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Gaza Solidarity Encampment defies UNM’s ultimatum for 12 hours before State Police arrive

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Gaza Solidarity Encampment defies UNM’s ultimatum for 12 hours before State Police arrive

May 15, 2024 | 7:44 am ET
By Austin Fisher
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Gaza Solidarity Encampment defies UNM’s ultimatum for 12 hours, group told to leave again
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The north side of the Gaza Solidarity Encampment at the University of New Mexico on May 14, 2024. (Photo by Leila Chapa for The Daily Lobo / Source NM)

Twelve hours after the deadline to either pack up and leave or face more police raids, the Gaza Solidarity Encampment at the University of New Mexico stayed in place. 

By 7 a.m. on Wednesday morning New Mexico State Police and UNM Police moved the group from the encampment, taking several people away in police custody. Riot cops stood in front of protesters, about 20 feet away as UNM staff tossed the belongings left at the encampment into a garbage truck with the words “Go Lobos” painted on the top.

Police used yellow tape to establish a barrier around the encampment space in the Duck Pond and arrested anyone caught in the area, or who refused to leave.

UNM spokesperson Cinnamon Blair told The Daily Lobo that seven people were arrested. All were charged with criminal trespassing and wrongful use of property. One person was also charged and accused of concealing their identity.

The encampment was established on the northwest end of the Duck Pond on the main campus in Albuquerque for 24 days.

On Tuesday, the encampment’s 23rd day, UNM President Garnett Stokes published a message to the entire university at 2:32 p.m. asking protesters to “voluntarily dismantle” the camp by 5 p.m.

Just before 8:30 a.m. crews with the university facilities management department tore down the camp structure and fertilized the grass where it sat.

Shortly after riot police left the campus as well and a small group of protesters gathered near University Boulevard, west of the Duck Pond.

Gaza Solidarity Encampment defies UNM’s ultimatum for 12 hours before State Police arrive
The Duck Pond at the University of New Mexico right after campus crews tore down the Gaza Solidarity Encampment on May 15. The camp was set up on April 22, 2024. (Photo by Shaun Griswold / Source NM)

The protesters that stayed took the last night in the encampment to strategize and discuss what to do next.

Shortly after 5 a.m. campus police told people at the camp that they had to leave within an hour or face arrest for potential criminal trespassing.

Police handed out the notice to vacate, which was signed by university president Garnett Stokes on Wednesday morning.

“Over the past weeks, we have not cited anyone at the Duck Pond for ongoing violations of University policies,” Stokes said. “Despite this leniency, the number and severity of the violations have continued to increase. Those who do not voluntarily comply will be subject to institutional enforcement of UNM policies and local, state, and federal law.”

On Tuesday, Stokes said she would push the Board of Regents to audit the university’s investments tied to the state of Israel, one of several demands from the group, which is pushing for divestment. The concession, from UNM’s perspective, was a way to negotiate an end to the camp voluntarily by the protesters.

On day 18, UNM president meets with Gaza Solidarity Encampment

Instead, protesters brought in more donations of supplies, and fortified the camp with wood pallets, tarps, yarn and other materials. 

Protesters and their supporters remained, handing off a bullhorn to anyone who wanted to speak; sharing food, water and coffee; and burning sage and sweetgrass.

The Tuesday deadline came and went without any visible uniformed police officers at the camp, until four men appeared in an unmarked vehicle at 5 a.m. to hand out the notice.

What was a few weeks ago three gazebos and some tables grew into an elaborate structure on the northwest end of the Duck Pond with different rooms serving various purposes, including a living area, a changing room, a mutual aid room, and a space for art making.

Overnight, protesters expected police to raid the camp in the early morning hours, typically when most people leave, and something that occurred several times since the camp started at UNM. They encouraged people to stay through the night, saying public presence might deter police action.

The groups organized patrols and security shifts in the area around the Duck Pond like those on previous nights.

As of 10 p.m. on Tuesday, about 50 people remained at the camp. Organizers instructed people how to safely interact with police, handed out jail support forms, and advised people to write emergency contact numbers on their bodies, in case of arrest.

The camp has become a resource for unhoused residents near campus to get food and basic necessities, said Siihasin Hope (Diné) in a speech to the crowd gathered in defiance of the deadline.

“It’s important that we’re here, because institutional, structural violence and racism means they don’t get their needs met,” Hope said. “We’re not going anywhere.”

In an interview, Blair said there have been an unspecified number of “occurrences at the Duck Pond that have facilitated the need for it to really come down.”

Blair said UNM has been made aware of alleged policy violations through reports to the university’s confidential hotline, tips to the UNM Police Department, and posts to social media. The Facilities Management staff have also reported graffiti, Blair said.

UNM hasn’t identified any students who have violated policy, Blair said. She said she was unaware of any instances of the people at the camp asking the university for help because of safety concerns.

Blair said some unhoused people have joined the encampment, so the Albuquerque Community Safety Department will provide resources.

Gaza Solidarity Encampment defies UNM’s ultimatum for 12 hours before State Police arrive
New Mexico State Police and the University of New Mexico Police Department arrive at the UNM Gaza Solidarity Encampment at the Duck Pond on Wednesday, May 15. (Photo by Leila Chapa for The Daily Lobo / Source NM)

“That particular resource just felt like it was an appropriate resource because nobody’s going to escalate the situation, and we realize that that is a different part of our community that has combined with the encampment,” Blair said.

Asked how UNM is considering the mental health of people who could have come into contact with police at the encampment, Blair said, “We care about the mental health of all of our students and all of our community members, and we have a number of resources for them.” 

She said she was unaware of any official mental health, medical or legal resources that would be on-site on Tuesday. None could be seen at the camp through Wednesday morning.

Inside the camp’s structure, student protesters gathered to discuss their negotiations with administrators, the aftermath of the April 30 arrests at the Student Union Building, and to strategize next steps.

They said they believe police were trying to wear them down by waiting them out.

When asked what’s keeping them motivated, the students said without hesitation: Palestinians in Gaza.

Editor Shaun Griswold contributed reporting to this story.