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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

‘I feel so betrayed by Emerson’: ‘Popular University Encampment’ ends in arrests of 118 protesters

The four-day “Popular University Encampment” ended in the arrest of 118 protesters in the 2 Boylston Place alley early this morning. 
Nick Peace
Arrested protesters are bound by zip ties with their hands behind their backs before they are escorted into police vans on Boylston Street on Thursday, April 25, 2024. (Nick Peace for the Beacon)

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a larger series surrounding the April 25 arrests. Readers are encouraged to view the thread of live updates here. If you feel you or someone you know could be a valuable source for our continued coverage of this incident, please contact [email protected]

Update: The Beacon has just received an updated report that a total of 118 protesters were arrested, not 108 as previously reported.

The four-day “Popular University Encampment” ended in the arrest of 118 protesters in the 2 Boylston Place alley early this morning. 

The encampment started on Sunday night to express support for the student arrests at Columbia University, demand college divestment from Israel, and call for a ceasefire in Gaza. 

A Boston Police Department (BPD) spokesperson told the Beacon that most, if not all, protesters were arrested for disturbing the peace. It is not currently confirmed how many of the 118 arrested were Emerson College students. BPD officials did not have an immediate comment when asked about the communication with Emerson College Police Department (ECPD), administration, and BPD at the time of the arrests.

All detained individuals were released from custody by 6 p.m. on Thursday, according to an Emerson Students Justice for Palestine (ESJP) Instagram post.

Court dates and locations are to be determined, according to the post. 

According to on-scene Beacon reporters, the arrests began on the Boylston Street and Massachusetts State Transportation Building ends of the 2B alley at 1:45 a.m. Arrested protesters’ wrists were zip-tied behind their backs and escorted into police vans. 

The April 25 arrests come just a month after 12 Emerson students were arrested on March 22 outside of President Jay Bernhardt’s inauguration while protesting the college’s “tuition hikes, suppression of students and faculty, and silence on the ongoing genocide in Gaza.”

Prior to the arrests, BPD and college administrators released statements implying the possibility of legal action.

“Boylston Place Alley is not solely owned by Emerson College and has a public right-of-way under the jurisdiction of the BPD and the Boston Fire Department,” President Jay Bernhardt said in a community email on Wednesday morning. “Earlier today, the commissioners of the BPD and BFD directly informed Emerson’s leadership that some actions of the protesters are in direct violation of city ordinances, which could result in imminent law enforcement action.” 

In his email, Bernhardt referenced the “Unlawful Camping Ordinance,” enacted by the Wu administration in 2023, which was later read to students shortly before arrests began. 

“Unsanctioned temporary structures (such as tents and tarps) are sometimes referred to as encampments,” the ordinance reads. “They undermine the city’s ability to maintain adequate access to public property for individuals of all abilities, an unobstructed path of travel, and a safe and hazard-free environment for all individuals.” 

Police tensions increased over the course of the day with police cruisers spotted in the area around 1 p.m. Despite the possibility of imminent police action, protesters said their plan was to stay put.

“We are here to get our demands met,” said Amina Adeyola, an SJP organizer. “We’re not leaving until then.” 

When asked what the plan is in the case of arrests, Adeyola responded, “We’re going to keep our people safe … We have a full plan … We’ve [undertaken] all the safety measures that we can.”

Hours following this statement, an influx of police arrived on campus, alerting the campus community of potential arrests. 

Several on-scene reporters referenced a “very heavy” police presence at around 12:25 a.m., with approximately 12 state trooper vehicles, seven police cars, two BPD holding vans, two Boston fire trucks, and three ambulances lining Charles Street behind 10 Park Plaza. It is reported that 20-30 officers waited inside the Massachusetts Transportation Building, with even more stationed in different areas of campus during the hour before arrests began. 

Officers, dressed in riot gear and holding wooden batons, started to enclose the rows of human barricades and began arresting students using zip ties around 10 minutes after issuing the warning. BPD officers approached from either side of the alley. 

Police did not provide warnings to protesters who were located in front of the Massachusetts Transportation Building.

As students prepared for arrest, Beacon reporters heard them chanting, “Who keeps us? We keep us safe,” which organizers told the Beacon was a signal chant used by the protesters to signal police sightings in the previous days of the encampment.

Amrita Bala, an Emerson SJP organizer, described her experience during the protest in an interview with the Beacon. 

“It was horrifying … They just started ripping us from the crowd, throwing us down on the ground,” Bala said. 

Bala explained that students had prepared themselves for tear gas by sheltering under umbrellas, but that tear gas was not used. Bala, like many present at the protest, described the use of force during arrests as violent and excessive. 

“I got arrested pretty early, so I didn’t see what had happened after me, but they started using their batons a lot,” she said. “They started beating people, even people who weren’t arrested, dragging them on the ground.”

Beacon reporters on the scene saw several police officers piling on a single person’s body as well as blood on the ground. 

Soon after the 2B alley arrests, protests and police interaction spilled out onto Boylston Street. At 3:01 a.m., approximately over an hour after the arrests began, four more protesters were arrested outside of Tatte Bakery and Cafe, a Beacon reporter witnessed. 

