Nearly all campus protests were peaceful

There has been an eruption of protests across the world at the absolutely horrific slaughter of people in Gaza by Israel, most of whom are women and children. In the US, college students have been in the forefront of these events . If you have been following them, you might have got the impression that violence was a common element of the protests. But the media coverage has been extraordinarily biased, focusing on the rare violence that occurred, often triggered by the actions of university administrations and the police. These few instances have been exploited by apologists for Israel in the US, especially in Congress, to distract from the real issues raised by the students, by raising the usual claim that any protests against the actions of the Israeli government or the military were antisemitic.

A study finds that in fact, 97% of the protests were peaceful and did not cause any serious damage to property.

An independent non-profit that tracks political violence and political protests around the world found that 97% of campus demonstrations over the war in Gaza that have taken place in the US since mid-April have been peaceful.

An analysis of 553 US campus demonstrations nationwide between 18 April and 3 May found that fewer than 20 resulted in any serious interpersonal violence or property damage, according to statistics from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (Acled).

Over the same period, Acled documented at least 70 instances of forceful police intervention against US campus protests, which includes the arrest of demonstrators and the use of physical dispersal tactics, including the deployment of chemical agents, batons and other kinds of physical force.

Nearly half of the campus protests that Acled categorized as violent involved protesters fighting with law enforcement during police interventions, according to the group’s data.

Acled’s analysis of more than 550 campus protests through 3 May found two instances of property damage serious enough to disqualify the demonstration as peaceful: protesters at Portland State University who shattered glass and damaged furniture and computers during their occupation of a campus library, and protesters at Columbia University who broke windows during their occupation at a campus building, both on 30 April.

Acled defines peaceful protests as ones without serious physical violence or property damage, Doyle said. Its bar for categorising a demonstration as violent includes “physical violence that rises above pushing or shoving” or property destruction that involves “breaking a window or worse”, he said.

By that definition, the vast majority of recent US campus protests have remained peaceful.
Among the 3% of US campus protests through 3 May that Acled did categorize as violent, only a handful involved physical violence between pro-Palestinian protesters and counter-protesters or other bystanders, rather than property damage or confrontations with police.

In fact, it was the brutal crackdown by police at Columbia University at the instigation of the administration that triggered a massive wave of protests across the country.

People who want to demonize the student protestors have tried to create a very high bar for what constitutes a ‘legitimate’ protest, thus making nearly all the protests illegitimate. Archon Fung, Director of the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University, says that what happened was well within the traditions of protest actions, while it is the police response that was outside the bounds.

I have been either a university student or professor for almost 40 years. Over that time, I’ve witnessed many waves of student protest and civil disobedience: against apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s, against “sweatshops” in the 1990s and 2000s, for living wages in the 2000s, the “#occupy” protests in the 2010s, climate change from the 2010s to the present, racial justice in the 2020s, the current protests against the war in Gaza, and others. This wave, across the country, has been met with a far higher level of forceful police response than I remember ever seeing before.

Some people say that it is the protesters who ended reason and dialogue by breaking the rules. Civil disobedience by definition breaks the rules — that’s the “disobedience” part. I follow Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., philosophers John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin, and many others, in thinking of civil disobedience as a way to continue the big democratic conversation even though the law is broken, and in part by breaking the law.

When they break the law, peaceful protesters who engage in civil disobedience are trying to engage the rest of us in a conversation about justice.

But there are powerful forces that do not want to engage in conversations about justice because justice is not on their side. Instead, they want to use force to silence the debate altogether.


  1. KG says

    Good grief, Mano, don’t you realise that questioning or criticising the actions of the Israeli government or army is always antisemitic, and particularly so when it’s carried out by Jews!

  2. Katydid says

    My sentiments echo KG’s.

    My small campus had a shantytown protesting conditions in South Africa in the 1980s. The campus administrators couldn’t have cared less.

