Tlaib Statement on Targeting of WSU Students

May 31, 2024

DETROIT — Today, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (MI-12) released the following statement:

“On May 23, 2024, Wayne State University students exercising their constitutional rights to protest set up a peaceful encampment on campus, calling for an end to the University’s investments in weapons manufacturers and the Israeli government’s ongoing genocide in Gaza and greater transparency from the University.

“As the ACLU of Michigan has noted, the peaceful assembly of tents in public areas is a form of expression entitled to significant constitutional protection. Our federal courts have repeatedly affirmed that universities are at the center of American intellectual life, where engaging with student activism and differing viewpoints is an essential part of the university experience. All students deserve equal access to education, free from discrimination—including censorship. Schools have a responsibility to keep students protected from violence—including police violence. Accordingly, schools regulating student protests should limit their actions to protecting students from real violence and discrimination—not concocting flimsy excuses to censor speech that embarrasses university administrators.

“Despite repeated militarized police threats and intimidation and the refusal of University President Kimberly A. Espy to come to the encampment to meet publicly with students about their demands, the encampment continued to exist peacefully for a week as students, faculty, and community members came together in solidarity. 

“On May 30, 2024, despite no real threat to public safety, Wayne State police violently invaded and dismantled the peaceful protest, assaulting and arresting students and other demonstrators, including ripping a hijab off of a young woman’s head and violating her religious freedom. This action has the clear intent of discriminating against certain students based on their viewpoint, and is overtly designed to chill free expression on campus, contradicting the University’s claimed interests in welcoming free speech and student protest. Unfortunately, in light of Wayne State Chief of Police Anthony Holt’s 2019 propaganda trip to Israel where he received training from Israeli security forces and later wrote of ‘sharing law enforcement strategies’ with the genocidal Israeli regime, this violent and unnecessary raid targeting Palestinian solidarity under false pretenses is hardly surprising. This shameful action is a stain on the University, Chief Holt, and is a disturbing beginning to President Espy’s tenure. 

“Metro Detroit and Wayne State have a long history of anti-war activism and Palestinian solidarity. More than two-thirds of Detroit-area residents across all ideological lines say they support a permanent ceasefire and de-escalation of violence in Gaza. President Espy, Chief Holt, and Wayne State cannot arrest their way out of meaningful engagement with students about their demands. People of conscience and principle are not so easily deterred. 

“It is not too late for Wayne State to take responsibility and right these wrongs. The University must stop referring to its own students utilizing public areas of its campus as occupiers and trespassers, acknowledge its mistake in violently dispersing a peaceful protest, and commit to resolving the students’ demands through negotiation and not police repression. President Espy can begin to make amends by meeting with students on their terms to have a meaningful, transparent, and honest dialogue about the University’s investments in war and genocide.”


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