Protesters clear out from Drexel encampment without incident after police warning to leave

New encampment pops up in Clark Park in Southwest Philadelphia

Thursday, May 23, 2024
Protesters clear out from Drexel encampment without incident after police warning to leave
Protesters at Drexel University have cleared their encampment without incident Thursday as the campus returns to normal operations.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Pro-Palestinian protesters at Drexel University packed up their belongings and cleared out from the campus encampment in Philadelphia's University City section, without incident.

Shortly after 5 a.m. Thursday, Drexel police gave a warning to protesters to clear the encampment before Philadelphia police arrived to assist.

Officials said the protesters then began to leave on their own almost immediately. In less than a half hour of the warning, only a few items remained on the Korman Family Quad.

"The campers picked up their belongings for the most part and left by their own free will," Philadelphia Police Sgt. Eric Gripp said.

Philadelphia police give update on clearing of Drexel encampment

Protesters didn't immediately comment.

This comes amid continued calls from the university's president to disband.

University President John Fry said in a statement that he decided to have campus police and public safety officers join Philadelphia police in clearing the encampment as peacefully as possible.

"Fortunately, looks like we're going to be able to complete this operation without having to make any arrests, any use of force, anything of that nature," Gripp said.

Fry said the university is committed to protecting the community members' right to assemble peacefully and express their views, but he has the responsibility and authority to regulate campus gatherings to ensure safety and fulfill the mission to educate students.

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In a statement released Wednesday, President John Fry said protesters "have created a hostile, confrontational environment by subjecting passersby to antisemitic speech and by issuing several 'demands' that have unacceptably targeted individual members of our faculty and professional staff" as well as Jewish groups on campus.

President Fry previously threatened disciplinary action against Drexel students participating in the protest.

"Any Drexel student in the encampment is violating our University Code of Conduct. All demonstrators have been warned throughout the week verbally, via emails and posted signage that they are trespassing on University property and must disperse," he added.

Police said they will remain in the area for the time being.

"Philadelphia is the birthplace of liberty and we absolutely stand to protect people's First Amendment rights. At the same time, we also have to enforce our laws. Again, this is private property and Drexel can make their own policies," Gripp said.

Action News was told there were roughly 25 to 30 protesters in the Drexel encampment before they left.

The pro-Palestinian encampment at the Korman Quad near Market and JFK had been set up since Saturday. It popped up shortly after a similar encampment was removed from the University of Pennsylvania campus. Since then, other demonstrations on and near the Ivy League campus were held and led to several arrests.

The dozens who set up the Gaza Solidarity encampment at Drexel previously said they were made up of members of the Philadelphia community. It is unclear how many of them were Drexel students.

The Drexel protesters' demands ranged from the university administration calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and divesting from companies that do business with Israel, to abolition of the Drexel police department and termination of the school's chapter of Hillel, the Jewish campus organization, and another Jewish campus group, Chabad.

The encampment had persisted despite Fry's threat earlier this week to have the encampment cleared. Fry said Tuesday that classes would be held virtually for a third day on Wednesday after administrators tried to open a line of communication to the protesters but were rebuffed.

In an Instagram post earlier this week, the Drexel Palestine Coalition said, "It is slander to accuse the encampment of 'hateful' or 'intimidating' actions when we have done neither." The group accused Drexel and city police of harassment and intimidation. A pro-Palestinian group of faculty and staff also blasted Fry on Monday for shuttering campus facilities and said the encampment was "not disruptive to learning."

Drexel returns to normal operations

Drexel University will return to normal operations Thursday.

All classes, lectures, facilities and events will return to their normal operation on Thursday, with the exception of the Korman Center, which will remain closed until further notice, the university announced Wednesday night. Security protocols will remain in place, including the need for identification to enter a campus building via a single point of entry.

Earlier in the week, classes were held virtually as police kept watch over the demonstration on the school's Korman Quad.

Clark Park encampment

Chopper 6 was above Clark Park in the 4300 block of Baltimore Avenue Thursday, where several tents and signs could be seen.

Another pro-Palestinian encampment appears to have formed in Southwest Philadelphia.

Chopper 6 was above Clark Park in the 4300 block of Baltimore Avenue Wednesday, where several tents and signs could be seen.

This is the first encampment on city property.

Action News has reached out to city officials about the Clark Park encampment but have not yet heard back.

However, Gripp told Action News that erecting tents in the city is against the law.

Campus protests

A wave of pro-Palestinian tent encampments on campuses has led to over 3,000 arrests nationwide.

Harvard University planned to hold its commencement Thursday following a weekslong pro-Palestinian encampment. Tensions on campus ticked up a notch Wednesday when officials announced that 13 students who participated in the encampment won't receive degrees alongside their classmates.

Also Thursday, the leaders of Northwestern University and Rutgers University are expected to testify at a House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing about concessions they gave to pro-Palestinian protesters to end demonstrations on their campus. The chancellor of the University of California, Los Angeles, also was scheduled to appear at the latest in a series of hearings looking into how colleges have responded to the protests and allegations of antisemitism.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.