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May 18, 2024

Demonstration erupts at Penn after pro-Palestinian protesters attempt to occupy academic building

Police arrested 19 individuals who tried to take over Fisher-Bennett Hall and rename it after Palestinian poet Refaat Alareer.

Protests University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania Penn police Chris Compendio/PhillyVoice

Penn Police entered Fisher-Bennett Hall and took protesters into custody with the support of Philadelphia Police. It is unknown how many individuals were arrested.

A group of protesters attempted to take over Fisher-Bennett Hall on the University of Pennsylvania's campus Friday night in support of Palestine, leading to arrests and subsequent demonstrations.

This comes a full week after police disbanded the pro-Palestinian encampment, arresting 33 individuals, including 9 Penn students. According to a press release from Freedom School Palestine, members of the former encampment entered Fisher-Bennett Hall on Walnut and 34th Streets, a building that contains classrooms, a library and a gymnasium, around 8 p.m.

The protesters referred to the building as Refaat Alareer Hall, named after a Palestinian poet and professor who was originally due to speak at the Palestine Writes literature festival but was killed on December 6, 2023.

"This building occupation is in solidarity with the people of Palestine, who have endured 223 days of genocide and 76 years of occupation, in which the University of Pennsylvania is shamefully complicit," read the press release from Freedom School Palestine. 

The release reiterated the protesters' demands for Penn to disclose the school's financial investments, divest from companies linked to Israel and defend pro-Palestine protesters and scholars. 

According to the university, Penn Police escorted the protesters out and secured the building with the support of Philadelphia Police, taking 19 individuals — including 7 Penn students — into custody. 

"Twelve were issued citations for failure to disperse and failure to follow police commands and later released," read a statement from the university Saturday afternoon. "Seven remain in custody awaiting felony charges, including one for assaulting a police officer."

video from banned student group Penn Students Against the Occupation shows police forcefully pulling demonstrators out of the building. 

"Upon clearing the building, Penn Police recovered lock-picking tools and homemade metal shields fashioned from oil drums," the statement continued. "The exit doors had been secured with zip-ties, barbed wire, and barricaded with metal chairs and desks, and the windows were covered over with newspaper and cardboard. Bike racks and metal chairs were also found blocking outside entrances."

Penn's Division of Public Safety advised students that a demonstration at the 200 block of 34th Street had formed, calling it a "large disorderly crowd." The protest extended to the gates of Penn Museum, where an alumni event was taking place. Penn says that the crowd had dispersed by 11:08 p.m.

Pro-Palestine organizers called the occupation of Fisher-Bennett Hall the latest in a history of sit-ins at Penn, citing past movements, including one for divestment from South Africa during apartheid.

Commencement for graduating Penn students is scheduled for Monday, May 20. Earlier this month, Penn announced new safety protocols and security measures for this year's ceremony.