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Texas law enforcement cracks down on pro-Hamas rioters in Austin

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(The Center Square) – Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Department of Public Safety took swift action Wednesday to crack down on pro-Hamas rioters in Austin who attempted to take over the campus of the University of Texas.

At least 20 protesters were arrested as of late Wednesday afternoon.

The response in Texas was markedly different than the response to violence committed against Jews on Columbia University’s campus in New York this past week.

Before rioters descended on the campus, state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, sounded the alarm Wednesday morning, sharing a social media post about an “Emergency Action Reclaim our Space” event organized to occur on several college campuses, including UT-Austin.

According to the post, students were encouraged to walk out of classes and “reclaim our space as we demand divestment now,” referring to the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel and companies that work with Israel. BDS policies are illegal in Texas.

The pro-Hamas protest was scheduled to begin at UT-Austin at 11:40 a.m. “in the footsteps of our comrades at Columbia [University], SJP, Rutgers-New Brunswick, Yale, and countless others across the nation, we will be establishing THE POPULAR UNIVERSITY FOR GAZA,” according to the post.

Bettencourt said, “This obviously paid flyer is digitally all over campus, and is an outside influence trying to find susceptible or even willing students to use as protest pawns, aka ‘comrades; per this sheet? … while the right of freedom of speech is a Constitutional guarantee in the United States, reclaiming something you don’t own is not! Protests that turn violent only injure those that shouldn’t be hurt.” He said UT-Austin, Austin Police Department and Texas DPS “won’t allow that to happen in Texas.”

The protestors were met with Texas DPS officers dressed in riot gear and arrested.

Abbott shared a video of Texas DPS officers’ efforts, saying, “Arrests being made right now and will continue until the crowd disperses. These protesters belong in jail. Antisemitism will not be tolerated in Texas. Period. Students joining in hate-filled, antisemitic protests at any public college or university in Texas should be expelled.”

DPS troopers were in full force in Austin, including those arriving from Houston. DPS troopers have already had an increased presence in Austin over the last few years after Abbott sent them to the crime-plagued city to provide support to city police, which is still suffering from the Austin City Council voting to defund its operations.

UT Austin’s Division of Student Affairs issued a statement saying it has a no tolerance policy for these type of protests.

“UT Austin does not tolerate disruptions of campus activities or operations like we have seen at other campuses,” it said. “This is an important time in our semester with students finishing classes and studying for finals and we will act first and foremost to allow those critical functions to proceed without interruption.”

Despite the university banning protesters from the South Lawn on the main area of campus, they set up tents and continued to protest.

In response, Texas DPS officers pushed protesters back with riot gear, blocked off access with a range of barricades, warned everyone that they were criminally trespassing and if they didn’t leave, would be arrested. Many protesters didn’t leave and arrests began. Some resisted arrest, according to multiple videos posted on social media. Arrests occurred on the South Lawn, near the UT Tower, and are ongoing.

UT Austin right now. Protesters and DPS in a standoff on the main drag of campus pic.twitter.com/OipxvXDbWC— Ryan Chandler (@RyanChandlerTV) April 24, 2024

“Police activity will continue until today’s event concludes,” UT Austin Police said later in the afternoon. “No further action is needed from the public at this time. An ‘ALL CLEAR’ notification will be issued upon the conclusion of the event.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said the call to establish a “popular university for Gaza” is “delusional. We have big problems on our college campuses. And a note to protestors for future reference: We don’t call each other comrades in Texas. We call each other Texans. We do not support Hamas in any form. Texans overwhelmingly support Israel and the Jewish people.”

Patrick also thanked Texas law enforcement for shutting down “the attempted takeover of the university by pro-Hamas protesters. In Texas, we won’t allow antisemitic, pro-Hamas protesters to take control of our universities. Protesters were warned to disperse before any arrests were made.”

The approach at UT Austin was different than at Columbia University, which has not implemented a zero-tolerance policy. Columbia cancelled all in-person classes, allowing Hamas protesters to remain on public areas of the campus.

Antisemitic attacks in the name of “free Palestine” increased by 360% nationwide after Oct. 7, including spiking on U.S. college campuses, The Center Square reported. According to a recent report, UT-Austin received a B grade for combating antisemitism; Rice University in Houston received an F.

Abbott, the Texas legislature and state leaders have held a zero tolerance policy for antisemitism, advancing several efforts to protect Jews in Texas, The Center Square has reported.

State law prohibits state agencies from investing in companies that “boycott” Israel. Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar has reminded businesses about Texas’ Israel boycott list, saying, “Texas has long been a friend and ally of Israel, and we support Israel’s right to defend its land and people. Companies that do business with the state of Texas should keep that in mind.”