Police once again arrest pro-Palestinian demonstrators on University of Tennessee campus

Police have arrested pro-Palestinian demonstrators on the University of Tennessee campus.

At about 8 p.m., demonstrators were warned to leave the lawn outside the College of Law by Allen Bolton, UT's interim senior vice chancellor for finance and administration. He said demonstrators could move to the Student Union lawn, which was reserved for them.

He told the activists to leave the lawn of the law school within 10 minutes. When that deadline passed, police started arresting demonstrators.

Here's what happened:

Police reports detail the arrests

Police reports say each demonstrator was warned by a senior university administrator and police to leave the lawn within 10 minutes. After that time passed, the report said they were again told to leave and given extra time to disperse, though the report didn’t say how long.

The arrests were at 8:14 p.m., the reports say.

All 11 face the same single charge, criminal trespass, according to University of Tennessee Police Department records. Ten arrestees are from Tennessee and one is from Texas, though the reports don't differentiate between those who are students and those who aren't.

Knox County criminal court records say all 11 of the arrestees were released without having to pay bail.

Owner of 'Nicest Place in America' says he was injured during arrest

Yassin Terou, a community leader, restaurant owner and Syrian refugee who earned American citizenship in 2020, said he suffered nerve damage during his arrest and was checked for having a heart attack.

He was hospitalized and then booked at a Knox County jail.

“The way I was treated, nobody should be going through it with anybody, especially with their own police,” Terou said from outside the jail this morning.

Read more here.

UT student explains why demonstrators moved their vigil

Kevin Dennis, a 20-year-old University of Tennessee psychology major, told Knox News from outside the jail this morning that demonstrators thought it was important and symbolic to move back to the original protest site once the university removed the barriers.

“I was on the lawn at the law school before and they blocked it off the barricades. And then after that I was with (demonstrators) at the front of the Student Union,” Dennis said. “But we decided once they took off the barricades that it was time to return to make a statement, especially on May 15.”

He spent the night in jail.

“The entire night, it felt like, we were left in the dark in a system that felt like it was reveling in its ineffectiveness,” he said. “It was slow. It felt like officers were taunting us with their behaviors and whatever we had done meant nothing to them. Who we were meant nothing to them because they didn’t view us as people inside.”

Three arrested were students, university says

UT spokesperson Kerry Gardner released a statement to Knox News this morning:

"The university has repeatedly communicated about following policies, including regarding the time, place and manner for holding events, to the protest group leaders and provided signage at their reserved event space. Administrators and UTPD provided personal warnings today that violation would result in trespass citation and arrest.  "Despite these clear and repeated warnings, several members chose not to vacate the area and were arrested for trespassing. Eleven group members were taken into custody, including three students and eight people not affiliated with the university. Any student arrested will also be referred to student conduct."The University of Tennessee respects individual’s rights to free speech and free expression and is committed to managing the campus for all. We will continue to be guided by the law and university policy, neutral of viewpoint."

Some released from Knox County jail

At least some of those arrested were released overnight and this morning, including Yassin Terou. They were arrested on a charge of criminal trespassing.

Yassin Terou hospitalized after arrest

Restaurant owner Yassin Terou was hospitalized at the University of Tennessee Medical Center on Wednesday night after he was one of 11 people arrested by University of Tennessee police during a pro-Palestinian demonstration on the lawn of the College of Law on campus.

Terou is the well-known owner of Yassin's Falafel House. He received the 2018 Peace Award from the Rotary Club of Knoxville and he was named the Knoxville News Sentinel Person of the Year in 2018.  His restaurant was named the "Nicest Place in America" in 2018 by Reader's Digest. Terou is a refugee from war-torn Syria and earned his American citizenship on 2020.

Two of the people arrested during the demonstrations asked to be taken to the hospital.

Community members gather at Knox County jail

Thirteen people have gathered at the Roger D. Wilson Detention Facility in northeast Knox County to seek answers about the whereabouts of the 11 people arrested on the College of Law lawn at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

Among those gathered are Knoxville Councilmember Amelia Parker.

"I can't imagine that any violations that they may have committed would warrant any sort of jail time, so I'm here to support the community, their right to protest and to gain a better understanding of why there was any need for any arrests in the first place," Parker told Knox News.