    Nearly 300 Palestinians--overwhelmingly women and children, as per usual--were assassinated to rescue 4 Israeli hostages. Anyone who’s not outraged is dead in their soul.

  3. jenorafeuer says

    Here on the Canadian side, in Toronto, at the suggestion of breaking up the protests on the University of Toronto campus, the Metro Toronto Police went into full ass-covering mode by saying “We’re not doing that without a court order to break up the protests first.”

    Of course, by then we’d already seen what had happened at other locations, and the police had every reason to not want to look like the bad guys in the situation. (The Metro Toronto Police have a very mixed reputation at the best of times.)

  4. file thirteen says

    @katydid #2:

    One wonders how long it will be before those that hold any remaining captives (not hostages: the word “hostage” suggests some leverage but to the Israelis they’re just a political football to kick) will realise that they’ll be better off killing them all and leaving the bodies out for collection. Better that than their people having to endure further “rescue” efforts.

  5. Jazzlet says

    file thirteen @#4
    You are assuming that those holding the hostages are not counting on there being international outrage at the number of Palestinians killed to release whatever number of hostages. I am not convinced that is a valid assumption.

  6. file thirteen says

    @Jazzlet #5:

    Are you suggesting that the purpose of those holding the hostages captives is to goad the Israelis into killing lots of Palestinians… only in order to stoke international outrage at the killing of lots of Palestinians?! That’s sick. Is it really want you meant?

  7. Katydid says

    @ file thirteen, 4: It’s been clear to me from the start that the Israeli gov’t doesn’t give a hoot about the captives. They’re bombing Gaza into smithereens, and the likelihood of bombing the captives as well as the Palestinian innocent has never interested them.

    Likewise, the IDF has assassinated captives walking up to them with their hands in the air and waving a white t-shirt. Just as they’ve assassinated World Central Kitchen and other aid workers, journalists of every country, and anyone who can act as an eye witness to their atrocities. The cruelty is the point.

  8. Jazzlet says

    file thirteen @#6
    Yes it is sick, but also possible. Hamas knew perfectly well what the Israeli response to their attack would be, they had plenty of consistent history showing that whenever they killed or hurt an Israeli many more Palestinians were killed and hurt in retaliation. They also knew that the tide of international opinion had been changing, with various respected groups accusing Israel of apartheid policies regarding the Palestinians. Hamas may have calculated that a raid such as they made would ultimately lead to the kind of response we have seen and that that would further their political case on the international stage as well as having some other benefits internally. I do not know that this was their calculus, but I wouldn’t rule it out either.

  9. file thirteen says

    @Katydid #7:

    Right, and as I said, there’s no leverage, just a faux excuse for the Israeli government to belabour as it commits atrocity after atrocity. Can’t release the hostages either. Netenyahu would claim that his whole approach was justified; look at how the recovery of four was used to justify the bombing of a school and how the media reported it.. And although the excuse is no excuse, many believe it.

    Killing the “hostages” wouldn’t stop Israel from continuing with their slaughter, but they wouldn’t be able to milk that particular justification any more. There might even be a backlash from within Israel that their government’s actions caused the hostages deaths (which would be true). And when the slaughter continued, it would be clear to all that Israeli actions are driven by cruelty and revenge. Which they always were of course.

    How much more slaughter then before the captors reach the same conclusion?

    @Jazzlet #8:

    Madness. See a doctor.

  10. seachange says

    Not madness. There is history of jihad in the Hadith. There is call to war against the dar al Haram in the Quran (that’s literally what dar al Haram means), that says you should sacrifice many lives and your own in the name of Allah.

    Life (it’s where l’chaim comes from) is the overarching thing in Judaism so hostages are a powerful political football worth any number of Palestinian lives if you do not follow the Jewish faith and your own faith says you should and must die. Israel must as a matter of faith try to keep those hostages alive with minimum deaths.

    This is a blog with atheists in it. Religion makes people do things. You are silly File Thirteen.

