This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.
Update 11/19: JVP and SAFE responded to the arrests Saturday with a joint statement cosigned by them and 53 other University of Michigan student organizations. The statement, which was posted on social media, criticizes University President Santa Ono for refusing to meet with the demonstrators about their demands.
Update 11/18 12:09 a.m.: According to University of Michigan spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald, local police arrested 40 protesters and there were two injuries.
“Those arrested were processed and released at the scene,” Fitzgerald said. “The building was emptied and secured around 10:30 p.m.”
DPSS Deputy Chief of Police Melissa Overton confirmed the number of arrests Saturday morning.
Update 11/17 8:54 p.m.: Several protestors who remained in the Ruthven Building after the dispersal warning have been ticketed by the police for trespassing. Some University bus routes have also been impacted by the protest, which is located near the Central Campus Transit Center.
About 300 University of Michigan students gathered on the Diag Friday afternoon to protest the administration’s lack of a response to previous calls for the University to divest from Israel. The protest was organized by Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, with about 200 community members moving into the Alexander G. Ruthven Building for a sit-in that lasted over three hours.
As of 7:50 p.m. Friday night, over 25 police vehicles from the U-M Division of Public Safety & Security, the Ann Arbor Police Department, and seven other local police departments’ fleets responded to the sit-in and were monitoring the situation outside the building until late Friday evening. Many police cars arrived before the march reached the Alexander G. Ruthven building, and some were armed with riot shields. The protest was peaceful and there were no reports of violence from protestors. Police attempted to push protestors away from the building before they rushed inside and prevented anyone else from entering after the initial group of protestors was inside.
According to Overton, the majority of the protesters began leaving the building after the police issued a dispersal warning at 7:30 p.m.. At that time, law enforcement announced that anyone who had not left the building within 10 minutes would be arrested.
SAFE president Salma Hamamy opened the protest by welcoming supporters and summarizing recent developments in the coalition of student organizations calling for divestment on campus.
“Last time we stood here, the coalition at the University of Michigan pushing for divestment from Israel had 30 student organizations and today we are now at 54 student organizations,” Hamamy said. “We’ve only continued to grow and mobilize and we continue to fiercely fight for our university to take the moral high ground and to divest from any and all companies that profit off of the human rights violations committed by Israel.”
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, LSA sophomore Annabel Bean, co-founder of the U-M chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace and co-chair of the U-M chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America, explained the purpose behind the SAFE protest and the demands made to the University.
“The big (demands) are to divest (from Israel) and support the students,” Bean said. “Ono and the regents have refused time and time again for weeks to meet with SAFE and the coalition of allied organizations. … They sent other (administrators) to meet with us. We have demanded to meet with (Ono) because he’s the one, him and the regents, that control investments. … That’s why we’re here today, is to make those demands be heard.”
At the protest, students held signs that read “Genocide is not a Jewish value” and “UMich Jews say Boycott Divest Sanction.” In an interview with The Daily, Bean said that as a Jewish student, she is often told that any critique of Israel is antisemitic. In her experience, that’s not necessarily true, she explained.
“Collective liberation means that we should be fighting for Palestinians and fighting for their liberation,” Bean said. “The violence against Palestinians does not make Jews safer. In no world can my safety come from the destruction (and) the ethnic cleansing of another group of people, and that’s really why I’m here.”
LSA senior Zainab Hakim, SAFE Education Committee member, told The Daily participating in rallies may seem daunting to students, but urged them to overcome their hesitancy and join public protests to communicate directly with administration and the campus community.
“(In) elementary and middle school, you’ll learn about history as this abstract thing, and it’s like oh, this was insane,” Hakim said. “This is a chance for you to face that fear and come out and be on the right side of history and contribute to something bigger than yourself. So yeah, it’s scary, but I feel like you’d have to look that fear in the face sometimes.”
Following the protest, U-M students moved into the Ruthven Building where the U-M chapter of JVP began to livestream the sit-in on Instagram. In the livestream, about 20 students sat in a circle singing chants and calling for the University to recognize the violence faced by Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli incursion into Gaza. A group of over a dozen students entered University President Santa Ono’s office and continued to protest there.
In the Ruthven Building, protesting students chanted “Solidarity forever” and “What side are you on now?”
University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen sent a statement to The Daily about the protest, writing that the University is monitoring the situation as the sit-in continues.
“Late this afternoon, a group of pro-Palestinian protesters forcefully gained access to a locked Ruthven Administration Building,” Broekhuizen wrote. “An estimated 200 protesters entered the building. U-M Police report building occupants have safely left the building and officers are working to restore order to the building. We will provide further updates as the situation evolves.”
Dozens of police cars were present on Geddes Avenue as students marched up to the building. Although police blocked the main doors, protestors were able to enter the building through a different entrance. Protestors then chanted from both sides of the main doors for the police to allow the rest of them to enter the building.
Bean spoke about how the police blocked protestors from coming into the Ruthven Building on the livestream.
“Well, clearly they’re not supporting their students because the police blocked us from coming into a public building that was open on the University that we attend,” Bean said “Now, they’re not letting our allies into the building even though it’s 4:37 p.m.. This building is still open for another 23 minutes. They are not letting them into the building.”
As of 6:30 p.m., protestors outside the building were continuing to chant “We’re not leaving” and urged the police to give protestors inside the building access to water. Just after 7 p.m., SAFE and JVP also posted on Instagram, calling on U-M students to send individual emails to Ono and the Regents about the fact that police are not allowing water to be brought into Ruthven.
Daily Staff Reporter Sneha Dhandapani contributed reporting.
Daily Staff Reporters Astrid Code, Eilene Koo and the rest of The Michigan Daily news staff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.