Tensions still high at Brown after charges against 20 students protesting war in Gaza dropped

BROWN UNIVERSITY President Christina Paxson was booed and jeered during an on-campus vigil Monday night, hours after the university announced that charges were dropped against the 20 students were arrested during a sit-in protest earlier this month. / COURTESY BROWN UNIVERSITY

PROVIDENCE – Tensions over the war in Gaza remain high at Brown University.

University President Christina H. Paxson was booed and jeered during a on-campus vigil Monday night hours after the university announced that charges were dropped against the 20 students who were arrested during a sit-in protest earlier this month.

The Brown students were arrested and charged on Nov. 9 with trespassing during a sit-in staged by the student group called BrownU Jews for Ceasefire Now to pressure Paxson and the school’s board to divest through its Brown Corp., “In light of the ongoing genocide occurring in Gaza backed by American aid, weapons, media, politicians and academic institutions.”

On Monday, Brown University told WPRI-TV CBS 12 the university had requested the city drop the charges against the students ahead of their scheduled arraignment Tuesday morning. 

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“We can’t disentangle what happened to Hisham [Awartani] from the broader events in Israel and Palestine that sadly we have been dealing with for decades,” Paxson told the crowd, according to WPRI. “Sadly, we can’t control what happens across the world and country. We are powerless to do everything we’d like to do.” 

Awartani, who is studying mathematics and archaeology at Brown, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad, all age 20, were spending their Thanksgiving break in Burlington, Vt., and were out for a walk while visiting one of the victims’ relatives when they were confronted by a white man with a handgun, police said. The victims were speaking in a mix of English and Arabic and two of them were also wearing the black-and-white Palestinian keffiyeh scarves when they were shot, Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said.  

“They stated that the person had not made any comments to them and had merely approached them while they were walking down the street, essentially minding their own business,” Murad said.

Two of the young men were struck in their torsos, while one was hit in the lower extremities, Murad said. All three were being treated at the University of Vermont Medical Center, and one faces a long recovery because of a spinal injury, a family member said.

The three shooting victims have been friends since first grade at Ramallah Friends School, a private school in the West Bank, and all are “remarkable, distinguished students,” said Rania Ma’ayeh, head of the school.

Suspect Jason J. Eaton, 48, made his initial court appearance by video from jail on three counts of attempted murder, and a plea of not guilty was entered on his behalf on Monday. He was ordered held without bail. 

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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