On Wednesday morning, May 1, at 2 a.m., Tulane and Loyola student protesters woke up in their sleeping bags to a police raid. 

State troopers were dressed in tactical vests and helmets, carrying automatic weapons, as they cleared the site. “A riot cop pointed a sniper rifle at my head,” said Loyola SDS student Juleea Berthelot. “I was scared for my life.”

The previous Monday, Students for a Democratic Society activists from Tulane and Loyola Universities pitched tents on Tulane’s lawn in front of Gibson Hall on St. Charles Ave. This action rode the wave of a national student encampment movement, demanding academic divestment from Israel. 

The camp soon received support from New Orleanians of all walks of life. Restaurant owners served food, donors provided camping gear, community organizations offered books, musicians played multicultural songs, and faith leaders led both Jewish and Muslim prayers. The crowd swelled to more than 300 at its peak, with many more coming in and out. 

Tulane’s administration declared the gathering a threat to campus safety, shut down three nearby buildings for the week, and made preparations to ramp up their response.

Relatively few police vehicles patrolled the area Wednesday morning, but an anonymous tipster told protesters that a sweep was imminent. State troopers denied this just moments before the sweep, telling Shreyas Vasudevan, a security liaison for the protest, that they had no arrests planned that night. 

Yet, sure enough, at 3 a.m, Louisiana State Police showed up in riot gear to assist Tulane University Police Department and the New Orleans Police Department in making a perimeter around the encampment.

Protesters then moved to a public sidewalk in front of the encampment. Officers proceeded to arrest 11, bruising several, and then formed a line across both sides of St. Charles and the neutral ground. They began pushing protesters back, and arrested three more at random. 

One arrestee was a student who was just passing by. The troopers did not provide a dispersal order for at least an hour, so protesters had no idea how to safely leave the area. By the time the crowd dispersed, at least one student was taken to the hospital, suffering from injuries caused by police pushing into the crowd that morning. 

Earlier attacks 

Just moments before the sweep, state troopers told Shreyas Vasudevan, a security liaison for the protest, that they had no arrests planned that night, writes Serena Sojic-Borne. (Photo by Maya Sanchez.)

On Monday, two days earlier, while students set up the encampment, Tulane University Police Departments officers had attacked the crowd. They tackled protesters and sent in New Orleans Police Department officers on horses. TUPD arrested seven people, including one Tulane student. A police horse kicked that student in the head; police charged her with resisting arrest; and the Tulane administration barred her from her own dorm. 

Tulane repeatedly claimed that protesters were not members of their “community.” But arrestees include four Tulane students, several alumni, and more students from the neighboring Loyola university. TUPD then issued a warrant for another Tulane student, arresting that person days after the protest ended.

Loyola issued code-of-conduct violations for five of its students.

At least seven Tulane students were suspended for their roles in the encampment. Of those seven, Tulane evicted those who lived on campus. The university also suspended staff that had been supportive, at the Office of Gender and Sexual Diversity and other departments. Tulane rescinded the “registered student organization” status of one of the protest’s main organizers, the Tulane chapter of Students for a Democratic Society.

“Tulane claims the encampment was composed of non-Tulane affiliates, yet numerous Tulane students, faculty, staff, and alumni were present at the encampment and other actions leading up to this larger demonstration,” said Tulane architecture student Kris Hamilton during a press conference on May 1. Faculty at Tulane and Loyola have both authored letters of support for the encampment.

In the words of Nathan Henne, chair of the Department of Languages and Cultures and director of Latin American Studies at Loyola, “ Trespassing is not a simple legal concept that we can unilaterally condemn. In his letter published in The Maroon, Loyola’s newspaper, and signed by three-dozen faculty members, Henne emphasized that students who participated in sit-ins during the 1960s Civil Rights movement were also technically trespassers on private property. Yet in hindsight, he wrote, those acts are seen as righteous. “Loyola often (rightly) celebrates great ‘trespassers’ in U.S. history as heroes.” 

I am not surprised that a university named for a supporter of the Confederacy and holed up in the richest, whitest neighborhood of a Black-majority city finds itself confused about who the “outside agitator” really is. 

For seven months now, the university has cracked down on free speech on its campus. In October last year, TUPD  arrested another four protesters and charged five for pro-Palestine activism. And on March 16, TUPD arrested Toni Jones, a Black transgender organizer with New Orleans for Community Oversight of Police. Video evidence confirms that she was simply standing on the edge of a sidewalk, at a protest for the right to free assembly for Palestine.

Meanwhile, unlike other other universities that have seen on-campus protests, Tulane refuses to even discuss divestment.

Officials from other local institutions also seem to be terrified of pro-Palestinian free speech. 

On Mar 21, Harbor Police arrested Felix Allen at a public comment session for the Port of New Orleans Board. Video recordings show Felix walking calmly out of the room as Harbor police officers slammed him to the ground, then arrested him outside. 

Over 50 protesters  showed up to that board meeting to demand that the port rescind its intent to establish the “innovation embassy,” a proposed technological exchange between New Orleans and the port of Ashdod in Israel.  

Totals involving the port and Tulane show a single arrest by Harbor police and 27 by Tulane, with one more person picked up after the fact and charged. Charges include battery, resisting arrest, interfering with a lawful investigation, trespassing, and disturbing the peace. Police paperwork for those arrested is often inaccurate, listing incorrect transporting and arresting officers, among other inconsistencies. 

On the other hand, Tulane university and police have failed to punish multiple instances of apparent battery or theft committed against pro-Palestine protesters. 

This is not about battery, resisting arrest, or trespassing. It’s about Tulane and the Port NOLA quieting the city’s mounting criticism of their aid to Israel. 

But I believe that New Orleans is experiencing a sea change in attitudes towards Zionism, and that no one is wealthy or powerful enough to turn back the tide. If these institutions want calm on campus and in the conference room, they can start by dropping charges against protestors — and by cutting ties to Israel’s genocide.  

Opinion writer Serena Sojic-Borne is an activist with the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. She was at the Port of New Orleans and other protests, before being arrested by TUPD on Monday. She is facing three counts of battery along with a trespassing charge. Sojic-Borne, a Tulane alumna, maintains that charges against her and the 28 other protesters are unjust.