This afternoon the University of Washington propped up police-guarded barricades at all entrances of the Quad. This marks the UW’s first crackdown on student protesters after six days of peaceful camping. While a UW spokesperson told The Stranger that the barricades are a “temporary effort today,” the spokesperson did not address protesters' primary concern, the presence of police. In other similar protests across the country, police presence has led to arrests, violence, and encampment sweeps. While the students are taking precautions after UW’s flex of power, they maintain they won’t leave their tents until the administration caves to their demands.

For several days, student protesters have expressed concern over Charlie Kirk’s scheduled campus appearances. Kirk is the founder of Turning Point USA, an organization that promotes conservative politics at US schools. Students worried the event would bring right-wing agitators to their encampment. The encampment, once a group of 20 or so tents relegated to one corner of the lawn, has exploded in size over the past week, taking all four quadrants with at least 100 tents and even more canopies. 

All the while, the occupation seems to have remained relatively peaceful. Students told The Stranger that they want to keep it that way. They said the encampment should be about their three demands: materially and academically divest from Israel, cut ties with Boeing, and end repression of pro-Palestinian students and faculty. Police violence against students is “connected” to state violence against Palestinians, but “the focus really needs to be on Palestine and ending the genocide,” media liaison Gina Liu said last week.

To keep the peace, the United Front for Palestinian Liberation (UF) and other groups supporting the encampment protest asked the UW to cancel Kirk’s campus events, which included tabling at the HUB lawn at 12:30 pm and a talk at the HUB Ballroom at 6:30 pm.

UW claimed it could not cancel the event—one of UW’s registered student organizations (RSOs) invited him and they are “free to extend invitations to guest speakers.” According to the ACLU, barring speech at a public campus, no matter how offensive, violates the Constitution. 

UF asked if the administration could at least move the event to a different part of campus, since the encampment sits just a short walk away from one of the events. 

In an email to the administration, UF wrote, “We ask this out of concern for student safety and with the knowledge that administration cares to take steps that will reduce the potential for conflict or violence that could result in harm to students.” 

UW did not move the event and instead propped up metal fences, guarded by a handful of police officers, at all six entrances to the Quad around the time Kirk started his debate event on the HUB lawn. 

Cops stand inside the barricade around the Quad.

“Our priority is the safety and security of our campus community,” UW spokesperson Victor Balta said in an email statement. “There are multiple events on campus today and this evening that could draw attendees with strongly opposing viewpoints. We recognize that tensions are especially high due to events around the world, and our hope is that people with opposing views refrain from seeking confrontations and avoid antagonizing one another.”

Balta said the barricades are a “temporary effort today,” but did not specify under what circumstances UW would close the gates. Balta also did not comment about police presence. 

Students said they would have been fine with barricades, but they claim the UW only offered them contingent on police presence. In a statement on social media, UF wrote “[UW admin] claim that this is a protective measure, but we know that police do not keep us safe.”

Cops did not keep protesters safe in UCLA when pro-Israel counter-protesters attacked their encampment. Instead, the Los Angeles Police Department let counter-protesters beat up students for more than two hours. Governor Gavin Newsom said the “limited and delayed” response was “unacceptable.” Cops have shown up to other demonstrations across the country in riot gear, shooting rubber bullets and spraying tear gas into crowds of students. Civil rights groups say their response has been excessive

For now, students are holding down the fort and continuing their scheduled programming. A media liaison told The Stranger that they bolstered their security team in anticipation of counter-protesters, but have not encountered more activity than usual. Only a few people counter-protested Kirk’s event, which he claimed as a victory. 

Tuesday afternoon, students appeared to practice forming a defensive line with makeshift shields. A student told The Stranger that the encampment protesters have not had to form a line against the police or counter-protesters, and they hope they never have to, but seeing what happened at other schools, they are preparing for the worst.