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Monday, June 24
The Indiana Daily Student

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UPDATED: Pro-Palestinian protester detained by IUPD, taken away in golf cart during eclipse-day festivities

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IU Police Department detained and took one person away in a golf cart during a pro-Palestinian demonstration Monday afternoon. The arrested individual, Tom Sweeney, is a former IU Wells Scholar and current senior research specialist at Princeton. Multiple other protestors were temporarily detained and were informed that prosecutors may soon reach out about potential misdemeanor charges. 

The event began at the Cox Arboretum around twenty minutes before Solar Eclipse totality, with one protester using a megaphone to announce the protest to the crowd of eclipse-viewers in the arboretum.  

“Do not look away from what’s happening in Gaza,” the person with the megaphone said.  

According to an Instagram post, the event involved community members from multiple local groups including IU Alumni for Palestine, the IU Palestine Solidarity Committee, Central Indiana Democratic Socialists of America, Indiana Resiste, IU Students for a New Green World, Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition and Shattering the Silence Bloomington.  

The rally brought together a host of progressive causes to call for a permanent ceasefire and demands institutions “divest from genocide.” It also called to protect academic institutions from “MAGA reactionary extremism,” citing a perceived attempt to suppress pro-Palestinian speech and attacks on education from the Indiana General Assembly in the form of Senate Bill 202. 

Vicka Bell-Robinson, associate vice provost for involvement and belonging, told the protesters to stop using amplified sound multiple times. They briefly continued but eventually stopped. When the moon completely obscured the sun, the protesters, police and IU staff alike paused and stared through eclipse glasses as the air cooled, the sky darkened and the horizon burned orange. 

When the light returned, the protesters marched around the arboretum and chanted.  

Once they had made a full loop, IUPD officers gestured for three demonstrators in neon vests to step away, the demonstrators told the IDS later. The demonstrators said police told them they could not protest in the arboretum and that they were engaging in disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail.  

The demonstrators said the officers took their identification cards and told them prosecutors may be reaching out soon. They also said the police told them to move to Dunn Meadow, which is a designated assembly ground according to IU policy.  

Demonstrations, tabling and other types of expressive activity are not allowed at the arboretum because it is designated as a space for “reflection and quiet respite from the sounds of the rest of campus,” according to a page on the IU Office of Student Life website. 

The protesters then moved to Dunn Meadow, where a large crowd of people was already gathered to view the eclipse. The demonstrator who had stopped using the megaphone in the arboretum resumed use of the device in Dunn Meadow before being grabbed by police and taken up the hill to Seventh Street. Police put him in the back seat of a golf cart while protesters swarmed the area and shouted “Shame” and “Let him go.” 

After a few moments, IUPD officers took the protester away in the golf cart as the protester turned back to the crowd and urged them to continue.  

“They told us to come here,” one protester complained as the cart sped away.  

Sweeney told the IDS later that IUPD officers drove him to a different street where they then handcuffed him and put him in a squad car. He spent an hour in jail and was formally charged with disorderly conduct at a hearing Tuesday, though he can get the charges dropped by paying a fine and doing community service through pretrial diversion, he said. 

In an email to PSC president Aidan Khamis on April 3, Bell-Robinson warned the group against holding a planned April 8 rally. The email was also addressed to IU professor Amr Sabry and two other individuals possibly involved in the protest. 

“Aidan, if what we see is accurate, the PSC is actively and publicly planning to violate university policy,” she said. “We do not want to see the organization, or you get into trouble because you are associated with planning and implementing an unsanctioned event. This rally cannot occur on April 8th. We are happy to work with you to select a different date that falls within the planning guidelines.”  

In the email, Bell-Robinson noted that events were already planned for Dunn Meadow and the arboretum, writing that “disrupting a previously scheduled event violates university policies and might be considered disorderly conduct by IUPD.” 

In an email to the IDS, Hannah Skibba, public information officer for IUPD, wrote that protesters were disruptive and were asked to stop being disruptive three separate times. She wrote that protesters were asked to move their demonstration to a new location that was not already reserved for another event and confirmed that three individuals — including two IU students and one “non-affiliated” individual — were detained and released at the arboretum. She confirmed another individual was arrested for disorderly conduct at Dunn Meadow after being asked to stop using a megaphone.  

“As a public institution of higher education, IU encourages the free and civil exchange of ideas from students, faculty, staff, and the public,” IU Executive Director of Media Relations Mark Bode wrote in a statement to the IDS. “As outlined in the university’s free speech policy, IU also expects civility and respect between and among members of the IU community and that expressive activity does not impede the operations of the university.” 

Editors Note: Tom Sweeney is a former member of the Indiana Daily Student staff.

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