University of Minnesota police arrest 9 after pro-Palestinian encampment set up on campus

University of Minnesota police arrested nine people on Tuesday after a pro-Palestinian encampment set up overnight on the Northrop Mall on the Twin Cities campus.

Video and photos posted to social media showed student groups pitched tents about 4 a.m. and placed signs aimed at showing "solidarity with the people of Palestine." About two hours later, university police arrived.

"The group was asked to disperse by 7 a.m. and told they would be arrested if they chose to stay past that time," the university said in a statement. "Some of those present chose to disperse and continue peacefully protesting, but nine chose to remain and were arrested without incident."

University police removed the tents, and Hennepin County jail rosters show they brought in nine people on misdemeanor trespass charges.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar made an appearance at the campus protest Tuesday night on the lawn outside the U's Coffman Memorial Union, praising demonstrators.

"I am incredibly moved by your courage and bravery as a student body in putting your bodies on the line to stand in solidarity to end the genocide taking place in Gaza at this moment," Omar said through a loudspeaker.

The protest comes at a time when students at other campuses across the country, including Columbia and Yale universities, are holding similar demonstrations. Omar's daughter, Isra Hirsi, was one of the students who protested at Columbia University while a student at Barnard College in New York. Following her roughly 10-minute-long speech to the protesters, Omar told the Star Tribune she feels like universities "have forgotten their purpose in facilitating opportunities for kids to exercise their First Amendment rights."

"I think colleges and universities need to do some soul-searching, because history is not going to be on their side," she added.

University officials across the nation are facing pressure to balance the free speech rights of students and faculty with a need to protect students from differing backgrounds. The U.S. Department of Education has reported a rise in complaints of both antisemitism and Islamophobia since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas in Israel and the Israeli strikes in Gaza. The U is one of more than 100 universities under investigation for possible discrimination, its case stemming from a complaint on antisemitism.

The university's statement said it "supports and respects free speech through lawful protest."

"As a public research university, demonstrations where groups express diverse views and opinions occur regularly on our campus," the statement said.

It also said the encampment violated both state trespassing law and a university policy that prohibits setting up tents without a permit.

Hours after the initial demonstration, hundreds of people gathered outside the student union to repeat calls to support Palestinian people, divest from companies that support Israel and condemn the arrests. Some of people who attended were U students or employees. Others, including Siinian Ephrem, attend other schools in the area but joined the event to show solidarity.

"They have the right to protest what's going on in Palestine," Ephrem said.

The event was organized by Students for a Democratic Society, Students for Justice in Palestine, the Young Democratic Socialists of America and Students for Climate Justice. During the first hour, people heard from speakers and repeated chants such as "Justice is our demand," or other statements accusing Israel of promoting terrorism or apartheid.

In a statement later Tuesday, Steve Hunegs, executive director of Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, thanked the university for its responses, noting that reports of antisemitism have increased across the nation and that some students feel "it is no longer safe to be visibly Jewish on campus."

"Today's protests may be about many things, but peace between Israelis and Palestinians isn't one of them," Hunegs said.

Staff writer Louis Krauss contributed to this story.