Apr 30, 2024 - News

Pro-Palestinian students occupy Portland State library

Data: Axios research; Note: Universities with joint encampments reported separately; Locations approximated for clarity; Map: Kavya Beheraj, Tory Lysik and Will Chase/Axios

Portland State University closed its campus Tuesday after pro-Palestinian protesters occupied the Millar Library Monday night.

Why it matters: Demonstrations at college campuses nationwide are forcing institutions to balance the right to free speech with concerns about student safety and a rise in antisemitism.

Catch up quick: Portland has had active pro-Palestinian protests for years, but colleges here have been slow to join the new wave of campus protests against Israel's war in Gaza.

  • Students rallied each day since Thursday on the South Park Blocks on PSU's open campus, erecting barricades in front of the Millar Library labeled "Liberated Zone," reminiscent of Seattle's CHOP.
  • They spray-painted phrases such as "Blood on your hands" and "Free Gaza" on tarps and school property.

Students initially obeyed PSU president Ann Cudd's call for one entrance to the library to be kept clear, but by Monday evening police chief Bob Day said up to 75 people had broken into the library and occupied the signature-curved building, which is built around a heritage copper beech tree.

Driving the news: Cudd, Day, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler held a press conference late Monday night calling on the students to leave but did not say if or when arrests or a move on the library would be made.

State of play: After students protested Boeing's making of arms used by Israel, Cudd announced last week that PSU had paused accepting contributions from the company until it could debate the matter. However, she said the university's hands-off approach would change now that there was "property damage and intimidation on campus."

  • She said she understood how people feel about injustices in Gaza, "but I cannot condone or excuse breaking and entering."

What they're saying: Protesters recorded a message saying the library would be a welcome place for students to study or hang out, the Portland Mercury reported.

  • "We do not want to hurt our fellow peers, we simply refuse to be complicit in genocide," the message said.

What we're watching: How long students stay in the library and whether police move in.

  • Schmidt, who is running for reelection on May 21, said felony charges such as burglary and criminal mischief would be filed if police have supporting evidence.
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