A corrections officer at the jail told Knox News he doesn't expect anyone to be released until after midnight at the earliest. Those held will see a judge by videoconference. Some might be released on their own recognizance, the officer said.

Community members gather late Wednesday night at the Roger D. Wilson Correctional Facility in northeast Knox County to learn more about where pro-Palestinian demonstrators were being held after they were arrested at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville campus on May 15, 2024.
Community members gather late Wednesday night at the Roger D. Wilson Correctional Facility in northeast Knox County to learn more about where pro-Palestinian demonstrators were being held after they were arrested at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville campus on May 15, 2024.

University confirms 11 arrests

A university spokesperson said just before 10 p.m. that University of Tennessee Police Department officers made 11 arrests tonight. Nine were taken to the Knox County jail and two were taken to a hospital at their request.

There is one confirmed UT student among the arrestees and police are trying to determine the identity of the others, who have declined to say who there are.

University responds to arrests

Tisha Benton, a university spokesperson, told Knox News that police officers attempted to move demonstrators off the law college lawn and those who stood their ground were arrested. The vigil site wasn't within the Student Union space reserved for the demonstrators. “Our goal is to manage the campus for everyone and so that is how we are proceeding,” Benton said. “To allow space for free expression activities, to make sure everyone has the ability to do what they can on campus.”

In an Instagram post earlier in the day, the People's School for Gaza called demonstrators out for a Nakba Day vigil at 7 p.m., telling them to meet on the law school lawn.

Nakba Day marks the date of the Israeli Declaration of Independence and commemorates the displacement of Palestinians before and after Israel's establishment on May 14, 1948.

Demonstrators check on their peers in jail

Twenty-one demonstrators have stayed behind on the campus after several others left to go to the Knox County jail to check on those who were arrested.

Group splits off to pray while others continue protest

Eleven demonstrators crossed back to the reserved space in front of the student union to pray while about 35 demonstrators remain on the public sidewalk in front of the law school.

The officers who were standing on the College of Law lawn left at 9:15 p.m., about an hour after the arrests.

Arrestees were taken to Knox County jail

Mike Whalen, an attorney on site, told Knox News the demonstrators were taken to the Knox County jail.

A University of Tennessee administrator had warned demonstrators before the arrests that they would be jailed on trespassing charges if they did not move.

14 arrested

Fourteen people were arrested, legal observers told Knox News. (UPDATE: Around 10 p.m., university officials confirmed for Knox News that 11 people were arrested.)

Yassin Terou, a Knoxville restaurant owner and refugee from Syria who gained American citizenship in 2020, was among the arrestees. Terou has been a consistent presence at the demonstrations, often bringing food to those who have stationed themselves on campus for hours at a time.

Six UT police officers are still standing at the corner of James Agee and Cumberland Avenue, near the corner of the law school.

Demonstrations continue on sidewalk outside College of Law

The people who were not arrested moved to the public sidewalk and continue to protest there. The group is growing.

People driving by on Cumberland Avenue are waving flags and keffiyahs, a traditional Middle Eastern scarf, in support.

A car with four young men circled the block a couple times, and one occupant yelled, “USA! USA!” at the demonstrators. The demonstrators responded: “USA! USA!”

Students leave Torch Night to witness demonstrations

Groups of students in academic gowns who were gathered at Ayres Hall for Torch Night, a graduation week event, have started walking past the site of the arrests. Some joined in with a chant of "Free, free Palestine!"

University of Tennessee demonstration rules

UT administrators have said throughout that they respect the prostesors' rights to free speech. They also have set time and place restrictions for the group, which are constitutional limitations. The group can gather on the Student Union lawn from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

On recent nights, campus speaker posts have played a warning at 9:45 p.m., asking them to leave. As the 10 p.m. deadline approached, the demonstrators have departed.

Tonight's arrests were at the site of the only prior arrests earlier this month: the College of Law lawn. An administrator tonight warned the group that location wasn't a sanctioned spot.

Previous arrests were on May 2

Nine people were arrested the night of May 2. Seven of them were students and they were sent to a student conduct review.

Demonstrations started May 1, and group members have called for the full disclosure of all university investments and financial ties to Israel and divestment from them. The group calls itself the People's School for Gaza.

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Police arrest pro-Palestinian demonstrators at University of Tennessee