Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Pro-Palestine protest at Schenley Plaza coming to an end Monday, a day after arrests

Demonstrators taking down tents and packing up sleeping bags.
Oliver Morrison
90.5 WESA
Demonstrators began taking down their tents and packing up their sleeping bags on Monday morning and plan to leave Schenley Plaza entirely after a dinner on Monday evening.

Pro-Palestine protesters at Schenley Plaza are planning to have a final dinner tonight before vacating the premises, bringing to an end a nearly week-long protest.

Cameryn Gray, one of the leaders of the protest, said the group spoke with members of Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey’s administration last week and agreed to leave Schenley Plaza, which is city property, by the end of the day on Monday.

A spokesperson for the Gainey administration didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Pittsburgh Police Chief Larry Scirotto met with several protest leaders just before noon on Monday and told WESA afterward that he was planning to hold a press conference on Tuesday morning to go into more detail about the city’s response to the demonstrations once they had concluded.

“We are going to wrap up tonight so that we can continue to focus on building our community in other ways and figuring out how to apply more pressure on the university,” Gray said.

WESA Inbox Edition Newsletter

Start your morning with today's news on Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania.

The conclusion of the protest comes on the heels of the demonstrators’ first conflict with police on Sunday. Police attempted to move a group of protesters, who were singing protest songs and chants, off of the university lawn, back into the public streets and sidewalks. Two people were arrested.

The university’s student publication, the Pitt News, posted a video on social media of what it said was the police making the arrests.

“Apparently, it is against policy for students to be on their own campus peacefully demonstrating as tuition-paying students,” Gray said.

Jared Stonesifer, a representative for the University of Pittsburgh, confirmed that the two individuals were charged with misdemeanor trespassing and one was a student. He didn’t respond to additional requests for comment.

A group of four people stand in a circle and speak as Palestinian flags are seen in the foreground.
Oliver Morrison
90.5 WESA
Pittsburgh Police Chief Larry Scirotto met with a few leaders of the pro-Palestine protesters at midday on Monday.

The group of protesters are calling for the university to divest from any companies or institutions that support Israel and its war with Hamas. The protest had started on Tuesday without any arrests. Sunday’s confrontation came after arrests at Columbia University last week kicked off a wave of protests and some additional arrests at universities across the country.

Pitt publishes guidelines for protests and demonstrations on its website. “The University maintains the right to regulate and monitor the time, place and manner of any proposed on-campus demonstrations as may be necessary to help ensure the safety and well-being of community members and the orderly conduct of classes and other functions of the University,” the guidelines state.

Video posted Sunday by a TribLive reporter showed the demonstrators holding hands in a circle, chanting “Palestine will be free” and accusing the university of contributing to genocide.

On Monday morning, a few dozen protesters were moving public chairs back to their tables at Schenley Plaza and packing up their sleeping bags and a few of the tents.

Gray said they and some other protesters had been sleeping at the plaza since last Tuesday and had organized a food tent and a medical supplies tent. Gray said the protesters had received donated meals all week long. Some of the protesters said they had a rule not to engage with authorities, like police, or people in the public with different views, such as Zionists.

Gray said the protesters had originally been met with threats of arrest from police last week, when they tried to build their camp on University property and decided instead to build it at Schenley Plaza.

The group is now raising funds to support the two arrested protesters; Gray said they didn’t know specifically what had led to the arrests, other than that the protesters had tried to set up a tent on university-owned grass.

The university published three short updates on its website and social media yesterday. The university said it was closing the student union “out of an abundance of caution” and asked students to avoid the area around the student union and Cathedral of Learning where the protests were taking place.

The William Pitt Union resumed regular operating hours Monday after the university temporarily closed it during the protest Sunday. Two police officers on bicycles were stationed at the entrance. The protests occurred on the same day as Pitt’s commencement ceremony at the Petersen Events Center.

Representatives for the Pittsburgh Police Department didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Gray said that the university should know the protesters are serious about continuing to find ways to get the university to divest. Thus far, though, they have been unsuccessful at convincing administrators to take action and have yet to meet with the chancellor as requested.

“We have been meeting with many different offices of administration for months now — for months — and there has been absolutely no action on their part towards divestment,” they said.

Oliver Morrison is a general assignment reporter at WESA. He previously covered education, environment and health for PublicSource in Pittsburgh and, before that, breaking news and weekend features for the Wichita Eagle in Kansas.