Four arrested, two hospitalized after U-M encampment cleared by police

Law enforcement deployed pepper spray and arrested multiple protesters early Tuesday morning in Ann Arbor after officers moved in and cleared the encampment staged in the heart of the city.

Erected as a protest against the University of Michigan's endowment that it has invested in companies in Israel, those who had been stationed in the Diag had refused to move until the school had met their demands.

Tents had been in place for the past month as momentum against campuses across the country escalated amid violence in Gaza, where Israel has targeted leaders of Hamas. As criticism of the country's occupation has grown, higher education institutions have been caught in the middle of an angry base of young people that support Palestine. 

On Tuesday, that angry base came face to face with police.

"They gave me chemical burns, they pepper sprayed a student on the ground and sent them to the hospital," said Ryan Mersole-Barg, a student protester, pointing to his arm and wearing a towel over his face.

Four protesters were arrested and later released Tuesday afternoon while charges are pending. 

According to protesters, the University of Michigan has billions invested in Israel.

"Up to $6 billion of the university’s $18 billion endowment is invested in hedge funds and venture capital that make money from people being killed right now in Gaza," said Tegwyn John, another protester. "The students spend their lives paying off their tuition that goes to the University of Michigan, and it shouldn't be invested in murdering children."

But the school denies their endowment invested in Israel companies is even close to those numbers. A statement from President Santa Ono said the encampment was cleared amid concerns it had become a fire hazard.

The statement included Ono saying a May 17 inspection by the university fire marshal found that if a fire were to occur, a catastrophic loss of life was likely. The fire marshal and Student Life leaders asked camp occupants to remove their external campus barriers and refrain from overloading power sources, as well as to cease using open flames.

Those actions allegedly continued, which led to authorities moving in and clearing the encampment. 

The TAHRIR Coalition, made up of over 80 organizations fighting for divestment from Israel and its military, denied the use of open flames and overloading power outlets in a statement Tuesday.

"Let us be clear: Ono and the Regents’ actions show that they are concerned only with the safety of their investments in genocide and the israeli occupation of Palestine. Their claims about safety were not only disingenuous, but included outright lies," according to the coalition. "Ono cited a purported fire marshal’s inspection to justify the police raid, but the fire marshal never came to the encampment to inspect it or communicate with us, despite repeated requests for them to do so…

"Ono and the Regents attacked the encampment today because they fear the strength of the popular movement for Palestine."

In addition to the arrests, two students were hospitalized. 

In a statement from the American Human Rights Council, the executive director said, "these students are America at its best…it is unacceptable to shred the Constitution and destroy the reputation and trust with law enforcement over a foreign policy issue and a foreign country."