St. Louis mayor: Police won’t use force on non-violent SLU protesters

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ST. LOUIS – Peaceful demonstrators at Saint Louis University will not be met with force or disruption by city police, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said Wednesday.

Students and other St. Louis community members announced plans for a protest on SLU’s campus around 6 p.m. at the clock tower plaza. The group’s anti-war, pro-Palestinian rally will focus on the conflict in Gaza and call upon the university to divest from businesses that provide military or financial support to Israel.

Jones issued a joint statement on behalf of herself and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, expressing support for the public’s right to a peaceful assembly and saying city police would only intervene “in the event of physical altercations, damage to school property, or harassment of students, staff, or faculty…to ensure safety.”

You can read the statement below:

The Jones Administration and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department are aware of a protest planned on St. Louis University’s (SLU) campus this evening.

SLU’s campus is contained within the boundaries of the City of St. Louis and SLU does not have their own law enforcement agency. Therefore, the Mayor’s administration, SLMPD, and SLU’s administration have been in contact for the past several days to coordinate plans to ensure the safety and security of all parties involved.

Mayor Jones and SLMPD unequivocally express our support for the First Amendment right to assemble and engage in nonviolent protest. Peaceful protests will not be met with force by SLMPD. There have notably been several peaceful protests in the City of St. Louis since October that have not resulted in any action by SLMPD. This includes several protests on the issue of the Israel-Hamas war.

The St. Louis University campus is private property and SLMPD will be responsive to the requests of university leadership to maintain a safe environment. The University has a history of supporting peaceful protest and our expectation is that the protest tonight will match that precedent. We ask the entire community to recognize that the rejection of violence is central to ensuring a safe environment for all.

It remains our top priority to ensure that all members of the community are safe. In the event of physical altercations, damage to school property, or harassment of students, staff, or faculty, SLMPD officers are prepared to engage to ensure safety.

We appreciate that St. Louis University is working diligently to provide clarity to its community regarding their expectations for this evening. Peace will be met with peace.

The world events that have brought us to this moment are challenging institutions and their communities across the globe to have difficult conversations. The City of St. Louis is a community capable of those conversations and prepared to engage one another in a respectful and productive dialogue.

Mayor Tishaura Jones, SLMPD joint statement

Megan Green, President of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, praised the mayor and St. Louis Police Chief Robert Tracy for the statement, adding that SLU has previously shown how to engage with student-led protests.

I want to thank Mayor Jones and Chief Robert Tracy for their commitment to preserving the public’s right to demonstrate peacefully in our city

In 2014, Saint Louis University established itself as a model for engaging with student-led demonstrations rather than escalating tensions during the Ferguson movement.

Diplomacy, not violence, is the most effective way to bring about lasting change.

Aldermanic President Megan Green

Green, a former adjunct professor at Washington University in St. Louis, was suspended from her teaching position following her involvement in Saturday’s protest at the university.

Andrew Martin, the chancellor of Washington University, claimed that he had received calls from students who said they felt threatened or intimidated by some chants made at the demonstration. Protest leaders, however, dispute these claims and argue that such focuses are distractions from the events in Gaza.

The seven-month-long war between Israel and Hamas touched off after Hamas militants attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, killing approximately 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducting around 250 hostages.

Israel responded with an all-out assault on Gaza, killing more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, at least 25,000 of whom were women, children, or the elderly. In early March, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that the Israeli army had killed approximately 13,000 Palestinian fighters and estimated civilian casualties between 13,000 and 19,500.

SLU President Fred P. Pestello released a statement Wednesday afternoon, calling for calm and saying the university embraces the right to peaceful protest. He said the protesters are permitted to gather and demonstrate at the campus, but warned that threats or acts of violence would not be tolerated.

Responding in the spirit of our mission
Dear members of the SLU community,

You may be aware that students and other St. Louis community members have announced plans for a rally on SLU’s campus this evening at the clock tower.

I write today to share – and emphasize the need for – a sense of calm and a commitment to our Jesuit mission and values.

As we did in October 2014, we intend to meet peace with peace, permitting our students to engage in advocacy while ensuring that the work of the institution continues.

SLU is committed to free expression and civil discourse, as outlined in our Policy on Speech, Expression, and Civil Discourse. That policy is clear: We embrace engagement with challenging ideas as a necessary – if sometimes uncomfortable – component of our mission to pursue truth. However, violence, threats, intimidation, harassment, and disruptions to University operations are not permitted. Student conduct expectations are outlined in SLU’s Student Handbook.

The University is also committed to the safety and well-being of the entire SLU community – especially our students, whom we are entrusted to mentor and guide. It is my expectation that any visitors to our campus will share the same commitment.

We have created a number of plans to ensure that faculty, staff and students can continue to teach, learn, study and work on campus this evening. We encourage you to wear or carry your SLU ID to ensure you can access the campus spaces you need to.

It may be helpful to know that SLU students have organized a number of rallies and protests on our campus since last November. While at times loud, all of these demonstrations have been well-managed, student-led, and peaceful. This is largely due to the planning and leadership of our student leaders, who have worked with DPS leadership on site to support student safety.

Over the past several months, we have established guidelines and routines that have served us well. This evening, SLU leaders from across divisions will continue to engage with SLU student leaders to ensure the safety and well-being of our community:

Protestors have been permitted to gather and rally, as long as their demonstration remains non-violent and does not severely disrupt studying, teaching, ministry, research, and other critical University work.

Anyone who threatens violence or engages in harm to persons or property will be escorted from the area.

Anyone who engages in harassment or discrimination will be escorted from the area.
We recognize that there are members of our community who have felt anxious or fearful because of the very presence of these protests. We are making intentional efforts to reach out to those students, faculty, and staff and to provide proactive support to them. Please remember that a range of well-being resources are available for SLU faculty, staff, and students – do not hesitate to access them or to refer them to others.

During my tenure here at SLU, we have, on numerous occasions, transformed moments of conflict into opportunities for challenging dialogue and deepened understanding. I ask that you let our mission and values continue to guide you in the days ahead – to listen even when it is difficult, and to demonstrate in real ways how we care for one another.

Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D.
President, Saint Louis University

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