Demonstrators at Stony Brook University ignored multiple requests to disperse after two days of pro-Palestinian protests on campus. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports. Credit: Newsday Staff

This story was reported and written by John Asbury, Matthew Chayes, Bart Jones, Maureen Mullarkey and Joe Werkmeister.

Law enforcement officers descended early Thursday on an encampment of pro-Palestinian protesters outside Stony Brook University's Staller Center where they took several dozen demonstrators into custody and forced others to leave.

Protest leaders and university administrators had reached an impasse before campus police along with New York State troopers and Suffolk County police officers moved in after a deadline for demonstrators to leave passed at 11 p.m.

Administration officials had earlier agreed to meet Thursday with the student leaders but also threatened them with possible expulsion if they remained on the grassy common.

About a dozen protesters had remained camped out as the deadline passed. Another roughly 100 demonstrators who left the immediate area to avoid getting arrested formed a perimeter around the smaller group. Others began clearing out supplies that had been spread out in the encampment.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Law enforcement officers descended early Thursday on an encampment of pro-Palestinian protesters outside Stony Brook University's Staller Center.
  • Police took 29 demonstrators into custody and ordered remaining protesters to leave.
  • Stony Brook University officials had earlier agreed to meet with the student leaders but also threatened them with possible expulsion if they refused to end the protest.

Chants of “Free Palestine” and “We Will Not Stop, We Will Not Rest” echoed across the common as about two dozen police officers kept watch.

Just before midnight Wednesday, officers began yelling out to the protesters that they had to leave. As the officers moved closer, the protesters backed away but repeated their chants.

About 30 of them then locked arms. The police approached and took them into custody, eliciting angry shouts of protest in an otherwise tense but mostly peaceful scene.

Separately, the 100 or so demonstrators on the perimeter continued chanting, some yelling anti-police slogans.

“Let Them Go! Let Them Go!” several protesters yelled as they stood 10 feet from a line of police officers positioned in front of the university library.

In a statement early Thursday, university officials said among the 29 people arrested were “students, faculty members and others from outside our campus community for violating various legal statutes and university policies. What began as a peaceful demonstration escalated to include intimidation and harassment of other students and the erection of tents in violation of the University’s clearly stated policy. University administrators made every effort to avert this outcome.”

By dawn, the foggy campus was quiet Thursday, as yellow police tape barricaded the entrances and front lawn between the library and in front of the Staller center. Campus police were removing barricades that had surrounded the encampment and moving them elsewhere. 

A lone box filled with anti-establishment books was left on a bench adjacent to the lawn, with the words “SBU Liberated Zone Library” and “The People’s Library." It contained Che Guevara's "The Motorcycle Diaries" and Joseph Heller's "Catch-22," among others.

Only a handful of students were walking to class or to the gym — a polar opposite to just hours before, when dozens of protesters refused to leave.

Day of protest

Police moved in Wednesday night after the student demonstrators and Stony Brook University campus police had clashed earlier in the day and protesters put up tents where they had slept in sleeping bags Tuesday night.

Stony Brook University students protesting Wednesday outside the campus’s Staller Center.

Stony Brook University students protesting Wednesday outside the campus’s Staller Center. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

The administration, in a letter Wednesday, agreed that university President Maurie McInnis would meet with five representatives of the protesters “as early as” 5 p.m. Thursday or a mutually agreed-upon date.

But the letter warned that if the demonstrators didn't leave the Staller Steps and clean up after themselves by 11 p.m. Wednesday and agree not to occupy other parts of the university used for events, protesters would be subject to suspension, expulsion, arrest and prosecution.

The letter, which noted McInnis had met with the leadership of “SB4 Palestine” in February, said the school's executive director of the endowment foundation would also be there to answer questions. 

Continuing encampment

A spokesperson for SB4 Palestine, Zubair Kabir, a Stony Brook University sophomore, responded late Wednesday by telling a crowd gathered at the protest site that the group “has decided to continue the encampment regardless.”

“We ask that everyone here understand the risks associated with continuing the encampment. The university has threatened suspension and arrest and other disciplinary measures if we remain on Staller steps after 11 p.m.”

About 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, Rick Gatteau, the university's vice president for student affairs, said 11 p.m. was a “hard deadline” and students will be “subject to arrest” if they don’t vacate.

“We’ve done our part in actively communicating our expectations to the students,” Gatteau said.

Shortly after the 11 p.m. deadline, Christina Ahlsen, 33, a 2014 Stony Brook graduate, sat among the protesters and began to play the Israeli National Anthem on the cello.

She said she played “not necessarily in support of the protests but not necessarily against.”

An hour later, the crowd gathered on the perimeter began to cheer at the sight of police officers vacating the entrance to the Staller Center. Close to midnight, the police returned but this time they stayed.

University officials said late Wednesday afternoon that three students had received interim suspensions due to their actions during the protest. The suspended students will have a temporary loss of access to campus and classes, online or otherwise, officials said.