  11. file thirteen says

    @seachange #10:

    That really hadn’t occurred to me. I don’t want to believe it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. I take back my comment to Jazzlet.

  12. John Morales says

    In the news:

    More grave violations against children were committed in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel than anywhere else in the world last year, according to a UN report due to be published this week.

    The report on children and armed conflict, which has been seen by the Guardian, verified more cases of war crimes against children in the occupied territories and Israel than anywhere else, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, Somalia, Nigeria and Sudan.

    “Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory presents an unprecedented scale and intensity of grave violations against children,” the report said.
    UN adds Israel to list of states committing violations against children
    Read more

    The annual assessment – due to be presented to the UN general assembly later this week by the secretary general, António Guterres – lists Israel for the first time in an annex of state offenders responsible for violations of children’s rights, triggering outrage from the Israeli government.

    Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, issued a statement that the UN had “added itself to the black list of history when it joined those who support the Hamas murderers”.

    The report details only cases that UN investigators were able to verify, so it accounts for just part of the total number of deaths and injuries of children in the course of last year.

  13. Jazzlet says

    seachange @#10
    Thank you.

    filethirteen @#11
    I do not make any claim to sanity, but perhaps you should consider comments more deeply before declaring them “madness”. It’s not as if the whole “get martyred, go straight to heaven and get your reward” thing is obscure.

  14. file thirteen says

    @Jazzlet #13:

    The idea to me is utter madness, but religion can be a type of madness I guess. I still don’t want to believe it’s a possibility. I do accept that saying “see a doctor” was excessive though.

  15. Dunc says

    There might even be a backlash from within Israel that their government’s actions caused the hostages deaths (which would be true).

    It’s virtually certain that Israel’s actions have already directly caused the deaths of hostages (in addition to the three we already know of that were shot by the IDF). They’ve been throwing around lots of high explosive and killing people left and right, the odds are they’ve hit a bunch of their own people in the process -- especially when you consider that Hamas almost certainly kept hostages in and around their command facilities.

  16. Prax says

    file thirteen @#6,

    Are you suggesting that the purpose of those holding the hostages captives is to goad the Israelis into killing lots of Palestinians… only in order to stoke international outrage at the killing of lots of Palestinians?! That’s sick. Is it really want you meant!

    As I understand it, Hamas doesn’t care all that much about international opinion, outside perhaps of the Arab world. That’s more of a Fatah thing. Hamas is much more concerned with domestic Palestinian opinion—with great success so far, since they tend to poll well ahead of Fatah.

    The principal value of holding hostages for Hamas is that they can conduct prisoner exchanges. The exchanges so far were seen as a significant victory by many/most Palestinians; just like the Israelis, they place outsized importance on rescuing their own people, even if a bunch more people die on both sides along the way.

    (Of course, Israel would argue that its prisoners are justly incarcerated combatants, but half of the prisoners Israel released are children and 3/4 of them had not been convicted of any crime, so I don’t think the Palestinians feel the same way. Israel held over 5,000 Palestinian prisoners before the war even began, and 40% of Palestinian males have been imprisoned by Israel during their life.)

    When Israel kills lots of Palestinians, Palestinians tend to blame Israel for that, and not so much Hamas. They aren’t unusual in this respect. After 9/11, many left-wing Americans criticized the Bush Administration for failing to anticipate or prevent it, but most of the country just went, “Someone hurt us! Hit them back! Support the president!” Palestinians and Israelis react the same way, so the carnage tends to strengthen support for the most hawkish leaders on both sides.

    Now this may certainly change as the war drags on, but it hasn’t changed yet. Religious beliefs (on both sides) about holy war aside, I think a big factor is that many Palestinians don’t really expect Israel to ever stop oppressing them voluntarily. Either they force a change now, or they all die out at Israel’s hands eventually. That makes it a lot easier to stomach huge numbers of casualties.

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