University of Kansas, KU Police silent on arrests of 3 student protesters

Share this post or save for later

The University of Kansas has yet to comment on its authorization to have three student protesters arrested inside an open campus library last week.

Shortly after midnight on Friday, May 10, KU police arrested three KU students who appeared to have been part of an encampment and protest in solidarity with Palestine. 

Around 100 people had gathered on the lawn in front of Fraser Hall on Thursday, May 9, continuing calls for the university to disclose and divest any financial connections with Israel amid monthslong violence in Gaza that’s killed tens of thousands of people.

Earlier in the day, university administrators hand-delivered a letter to protesters who are part of KU Students for Justice in Palestine. The letter gave notice that the encampment site must be completely cleared out by 10 p.m. that day and that any person who remained on the lawn in front of Fraser Hall with items identified as “camping paraphernalia” — defined in the letter as “furniture, bedding, tarps” and other items — would be removed by police. 

Dozens of law enforcement officers arrived at around 11:15 p.m. As protesters formed a line in front of the encampment and chanted, law enforcement told them to leave the encampment or they would be considered trespassing and they would be arrested. Many protesters who moved to the sidewalk left their items at the encampment, except for some holding flags or backpacks, and ultimately started marching down Jayhawk Boulevard. 

Maya Hodison/Lawrence Times Law enforcement officers arrive on KU’s campus to disperse protesters, May 9, 2024.

At the library

Some of the group dispersed, but several people eventually headed to Anschutz Library, which was open overnight. It’s about half a mile down Jayhawk Boulevard from Fraser Hall.

A little after midnight, KU Police arrested three students from the library. According to the Douglas County jail booking log, all three were arrested on suspicion of criminal trespassing. 

“I want to make clear that the arrests that happened on KU campus were 3 people walking up the stairs quietly but wearing keffiyeh,” Kincaid Dennett, a legal observer who was at the protest, wrote in a social media post, quoted with permission. “They were quickly grabbed and arrested with no conversation because the police were frustrated they couldn’t find protesters while they raided the library.”

Maya Hodison/Lawrence Times KU Police arrest protesters inside Anschutz Library.

Dennett characterized the law enforcement actions as a “truly bizarre sweep of the library that was done, which doubtlessly scared students studying for finals and included men bursting into the womens restroom to try to ‘find people.’ This was complete with asking random people studying to provide their student ID.”

Students who did not seem to be involved in the protest, including some who appeared to be intoxicated, were walking in and out of the library at the same time.

“Again, there was no evidence other than wearing keffiyeh to justify the arrest of these students,” Dennett wrote.

Maya Hodison/Lawrence Times Law enforcement officers arrest students inside Anschutz Library. Standing at left is Kincaid Dennett, one of the legal observers present for the protest.

As police were placing the three students into a Lawrence Police Department van, Lt. Mark Mehrer, of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, told a person nearby who asked why students were being arrested that KU Police authorized it.

“We didn’t arrest ’em, KU Police did,” Mehrer said. “We simply walked ‘em up and transferred ‘em into the van. You’ll have to ask KU Police.”

Law enforcement took cases of water from a large stack the protesters had accumulated, just as they had done two days before. Officers also took tents and other items to clear the site. 

No responses

KU Police Captain Jack Campbell responded on Monday afternoon to a follow-up email seeking campus police’s comment on the situation, saying that “The media contact for the protest activity is KU Public Affairs.”

We sent questions to Campbell and Public Affairs that afternoon regarding:
• if students are allowed to be in the library if it’s open;
• why protesters were arrested from the library;
• if arrestees had camping paraphernalia on their person, and if so, what were those items;
• what will happen to the protesters’ possessions collected from the encampment; and
• if there’s anything else the university would like to share.

The letter delivered to KU SJP mentioned the university’s Public Assembly policy, which says “The University reserves the right to reschedule, relocate or disperse an Assembly when: a group has not complied with all University policies; the Assembly cannot be reasonably and safely accommodated at the requested location; or the Assembly conflicts with scheduled operations of the University or a previously registered Assembly.”

The letter said KU SJP’s demonstration had become a threat to commencement because more visitors were coming to campus for graduation activities.

Jen, a media liaison for the encampment who asked to be referred to by their first name to protect their safety, at the encampment before police arrived on May 9 said, “We need to remember that there are no universities currently standing in Gaza” and that “This Sunday’s commencement, and the university is making a big deal out of it. There’s no commencement in Gaza.”

We also reached out to KU spokesperson Erinn Barcomb-Peterson on the morning of May 10, and followed up Monday morning, regarding:
• if people considered to have “camping paraphernalia” on their persons or close to them would be considered trespassing, or if everyone who looked to be associated with the protest group would be considered trespassing — because the letter delivered to KU SJP says “Anyone with items the University identifies as camping paraphernalia after 10 p.m. will be removed from the site”’
• if water bottles are considered camping paraphernalia;
• if food is considered camping paraphernalia;
• if first-aid kits, medication and masks are considered camping paraphernalia; and
• if the university would like to share anything else.

Neither the Office of Public Affairs nor Barcomb-Peterson responded to any of our email inquiries by the time of publication. Barcomb-Peterson also did not respond to a phone call Friday afternoon.

Students first set up their encampment at KU on May 1. More than 100 people were present that day and the demonstration remained mostly peaceful. They returned to the encampment the next morning but eventually transitioned to chanting and marching to Chancellor Douglas Girod’s office and other campus locations. More than 100 Lawrence High School students joined for part of the march. 

There was no action from the group until they reinstated the encampment and resumed their demonstration on May 7, several students staying overnight. 

The administration’s letter to KU SJP also told the group it would make a comment to the group after commencement concluded, which was Sunday

Students involved in the protest, including the three who were arrested, did not respond to emails on May 10 nor to a direct message to KU SJP’s social media page on Friday. 

Note: This post has been corrected from a previous version.

Find out what’s really going on in your town. Read The Lawrence Times.

Don’t miss a beat … Click here to sign up for our email newsletters

Click here to learn more about our newsletters first

Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

Related posts:

University of Kansas, KU Police silent on arrests of 3 student protesters

Share this post or save for later

The University of Kansas has yet to comment on its authorization to have three student protesters arrested inside an open campus library last week.


Latest Lawrence news:


Previous Article

Free State High School thespian earns rising star award

Next Article

Obituary: Rosalee Sue Nuñez Rodriguez