College administration, including Vice President & Dean of Campus Life Jim Hoppe and Vice President for Equity and Social Justice Shaya Gregory Poku, were seen speaking to a crowd of remaining protesters outside the Walker Building at 3:11 a.m. 

Hours after the arrests, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu told WCVB-TV she supports the actions of BPD and the handling of the encampment protests.

“We have to be a city where everybody is safe. That is my primary mission. I know that events happening around the world are incredibly painful. We have to be a community where everybody can express their views safely,” Wu said in a WCVB-TV newscast. 

Wu said she would continue monitoring the body cam that recorded the arrests, but “future protests cannot create fire hazards anywhere in the city,” WCVB-TV wrote.

In the immediate aftermath, Emerson students and community members are reeling from yet another set of on-campus arrests. 

A freshman creative writing major, who had visited the encampment several times as well as donated food to the protesters, described feelings of instability and unrest on campus. 

“I feel so betrayed by Emerson,” she said. “…We were promised a liberal arts education and we were promised a liberal arts environment. We were promised freedom of speech, we were promised our freedom to assemble, to do all of these things and those were so swiftly taken away from us.”

In a Student Government Association (SGA) press conference earlier today, Executive President Charlize Silvestrino and Executive President Elect Nandan Nair called for the resignation of Bernhardt and announced an SGA meeting tomorrow where a vote of no confidence will be held.  

“As the incoming and outgoing president of SGA, we feel there is only one course of action,” Nair said. “Tomorrow, our elected student leaders will vote on a resolution of no confidence in President Jay Bernhardt and call on him to resign.”

“It’s clear that some in the college administration failed us last night,” Nair added.

As Silvestrino and Nair expressed, their call seeks to reflect the broader student sentiment. Many students have taken to social media to express their sorrow and disappointment in both BPD and Emerson. 

The same freshman creative writing major, who did not wish to be named, expressed similar feelings earlier today. 

“They don’t care about their students,” she said. “They only care that they got caught.”

Bryan Hecht contributed to this report.

View Comments (6)
About the Contributors
Sophia Pargas
Sophia Pargas, Editor-in-Chief
Sophia Pargas (she/her) is a senior Journalism and Marketing Communications double major from Miami, Florida. She has served on the Beacon since her sophomore year, using it as an opportunity to grow professionally and cover the things that matter to her—personal narratives, culture, ethics, arts, and much more. Outside of the paper, Sophia is a member of Alpha Epsilon Phi, an Engagement Lab student fellow, and has held several journalism and marketing internships at NBCUniversal, NBC South Florida, NBC Boston, and WCVB. To learn more about Sophia, her passions, and her experience, visit her personal portfolio "The SCP Journal." 
Olivia LeDuc
Olivia LeDuc, News Editor
Olivia LeDuc (she/her) is a journalism student and assistant editor for the campus coverage of The Beacon’s news section. When she’s not reporting, you can find her crocheting or going on yet another long walk in the city.

Comments (6)

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  • A

    Arthur Hardigg / Apr 26, 2024 at 11:45 am

    This was a peaceful protest. There was no need for the city to invoke its immoral ordinance known as “Mass and Cass,” which is designed to make life difficult for the homeless, to brutally subdue students who are speaking out on a matter of conscience.

    • A

      Anonymous / Apr 26, 2024 at 9:36 pm

      It is no longer a peaceful protest when they start chanting for the intifada.

      • A

        Arthur Hardigg / Apr 27, 2024 at 5:32 pm

        Unclear what evidence you have for this. We’re you there, anonymously ?

      • A

        Anon / Apr 28, 2024 at 3:46 pm

        Intifada means uprising. It means stand against oppression.

        • M

          Mark M Stewart / Apr 29, 2024 at 12:27 am

          You need to put words in context. Under the present situation, Intifada means the elimination of the sovereign nation of Israel. So does “from the river to the sea”, which was prominently displayed on one of the tents in the public alley abutting the campus.

          • E

            Emily Oc / Apr 30, 2024 at 2:53 pm

            Under the present situation, Israel is conducting brutal, ongoing mass murder of innocents, now upwards of 34K mostly women and children with countless more facing death by starvation and disease because of Israeli policies/actions causing those conditions. Protestors are supporting Palestinians in the face of these atrocities and part of that support is using slogans that are meaningful to Palestinians. Palestinians use intifada to mean “uprising” because that’s literally what it means. “From the river to the sea” has long been a cry for freedom for Palestinians across their historic territory. Seems reasonable. The phrase does not refer to the elimination of anyone else…unless you are suggesting freedom in the territory is a zero sum game? If that’s your belief or if people want to assign another meaning, that is on them. Either way, there is not call to violence in the phrase and it is protected speech. Maybe during the years of oppression, or now in between the funerals of 14K children, Palestinians didn’t think to hold focus groups with Israeli officials to see if there are any slogans that won’t hurt their feelings.
            I suppose the Jewish students there either forgot they were supposed to be offended or else decided the atrocities were a more important focus than a protest phrase written in sidewalk chalk.