Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Boston city councilors react to Emerson arrests

Ashlyn Wang
Boston City Hall. (Ashlyn Wang/Beacon Staff)

Boston city councilors have begun to release statements following the arrests of 118 protesters on April 25 at Emerson’s “Popular University Encampment” in the 2 Boylston Place alley. While all of the statements recognize the protesters’ freedom of speech and right to assemble, some went to greater lengths commenting on the nature and manner of the arrests themselves. 

City Council President Ruthzee Louijeune released a statement at 12:54 p.m. on April 25. 

Louijeune began her statement by noting that the right to protest is sacred and that academic spaces have served as “catalysts” for social movements. 

“It’s imperative to uphold this right,” said Louijeune. “It’s equally essential to emphasize that on college campuses, all students, regardless of ideology or identity, have the right to feel safe, heard, and protected. Jewish students, Muslim students— all of our students have a right to feel safe.” 

Louijeune cautioned against “heavy-handed responses to protest” and criticized the Unlawful Camping Ordinance invocation in clearing the encampment.

“While there are legitimate public safety concerns, the presence of tents alone does not transform a peaceful protest into an unpeaceful one,” said Louijeune. “It is our collective responsibility to ensure that students who choose to exercise their right to protest are met with dignity and respect.” 

Louijeune called for legal cases against peaceful protesters to be dismissed. 

District 2 City Councilor Ed Flynn, whose district includes Emerson, released a statement at 1:56 p.m. on April 25. 

Flynn said that Emerson College showed “great restraint and professionalism” and that the college’s communications “made it clear to the protesters several times that while we all strongly support the right to free speech, limiting pedestrian access to a public right of way is a violation of city rules.”

Flynn added that the college provided protesters “more than enough time to respect the rules of the City of Boston” and that the protesters were removed and arrested in a “professional manner” by Boston Police. 

According to previous Beacon coverage, however, “Protesters who were arrested on the scene have reported beatings with batons, being dragged across the ground, being kicked on the ground by officers, and having zip ties tied so tight that they caused flesh wounds, amongst other things. Head injuries, wrist injuries, and black eyes were also witnessed by Beacon staff.”

District 7 City Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson, who previously proposed a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, released a statement at 6:43 p.m. on April 25. 

Fernandes Anderson began her statement by noting that Emerson students put up an encampment “in support of a ceasefire in Gaza and in opposition to the bombing and brutalization being perpetrated by Israel with U.S. weapons of war.”

She went on to address reports that no protesters were injured while being arrested. 

“There are images of students with bruises and statements by other students attesting to the harsh treatment that was meted out to them,” said Fernandes Anderson. “…The issue is not what the students are doing, but rather, what they are opposing.” 

Fernandes Anderson noted that elected leaders and society at large should be “saluting and encouraging” college students who are speaking out. 

“They are embodying the Ghandi dictum, ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world,’” said Fernandes Anderson. “They are using nonviolent methods to oppose the violent actions of our government and its allies. They are standing with the defenseless civilians of Gaza, speaking for those whom this world is seeking to silence.”

Fernandes Anderson called April 25 a sad day for Boston. However, she went on to note that there is joy in it as well. 

“When thousands of our young stand up against the warfare, they are giving the best that the human spirit can offer,” said Fernandes Anderson. “When they do so, they walk in the footsteps of Martin Luther King, Daniel Berrigan, Fannie Lou Hamer, and all of [those] who have raised their voices against the greatest purveyors of violence in our world.”  

Fernandes Anderson urged that all cases against peaceful protesters be dismissed. 

“Let us always remember that you can arrest people, but you can never arrest justice,” said Fernandes Anderson. “You can never arrest peace. You can never arrest liberation. And you can never arrest the truth.”

Councilor At-Large Henry Santana released a statement on X at 8:42 a.m. on April 26. 

Santana referred to the right to protest as “sacred” and said that protesting is at the core of both American values and the city of Boston’s history. 

“In this era when our democratic institutions and norms are under attack across the country, Boston is a place where we should be especially cautious about protecting freedom of speech, particularly the right to protest,” said Santana.

Santana does not believe the way protesters at Emerson were handled “reflect[s] who we are as a city.” 

“As a Black man who grew up here in Boston, there is a lot of trauma that our communities have historically experienced with policing, which is resurfacing with some of the videos we are seeing,” said Santana. “[They] show apparently physically nonviolent protesters being pushed and pulled to the ground by police officers wearing helmets and tactical gear.”

Santana believes that charges against protesters who were physically nonviolent should be dropped. He further noted that as chair of the Committee of Public Safety and Criminal Justice, ensuring that publicly shared spaces are safe and passable is a key priority, but protecting the legal right to protest is also paramount.

“We need to review this incident in detail to understand who authorized it and exactly how it unfolded—not to point fingers, but so that we can have nuanced discussions about our law enforcement protocols and so the city can do better going forward,” said Santana.

District 6 City Councilor Benjamin Weber released a statement at 12:28 p.m. on April 26. 

Weber began his statement by asserting that no one should be arrested for expressing their political views. He went on to note that while Mayor Michelle Wu and the city were looking to enforce its tent ordinance and fire code violations through the arrests, it is concerning that students are continually being met with police action. 

“While I believe our mayor and the city of Boston sought to enforce its tent ordinance and various fire code violations … it is deeply concerning to watch as protesters are increasingly being met with police action at universities across the country and now here in Boston,” said Weber. “If we, as a city, in conjunction with universities, cannot find a way to allow for peaceful protests, we are in a sorry state.”

Weber agreed with Louijeune and Santana in that the arrests at Emerson and Northeastern are “highly troubling” and that charges against political protesters should be dropped. 

“Protests that don’t block public rights of way, violate city ordinances relating to public safety, or threaten physical harm to people should not be forcibly broken up,” said Weber. “The presence of a tent alone isn’t reasonable grounds for infringing upon Bostonians’ constitutional rights.”

Weber ended his statement by noting that the “best response to speech, even speech we disagree with, should be more speech.” 

Councilors at-large Erin Murphy and Julia Mejia, in addition to district councilors Gabriela Coletta (District 1), John FitzGerald (District 3), Brian Worrell (District 4), Enrique Pepén (District 5), Sharon Durkan (District 8), Liz Breadon (District 9), have yet to release any statements or public comment at the time this story was published.

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DJ Mara
DJ Mara, Kasteel Well Bureau Co-Editor

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