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Police Break Up Protest Encampment at George Washington University

Another House panel was scheduled to question the mayor of Washington, D.C., on Wednesday over the city’s handling of a pro-Palestinian protest encampment at George Washington University. But the police moved in overnight to break up the encampment, and that hearing was called off.

Chief Pamela Smith of the Metropolitan Police Department said at a news conference Wednesday morning that while the campus protest had begun peacefully on April 26, there had been a recent “escalation in the volatility” that warranted dispersing the protest.

Asked about the timing of the operation, only a few hours before the scheduled hearing, Chief Smith said that the decision to clear the camp was made on Monday “based on public safety.”

Mayor Muriel Bowser said at the news conference that she had spoken with Representative James Comer, Republican of Kentucky, who had scheduled the hearing about the city’s response to the encampment, and said she believed the hearing would be canceled, which it was.

The mayor defended the city’s actions, saying that the police had “maintained a presence” at the university throughout the protests and that the city had “demonstrated and upheld our values and constitutional responsibilities.”

Chief Smith said the trouble that led to the clearance began last Thursday when a campus police officer “was pushed by protesters, and an item was grabbed out of the police officer’s hand.” On Monday, she continued, police learned of a “simple assault” that had been reported to campus police, as well as indications that counterprotesters were “covertly in the encampment,” that protesters were studying ways to get inside campus buildings, and that items were being gathered at the camp “that could potentially be used for offensive and defensive weapons.”

As police cleared the encampment, she said, more protesters arrived from outside the area and “engaged the officers,” leading the police to use pepper spray, Chief Smith said. Thirty-three people were arrested, 29 of them for unlawful entry to the campus, she said, adding that several people were also arrested on charges of assault on a police officer. No one was seriously injured, she said.

Police officials said they were still on campus while the university cleared away tents and other items left behind by protesters.

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