Resisting police

At least one leader of the protest announced over a bullhorn she had been suspended.

Earlier Wednesday, the group had chanted “Free, free, Palestine” and erected tents, then resisted campus police who dragged the tents away. Some students fell down as officers pulled the tents out from underneath them.

“We are not afraid of your handcuffs,” the group chanted. “No amount of arrests will stop us.”

Students then linked arms and formed two circles around a third tent to prevent it from being taken. Later, five tents were erected inside the circle.

Late Wednesday, before the police arrived in full force, students had set up a dinner table over a blue tarp on the ground with pizza, cookies and chips for demonstrators.

“This is the peace movement of this generation,” said Nerissa Balce, a professor of Asian American studies who joined the protest, as she took a break from walking in the circle.

Alain Patrice Nganang, head of the Africana studies department, took in the protest Wednesday afternoon, walking in the circle with the students. He called the protest “beautiful.”

'Future of this country'

“I am so happy,” he said. “It was time they stood up to protest, to resist. They are the future of this country.”

Campus officials, including dean of students Riccardo McClendon, had announced just after 4:30 p.m. that the tents would need to be taken down or the crowd would be asked to disperse in five minutes. But hours later, the students remained and the tents were still up.

Students had camped out in sleeping bags on the grassy hill in front of the Staller Center since 7 a.m. Tuesday. University officials said they expected the students to follow school rules and relocate to another spot on the sprawling campus. The Jewish groups' event was previously scheduled, they said.

Kabir, the SB4 Palestine spokesperson, said Wednesday afternoon that “we’re not doing anything harmful, were not doing anything derogative, we're not doing anything antisemitic.” 

A national protest

Stony Brook joins many other universities and colleges across the country that have seen student protests related to the Israel-Hamas war in which Hamas fighters killed 1,200 people in an onslaught Oct. 7, followed by Israeli retaliation and bombings in Gaza that have killed an estimated 34,000 people. 

In Manhattan, following an overnight NYPD raid, the Columbia University campus and all nearby buildings were closed to anyone except those who live on campus or others who have authorized business there.

The NYPD, which under Columbia rules is not normally allowed on campus without an explicit invitation, was on campus Wednesday following nearly 300 arrests made overnight between Columbia and the City College of New York. The NYPD is on campus through at least May 17, according to a letter from the administration.

The Stony Brook event scheduled for Thursday, called the “Big Jewish Block Party,” is being organized by Hillel Stony Brook, a group that promotes Jewish life on campus, and several others that also support Israel. It is the second annual edition of the event, which is aimed at celebrating Jewish History Month, according to a flyer.

Demonstration protocol

The next major event at the Staller Center is a sold-out performance by violinist Itzhak Perlman scheduled for Saturday at 8 p.m.

In an earlier letter to the school community, McInnis outlined the school's protocol for demonstrations, saying they should not block access to or from buildings, “use amplified sound that disrupts university activities, impede the use of space … reserved by another registered student club/organization or campus office, or impose an ideological or political litmus test on those who seek to enter the space.”

Earlier Wednesday, Kabir said he was fed up with the university talking about the logistics of their protest instead of the real issues of divestment from Israel and the killing in Gaza.

“Instead they are beating around the bush and releasing statements saying they are appreciative of us,” he said.

He said the protesters are also demanding the school grant amnesty to nine students who were disciplined for an earlier protest at the university.

Protests have been held at Hofstra University and Adelphi University in the past week, but both ended peacefully and no additional protests had been announced. Last week, about 60 Hofstra students peacefully demonstrated while sitting in front of the school’s library. Hofstra public safety officers formed a line in front of the demonstration as they called for a cease-fire and the end of Israeli occupation.

No arrests were made and university officials reported no problems as the protest dispersed.

With Shari Einhorn

Check back for updates on this developing story.

A Newsday analysis shows the number of referees and umpires has declined 25.2% in Nassau and 18.1% in Suffolk since 2011-12. Officials and administrators say the main reason is spectator behavior. NewsdayTV's Carissa Kellman reports. Credit: Newsday Staff

'Why am I giving up my Friday night to listen to this?' A Newsday analysis shows the number of referees and umpires has declined 25.2% in Nassau and 18.1% in Suffolk since 2011-12. Officials and administrators say the main reason is spectator behavior. NewsdayTV's Carissa Kellman reports.

A Newsday analysis shows the number of referees and umpires has declined 25.2% in Nassau and 18.1% in Suffolk since 2011-12. Officials and administrators say the main reason is spectator behavior. NewsdayTV's Carissa Kellman reports. Credit: Newsday Staff

'Why am I giving up my Friday night to listen to this?' A Newsday analysis shows the number of referees and umpires has declined 25.2% in Nassau and 18.1% in Suffolk since 2011-12. Officials and administrators say the main reason is spectator behavior. NewsdayTV's Carissa Kellman reports.

Latest Videos

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME