​A student is arrested during a pro-Palestine demonstration

A student is arrested during a pro-Palestine demonstration at the the University of Texas at Austin on April 24, 2024 in Austin, Texas.

(Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Texas State Troopers in Riot Gear Crack Down on UT Students' Gaza Protest

"Why do we even have these institutions of higher learning if we won't let students speak their conscience and protest?" said one University of Texas professor.

This is a developing story... Please check back for possible updates...

Civil rights advocates on Wednesday expressed alarm at a rapid escalation by Texas state troopers who descended on a student-led protest at University of Texas at Austin, which was organized in solidarity with Gaza and other U.S. college students taking part in a growing anti-war movement.

UT students gathered on campus at midday and were promptly given two minutes to disperse by state troopers, who had already been called to the scene.

The troopers were equipped with riot gear, with some carrying assault rifles and several stationed on horses.

Erick Lara, a 20-year-old sophomore, told The Dallas Morning News that the nonviolent protest transformed "within minutes" after the police began arresting demonstrators.

"I didn't think it would escalate this far," he told the outlet. "And I didn't think there would be this much police intervention from what's supposed to be a peaceful protest. Not very peaceful when there's a bunch of aggressors around, especially on horses."

The organizers called the gathering "The Popular University" and said it was aimed at pressuring UT to "divest from death."

The protesters walked out of their classes to demand UT divest from weapons manufacturers in order to end its complicity in Israel's U.S.-backed assault on Gaza, which has killed at least 34,262 Palestinians.

Student-run newspaper The Daily Texanreported roughly 50 state troopers were deployed to stop the initial protest of about 150-200 people.

Ryan Chandler, a reporter for NBC affiliate KXAN-TV and UT alum, reported that there were at least 10 students detained.

"Went here for four years, never saw anything like this," said Chandler, posting a video of a group of police pushing one student to the ground and arresting them.

Joseph Pierce, a Stony Brook University professor who attended graduate school at UT, also said the escalation was an unusually "drastic response to students advocating for an end to the genocide of the Palestinian people."

"It is a response that did not occur when in 2005 we protested the anti-gay marriage bill; in the late 2000s when we protested anti-immigration bills; in the 2010s when we protested the open-carry bill," Pierce said. "It is a clear attempt at silencing Palestinian and anti-Zionist Jewish voices."

The students faced the state troopers in a standoff on the university's main street.

"This violence against peaceful student protesters at UT Austin is absolutely horrifying—and should be condemned in the strongest terms by every politician and mainstream journalist," said former New Yorker editor Erin Overbey.

UT media and Middle East studies professor Nahid Siamdoust said the university "brought out everything but the kitchen sink to make sure" students couldn't erect an anti-war encampment like students at Columbia University, New York University, and other schools across the U.S. have in recent days.

The university had informed organizers with the on-campus Palestine Solidarity Committee on Tuesday that exercising their First Amendment rights in support of Palestinians in Gaza would "violate our policies and rules."

"The freedom to protest is integral to our democracy," said the ACLU of Texas Wednesday amid reports of the crackdown. "UT Austin students have a First Amendment right to freely express their political opinions—without threats of arrest and violence."

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.