PHENOM Condemns UMass-Amherst’s May 7 Response to Protesters

Amherst, MA — As a non-profit dedicated to improving public higher education in Massachusetts, we at the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM) unequivocally condemn the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (UMass) administration’s disturbing and unnecessary decision to call in militarized law enforcement against peaceful protesters of the “Popular University of Gaza” on May 7 and, in the process, violate their First Amendment rights.

According to sources including Daily Collegian, Boston’s WBUR and CBS News, the University called in the UMass Police Department, the Amherst Police Department, and the Massachusetts State Police to make arrests and take down the encampment which student protesters set up on UMass’s South Lawn.

First and foremost, the riot police’s violent arrests of peaceful protesters were clear violations of citizens’ First Amendment rights. Given the students were unarmed and peacefully exercising their First Amendment Rights, there was no legitimate reason to bring in heavily armed police. Another reprehensible violation of First Amendment Rights was the police’s arrests and obstruction of journalists simply exercising freedom of the press.

Furthermore, the events on the night of May 7 have painted an alarming picture of just how over-militarized the police on the UMass campus – and on campuses across Massachusetts – have become.

Although Chancellor Javier Reyes insists that police were only used as a last resort, he and other University officials allegedly called in police while protesters were still in negotiations with officials. In addition to the injuries these police inflicted on peaceful protesters, such tactics needlessly make people feel unsafe and hinder the kind of constructive conversations the administration claimed to be seeking in the first place.

No one at the May 7 demonstration should have had to endure such harmful attacks on their First Amendment rights and on their personal well being. Fortunately, every crisis is also an opportunity. We must channel our collective outrage to strengthen not only UMass’s but all other universities’ protections of cherished First Amendment Rights, as well as enact stricter regulations on the power and resources of on-campus police.