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Police respond to a student-led encampment at School of the Art Institute of Chicago set up to protest the war in Gaza. Credit: Screengrab via SAIC United For Palestine

DOWNTOWN — A pro-Palestinian encampment outside the Art Institute of Chicago was cleared by police Saturday, resulting in dozens of arrests as protests against the war in Gaza spread to another local college.

Police arrested 68 protesters outside the Art Institute Saturday after the museum asked police to clear the encampment that took over a garden on its grounds, according to the Chicago Police Department.

Students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago set up an encampment in solidarity with Palestinians around 11 a.m. Saturday in the North Garden on the art museum's campus, 111 S. Michigan Ave.

The group, organized by School of the Art Institute of Chicago United for Palestine, set up tents and erected signage in the garden calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war and asking the college to divest in Israel.

The protesters later began discussions with police and the Art Institute over finding an alternative site for the encampment, according to Chicago police. The demonstrators locked and barricaded a gate to the garden, authorities said.

Around 3:30 p.m. Saturday, the Art Institute asked police to remove demonstrators from the garden, police said. After giving three verbal orders to disperse, police arrested 68 people for criminal trespass to property, the department said.

It was not immediately clear if protesters have been charged following the arrest.

The Art Institute said in a statement it asked police to help disperse the encampment following five hours of talks with protesters and after members of the encampment blocked emergency exits at the museum campus, shoved a security officer and escalated protest actions on Michigan Avenue.

The institute asked protesters to move to another location on the campus, offering amnesty from academic sanctions and trespassing charges if they agreed to move, according to the Art Institute. Protesters turned down the offer, the museum said in a statement.

“The Art Institute of Chicago respects a group’s right to peacefully protest without harming staff and visitors,” the Art Institute said in a statement. “After approximately five hours, an agreement could not be reached. The museum requested that the Chicago Police Department end the protest in the safest way possible, and arrests were made after protesters were given many opportunities to leave. “

All of those arrested at the protest were released from police custody by around noon Sunday, student organizers shared on social media.

“[Art Institute of Chicago] and [School of the Art Institute of Chicago] — how do you feel about the police’s treatment of your students, faculty, and community caused by your arrests?” SAIC United For Palestine said on Instagram following the arrests.

Police respond to a pro-Palestinian student encampment at School of the Art Institute of Chicago Saturday, May 4, 2024. Credit: Screengrab via SAIC United For Palestine

Protesters have not returned to the Art Institute grounds as of Sunday morning.

The Art Institute became the fourth Chicago-area college campus to see students set up an encampment in solidarity with Palestinian civilians suffering under the Israel-Hamas war.

University of Chicago's pro-Palestinian protesters faced off against counter protesters carrying American and Israeli flags Friday, a face-off in front of a heavy police presence that saw tensions rise before being resolved peacefully.

As UChicago's encampment is set to enter a second week on the campus' main quad, university President Paul Alivisatos said Friday the encampment “cannot continue.”

DePaul University students also set up a pro-Palestinian encampment last week in a protest that has remained peaceful. A similar encampment was also formed at Northwestern University’s Evanston campus, though some of that protest has been scaled back after students reached an agreement with administrators.

Hamas, the group that controls the Palestinian territory of the Gaza Strip, launched a surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7 when militants killed an estimated 1,200 Israelis and took around 240 hostages.

The Israeli military launched a full-scale attack in response, with months of airstrikes, raids and other military actions in Gaza. Palestinian health authorities say more than 34,000 people in Gaza — mostly women and children — have been killed, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.

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