ruya Hazeyen said, “We are going to sit in, literally, until our demands are met. Many of us are ready to get arrested if we need to. There is a genocide happening. We are not going to stop until we get a meeting and until our demands are met.” 

“The ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people is underway,” Maysoun Batley, a sociology and Middle Eastern studies student and one of the protest organizers, said. “We will never stop protesting.” 

In the outside hallway, protesters once again took up the chant, “No peace on stolen land, Palestine is our demand.” 

Shortly after organizers announced, “If you’re not planning to get arrested, you have to leave by 5 p.m.” Protesters wrote phone numbers on their forearms in black Sharpie and filled out “jail support forms” that included their emergency contact information and medical conditions. Students stationed outside Whitmore delivered food and water to protesters; ride-shares were organized and personal belongings were given away for safekeeping. 

In the wing across from Reyes’ office, Rachel Weber from the National Lawyers Guild was giving advice to students about their rights and what to expect if they are arrested for trespassing. 

“You do not need to worry about finding a lawyer,” Weber said to the students. In addition to assuring legal support to arrested students, she helped distribute $1,000 in bail money from the Western Mass Bailout Project to any students that did not have at least $40 in cash with them. According to Weber, $40 is the minimum bail a student would have to pay if they were arrested. 

Weber also advised students to comply with police officers if they were being detained and to not resist arrest. She warned protesters to take out any piercings and to make sure they had an identifying document with them. 

By 5 p.m., approximately 60 protesters remained in the building outside Reyes’ office. While they waited for the building to close at 6 p.m., James and other protesters outside the building delivered pizza to sit-in members. 

Chloe Fischer, a senior sustainable community development student, remained in Whitmore despite the threat of arrest because of a desire to “make change when I can and where I can.” Her decision to participate in the sit-in was motivated by “people finally seeing what’s going on and [I] can make the most impact now, at least within my own community because everything starts small.”

At 5:40 p.m., four police cruisers arrived at the Whitmore entrance facing the Southwest Residential Area. Protestors and volunteer police liaisons stationed themselves at each entrance. 

Inside Whitmore: 6:12 p.m.

Kalina Kornacki

Three police officers, Deputy Chief Damian DeWolf, Lieutenant Michael Malouin and Lieutenant Brian Henault, entered Whitmore and came up to Reyes’ office alongside a volunteer police liaison. 

The protesters remained sitting, chanting loudly as the police approached them. Henault addressed the crowd, saying that Whitmore’s business hours ended at 6 p.m. and that those present were trespassing. 

Henault gave the protesters a verbal warning to leave the building and said that anyone who decided to remain in the building outside of its operational hours would be arrested for trespassing, wherein they would be brought to the UMass police station and charged with a crime. 

The police walked away from the hallway to deliver the same message to anyone else remaining in the building and the protesters remained outside Reyes’ office. 

Outside Whitmore: 6:25 p.m.

Four police cruisers, one UMPD pickup truck and an Amherst Police Department prisoner transport van remained parked outside the building. 

At 6:25 p.m., six police officers entered the building. Less than 20 minutes later, five protesters were escorted from the building with zip ties around their wrists. 

As they exited the building, each protestor addressed the crowd by announcing their name and what police station they were being taken to. Multiple members of SJP and the Dissenters wrote down the detained student’s names and began coordinating transportation and bail money. One protester kept a detailed journal with every arrested student’s name. 

Seven police officers entered the building again at 6:44 p.m. and returned outside at 7 p.m. with five more protesters. Another group of five protesters was led outside and into the police van at 7:30 p.m. This system continued throughout the night, culminating in 57 arrests by 1:38 a.m.

At 7 p.m., around 100 people were still gathered outside of the building, sitting on the concrete walls and lining up near the entrance doors. By 10 p.m., roughly 30 people remained chanting outside. On multiple occasions, protesters addressed cops directly yelling “coward,” “pigs,” “kill yourself” and “get a real job.” 

Outside Whitmore: 12:36 a.m. 

Dylan Nguyen

Two arrested students returned to Whitmore after being released from police custody. 

“Then we’re in the zip tie handcuffs, but the option of getting [one hand] chained to the wall was nice. Free hand!” Avery, one of the released protesters, said about the restraints in the holding cell. “You’re basically left alone … then they took us out one by one … then they made me take off all my jewelry which was really sad before the mugshot, but they did let me keep in all my piercings.”

Avery continued talking about their experience in high spirits and said that morale was high in the holding cell. They told the crowd that the arrested students were singing, chanting and having casual conversations with police officers while in the police station. When Avery was released, members of SJP and Dissenters were ready to give them a ride back. 

“They had snacks, they had water, they had Gatorade and they had multiple cars available to give rides. Shout out to everyone for being an awesome morale booster,” Avery said. 

Approximately seven protesters were released by 1 a.m. and were given the arraignment date of Oct. 26 at 9 a.m. at Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown, MA.

As of 6:41 a.m., all arrested students were released. 

SJP and Dissenters plan to return to Whitmore at 2 p.m. on Oct. 26 to continue the protest. 

This is a developing story.

Lucas Ruud can be reached at [email protected]. Grace Fiori can be reached at [email protected].

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  • E

    Ed Cutting, Ed. D.Oct 28, 2023 at 5:36 pm

    Let me see if I have this right — a lawyer was present (in a building she wasn’t supposed to be in) arranging for bail money for persons who hadn’t yet committed a crime and/or were in the process of committing a crime?
    That’s a violation of the bar regs if not a crime in and of itself!
    Lawyers are supposed to tell their clients not to violate the law — there’s actually a bar rule that says that….

  • C

    Carl F. LopesOct 26, 2023 at 9:57 pm

    As a 1966 graduate I can recall the antiwar protests. Then as now, I can see how young adults need to give more thought before acting. It’s part of being young I suppose, but they need to listen to both sides and look into the history of the region and understand that we can’t always talk our way out of conflict but must just find a way to survive and eliminate terrorist and authoritarian (including in the US) forces who have little value for life, including those they claim to support. They don’t want peace, they want the extermination of all Jews and anyone who opposes them. Good Luck