Penn protests turn violent after police try to clear ‘free speech’ route

Protesters clashed with police in the University of Pennsylvania’s homecoming parade on Saturday, resulting in multiple arrests and several police cars being vandalized.

Campus police estimate that a few hundred students – including those carrying “No Cuts, no fees, no walls” banners – fought back with pepper spray when officers tried to clear a “free speech” route leading from the university’s main gate to the main quad on campus.

The skirmish turned violent as marchers began to burn trash cans, tossing signs at officers, and urinating on their uniforms before campus security and about a dozen suburban police responded with Tasers and capsicum spray, sending some protesters down stairs on the quad.

Several officers suffered minor injuries.

Aerial footage on a local Fox News affiliate showed at least two police cars and a pair of patrol cars smashed by protesters.

The local CBS news affiliate WMUR said some protesters moved on to the campus’s business school, breaking the windows of a Starbucks, a Rosendo’s restaurant and a university residential building. The two stores’ windows were replaced and no damage was done to the residence hall.

Mike Madarasz (@MikeMadarasz) #BREAKING #UPenn RIOT – A cop just told me that he sprayed a student with a pepper spray after they turned themselves in. pic.twitter.com/UbrAiv8WYJ

Many of the demonstrators chanted “U-P is not OK, police brutality here”, with many people streaming out of the university gates and climbing trees. Officers could be seen on horseback riding around the campus as riot police moved in to disperse the crowd.

Mike Madarasz (@MikeMadarasz) #UPenn RIOT – Several protesters smashed the windows of Starbucks, Rosendo’s, Dept of Veterans affairs, and residences. They are fighting police pic.twitter.com/EhVXyPMm28

Tammy Bohannon, the community relations director for the University of Pennsylvania, said in a statement that roughly 100 people were participating in the demonstration when police began to move in. The majority of demonstrators remained and were taken into custody but officials say several dozen remained and were also taken into custody. A number were charged with rioting and disorderly conduct, while a number of others were charged with public drunkenness.

Police said they targeted the protesters for public drunkenness, among other charges, and said attendees were told numerous times to stop.

Sean McAdam, an associate professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, called the confrontation “an overreaction” in a post on his personal Facebook page. He said students shouldn’t be spending money on food, lodging or souvenirs while others had no income “and are trying to stay below the poverty line”.

“Imagine the economic benefit or loss if police officers had been assaulted,” he wrote.

The protest and clashes with police mark a sharp contrast with previous protests at the university, which has repeatedly emphasized the diversity of its student body.

Campus police said protesters kicked several officers, attacked others with rocks and sticks, and looted a liquor store, taking the cash register. A university spokesman told local media that protesters would pay for damages.

Protesters were on the streets of Philadelphia during the parade as police responded to minor street disturbances, university police said in a statement. Philadelphia police said on their Twitter feed that four people were arrested for disorderly conduct and felony rioting.

Amir Farooqi, a PSU junior who protested with a sign proclaiming “There’s No Maple Leafs in Dog Years”, said he had “no regrets” about attending the event.

“We’re OK with the police handling themselves, but they’re going to be held accountable for their actions. They’re going to have to face justice because we’re not just giving up,” he said.

Some universities in the US have emerged as forums for protests to become violent or even violent themselves. Students launched a sit-in at Michigan State University in 2011 after claims the university had censored its student newspaper. A year later, protesters torched the University of California, Santa Barbara’s police station after students were briefly arrested at a march to end the sit-in.

Another heated debate between protesters and authorities took place at the University of Oklahoma in 2012 when classes were canceled because of a week of protests, several hundred arrests and several police cars being burned by protesters.

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