Updated Apr 30, 2024 - News

Classes at UNC canceled as pro-Palestine protests escalate

Police stand on the main quad at UNC-Chapel Hill

Law enforcement officers stand on the quad of UNC-Chapel Hill on Tuesday morning where protesters had been camped out. Photo: Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios

Classes at UNC-Chapel Hill were canceled Tuesday afternoon after demonstrations over the Israel-Hamas war escalated into confrontations involving protesters, counter-protesters and police.

  • The cancelation, which coincided with the last day of classes, came hours after campus police detained 36 people who camped out on the university's main quad. 27 were cited for trespassing and released on-site, per UNC officials. Six were arrested and transported to Orange County Detention Center.

Why it matters: The protests, which mirrored similar events at university campuses across the country, had attracted hundreds of students — including those from other institutions like N.C. State and Duke.

The latest: After police cleared the area Tuesday morning, UNC's campus was quiet for a few hours before hundreds of demonstrators returned to the quad around noon.

  • The demonstrations intensified after protesters replaced the American flag at the center of campus with a Palestinian flag, leading to a confrontation with police. Campus staff eventually replaced the flag and erected a fence around the flagpole.

Zoom out: The levity of UNC's last day of class — filled with the sounds of a DJ blaring and squeals from students celebrating nearby on campus — stood in contrast to the escalating tension on the school's main quad.

Catch up quick: UNC Students for Justice in Palestine, the group that organized the demonstrations, has been calling on the university to disclose any investments and divest from any companies connected to Israel as well as end any study abroad programs in Israel.

  • The protest began last Friday on the school's main quad, Polk Place, and went on for days — though university officials had warned protesters at 5:37am Tuesday that they would face arrest for putting up encampments on campus grounds because it is a violation of school rules.
  • At 6am, campus police began dispersing the group and detained dozens of people who refused to leave, according to a release from UNC-Chapel Hill. UNC Students for Justice in Palestine described the arrests as "violent" on X.
  • Polk Place was cleared of all remaining debris from the days-long protest — though UNC accused students of attempting to forcibly enter the school administration's building.
Signs left behind from an encampment
Signs left behind by demonstrators near UNC's South Building. Photo: Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios

State of play: UNC campus police were assisted by the Orange County Sheriff's Department, while the town of Chapel Hill police did not participate, according to The News & Observer.

What they're saying: "We were disappointed that we had to take action this morning regarding protesters, including many who are not members of the Carolina community, who violated state law and University policies that provide for peaceful demonstration," interim chancellor Lee Roberts said in a statement.

Editor's note: This is a developing story and has been updated with additional details about the Tuesday afternoon protests.

Go deeper: What pro-Palestinian protesters on college campuses want

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