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News / Northwest

Protesters clear UW encampment by deadline

By Catalina Gaitán, The Seattle Times
Published: May 21, 2024, 7:30am

SEATTLE — Students walked freely through the Quad on the University of Washington campus on Monday, some stopping to take photos of the now empty expanse of green space.

Few signs were left of what had occupied the space for nearly three weeks: square patches of dead grass, messages scrawled on brick pathways, bags of folded blankets and several overflowing trash bins.

Protesters cleared their tents from the school’s Quad by 3 p.m. Monday, meeting the deadline specified in their Friday agreement with school administrators to remove the encampment.

Ben Akrish, a senior undergraduate student studying computer science and business at UW who was not a protester at the encampment, said he was pleased to see the encampment gone by the deadline, without police getting involved, knowing many protesters weren’t satisfied with Friday’s agreement.

“We’re very grateful no one is coming under harm or getting into trouble for protesting,” Akrish said.

The encampment, called by some the UW Liberated Zone or Popular University for Gaza, appeared on the Quad on May 1, eventually merging with another, smaller group of protesters who started camping out a couple of days before. The site ballooned to more than 100 tents, drew counterprotests and sparked tensions between protesters and university administrators.

Protesters initially refused to clear the site unless UW agreed to their demands, including ending study abroad programs to Israel and cutting ties with Boeing, citing the company’s involvement in Israeli armed services.

On May 15, graffiti appeared on UW buildings with messages like “Kill your local colonizer,” further inflaming tensions.

Under Friday’s agreement, UW administrators agreed to fund at least 20 scholarships for Palestinian students displaced from Gaza and increase transparency around the school’s investments. The university has said it has no direct investments in companies such as Boeing, major weapons manufacturers or companies in Israel.

Reactions to the agreement were mixed, Akrish said.

“For some, it was too much. For some not enough,” he said. “At the end of the day, I think human lives are worth more, so to see people cleaning up makes me very happy.”

Among the critics of UW’s administration is Matthew Meinecke, a 38-year-old Christian street preacher who occupied the only tents left on the Quad by 3:30 p.m. Monday. He continued preaching over a loudspeaker next to a sign bearing his list of demands, which included a public apology from UW officials to Jewish students for “harboring an unsafe and antisemitic environment” and permission to use amplified sound without a permit.

“It’s disappointing that the administration allowed an environment where police were not allowed to enforce the law,” Meinecke said. “We were against the genocide, but at the same time we cannot make Jewish students feel responsible for that and unsafe on campus.”

Meinecke said he has no plans to leave until his demands are met. A UW police officer issued him a formal warning at 4:20 p.m. to remove his tent from the Quad and told him a cleaning crew would arrive Tuesday. An officer deferred questions to a nearby sergeant, who declined to talk.