Police arrest 16 in clash with pro-Palestinian protesters at UNM

Police arrest 16 in clash with pro-Palestinian protesters at UNM 6 p.m.

Police arrested 16 people overnight during a clash with pro-Palestinian protesters who occupied the UNM Student Union Building.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Police arrested 16 people overnight during a clash with pro-Palestinian protesters who occupied the UNM Student Union Building.

Protesters took to the SUB around 8:30 p.m. Monday. Like others on campuses across the U.S., they demanded the university divest from Israel over the war in Gaza, chanting “Viva Palestina…” Protesters consisted of not only students but also community members.

As this all began, officials sent a Lobo Alert to all students. Things remained peaceful throughout the night.

A video showed protesters confronting university president Garnett Stokes on campus, asking her to commit to divestment. Before police entered the building, the only other tense moment happened when a student confronted protest leaders, saying the SUB was a place to study.

Leaders with New Mexico State Police say they were asked to assist campus police with protesters. That happened around 9:30 p.m. Monday.

State Police showed up in riot gear and gave protesters a 30-minute warning, saying they were trespassing. For students, they said they could face academic sanctions.

“If you don’t comply with those orders, you will be arrested and force may be used against you.”

More than 30 State Police officers then began moving in. Witnesses tell KOB 4 they entered the building through a loading deck.

After a brief standoff, police began tearing down tents. A KOB 4 photojournalist witnessed an officer tackling someone and arresting several people. They saw at least four people in handcuffs.

UNM officials confirmed police made 16 arrests – including five enrolled students and four people who were reportedly former students. They were all charged with criminal trespassing and wrongful use of public property.

Eventually, around 3:30 a.m. Tuesday, police began pushing people out of an exit on the east side of the building. They essentially created a bottleneck that forced protesters out.

KOB 4 spoke to one protester who says he believes the response was excessive.

“We were very peacefully occupying the Student Union Building. And they came in in full riot gear with their batons out. They stood around for about 10 minutes, arrested some of our comrades, trampled over tents, trampled over tons of donated stuff that the community brought out for us,” the protester said.

UNM sent a LoboAlert out Tuesday at 8:51 a.m. The alert stated, “The SUB is no longer occupied and will be closed until further notice.”

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a statement on the protest:

“I support the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of speech on campus, and law enforcement must make allowance for it. However, campus protests must be exercised in accordance with the law and university policy. Protestors should respect campus property, as well as the rights of students and faculty to access university buildings and other amenities. I am hopeful that UNM faculty and students can work together with law enforcement to ensure students’ First Amendment rights in a way that protects property and the rights of all students, faculty, and campus visitors.”

UNM leadership shared the following message with all students and faculty Tuesday:

“We are communicating with you regarding an incident at our Student Union Building (SUB) that began yesterday evening. What began as protest ended in criminal acts.

A group of persons marched across campus in protest, but then entered the UNM SUB and declared their intent to occupy the building until their demands were met. They remained unlawfully in the building past closing time and proceeded to vandalize the building, damaging furniture, walls, and doors, writing graffiti with markers, paint, and chalk, on the walls, on banisters, in bathrooms, and more. Beyond this property damage in the SUB, graffiti was spray-painted across campus. Students who were trying to study in the SUB were verbally harassed.

UNM has long served as a place where free speech and the right to engage in peaceful protest have been permitted and protected – but only up to the point where such protest substantially disrupts university operations or crosses the line to criminal acts. We are obliged to ensure that our campus is safe and open to all.

The takeover of the UNM Student Union Building is not acceptable. The vandalism of the building, a precious gathering place on our campus, is not acceptable. Barricading its doors and blocking its stairs are not acceptable. Intimidating students who are simply trying to study and learn, is not acceptable.

Those who occupied the building were not peacefully protesting, they were engaged in criminal activity by entering, remaining in, and damaging the SUB after its closing hours. 

Those who were in the building past its operating hours were told to vacate the SUB and given time to do so. They were told that failure to comply could result in arrest. Those who did not comply were arrested. Sixteen arrests were made, five of whom were students; we understand that the other 11 were not affiliated with UNM.

There is no desire on the University’s part to engage in confrontation, and we had previously allowed protest at our Duck Pond, but disallowed camping in accordance with long standing policy. However, the continued damage being done to the SUB, as shown on the occupiers’ social media, and their continued threat to deny this important facility to the rest of campus unless their demands were met, compelled this carefully considered, difficult choice. 

We ask that people respect each other’s diverse viewpoints as well as university policies and state laws so that we can all feel safe and welcome here. We will communicate further with campus concerning these events and our path forward.”