GOP leaders take credit after DC police remove GWU encampment. Protesters decry removal tactics


(WASHINGTON) — Congressional Republicans on Wednesday claimed their demands led to Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department clashing with and removing pro-Palestinian protesters encamped at George Washington University.

Supporters of the protesters, meanwhile, said the city went too far.

Officers used pepper spray on pro-Palestinian protesters after they allegedly refused several orders to end the encampment when police moved in about 3 a.m., D.C. police chief Pam Smith told reporters.

Thirty-three people were arrested, most of whom were charged with unlawful entry, with one being charged with an assault on a police officer, Smith said.

“Our responses to demonstrations are always rooted in public safety,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser told reporters about her decision to send in police to clear the encampment two weeks after it began. 

The police moved in just hours before Bowser, a Democrat, and the city’s police chief were called to testify on Capitol Hill — after GOP lawmakers demanded action.

The GOP-led House Oversight Committee canceled the hearing Wednesday morning after the encampment was cleared.

House Speaker Mike Johnson and Oversight Committee Chair Rep. James Comer, who had visited the encampment on Friday, released statements claiming their pressure on city leaders got action.

“This week, Chairman Comer and the Oversight Committee delivered results by compelling Mayor Bowser to order police to clear the weeks-long, pro-Hamas and illegal encampments around George Washington University’s campus,” Johnson said in a statement.

GWU protesters have said they were calling out the deaths of Palestinian civilians in Gaza since the start of the conflict and have pushed their school’s administrators to stop investing in Israel. Local officials have not provided evidence that the protesters expressed support for Hamas.

“I thanked her for finally clearing the trespassers off the GW Campus,” Comer said in his statement about speaking with Bowser afterward. 

“It was unfortunate the situation at GW forced the Oversight Committee to act; however it was apparent that the DC police force was not going to do their job,” he said.

The school issued a statement saying that University Yard and Kogan Plaza will remain closed until the end of commencement on May 19.

“During this time, given the heightened safety concerns related to the recent illegal demonstrations as well as the ongoing exams, all activities, including activities of free expression on campus, will require reservation through the Division for Student Affairs,” GWU said in a statement.

Later Wednesday, protesters and their supporters blasted Comer and Bowser for escalating the situation.

“We should not be here today to tell our mayor not to be complicit in arresting protesters,” Nee Nee Taylor, a D.C. activist said.

Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Cori Bush of Missouri also spoke out against the police action.

“Students are protesting all across the country because they believe our government has failed to recognize the common humanity of all people,” Bush said.

Republicans had used the GWU protests in the heart of the nation’s capital to decry the demonstrations and encampments that have popped up on campuses across the country.

Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton told ABC’s This Week co-anchor Jonathan Karl on Sunday that he was appalled by some of the things he said protesters had done, referring to a statue of George Washington that he said was defaced with spray paint, stickers, kaffiyeh, and Palestinian flag.

“It is antisemitic and anti-Israeli,” Cotton claimed.

Smith, the city’s police chief, said that the police had been closely monitoring the situation on campus since the encampment began on April 25 and supported the protester’s First Amendment rights, but said police saw “an escalation in the volatility,” in the last couple of days.

She alleged a protester pushed a GWU campus officer and grabbed an item from her hand. She also claimed that protesters were probing campus buildings, and gathering “items that could potentially be used for offensive and defensive weapons.”

“All of this led to my discussion and conclusion that we needed to change our posture,” Smith said.

Jeffery Carroll, Smith’s executive chief assistant, alleged that outside demonstrators, including some who were at Columbia University’s protest, may have joined the GWU encampment.

Police, however, declined to provide more details of their evidence when asked by reporters.

Carroll said that pepper spray was used on three people in response to assaults on police officers and not used to disperse the group.

“The information I have at this time, it was three individuals … three uses of pepper spray,” he said.

A protester, who identified herself only as Lauren, spoke with reporters after she was released from jail later in the day and said there was no need for the police tactics. She said the protesters were engaging in negotiations with school administrators.

She said the protesters would remain steadfast in their calls for the school to listen to their concerns.

“They can Mace us, they can brutalize us, [and] they can pepper spray us, but the movement is here. It is stronger than ever,” she said.

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