May 9, 2024

Racism, Symbolism, Story: More Notable Images from the Campus “Free Palestine” Movement

In our second post on the “free Palestine” campus protests, we focus on the institutional divide, portraits and emotions, police actions, and more scenes that challenge the media narrative.

Complementing my post last week about the values and intentions of the campus protests, I want to share more images carefully selected for powerful angles and storylines.

The Horrible Schism

April 18 “Right after the first arrests, the police began guarding the lawn while hundreds of protesters and onlookers stood in shock.” —photographer Asha Ahn/Columbia Spectator

It would have been a powerful picture otherwise. Still, the pole dividing the image in half is profound in amplifying the separation of stunned Columbia students from their protest encampment. But the image cuts deeper than that. Symbolically, it captures the damage done between the institution and so many of its students and faculty. In driving this wedge, the university has seriously damaged its bond to the community and its higher ideals, likely for years to come.

Movements Are Made Up of Individuals

The following two pictures and the image above are part of an issue of New York Magazine co-produced with the Columbia SpectatorThe collection of portraits came about from an offer to any student or faculty member to speak out “on tape.” The images are essential for personalizing the movement and their diversity of personalities, opinions, and tone.

Photographs by Gabriella Gregor Splaver, University News Deputy Photo Editor for Columbia Spectator, in a collaboration between the Spectator and New York Magazine

This is not just a protest against physical destruction but an outcry against the shattering of dreams and disrupting a generation’s future. The slogan carries an implicit irony—that the universities, the symbols of enlightenment and progress, now have more status in their absence. It underscores a profound expectation: that higher education in Palestine should be an unquestionable standard and a right.

This image captures a young man whose attire and accessories defy conventional stereotypes and foster a dialogue of reconciliation. Adorned with a “Decolonized Judean” t-shirt, he ties himself to centuries of Jewish identity disentangled from colonial narratives. The tallit draped over his shoulders is traditionally worn during Jewish prayer, symbolizing a deep connection to religious heritage, contrasting with the keffiyeh’s prominence as a symbol of Palestinian nationalism. The necklace, a replica of an Israeli dog tag, echoes the sentiments of many Israelis advocating for the return of hostages with the message “Bring them home.”

Steeped in robust Jewish and pro-peace identification, the photo disrupts all the media binaries.

University of Texas police (UTPD) officers are pinning a protester on the concrete sidewalk and zip-tying them. Photo: Manoo Sirivelu – The Daily Texan, University of Texas at Austin via The Guardian

This photo came from a profile of protest images taken by college photographers featured in the Guardian.

The photographer, Manoo Sirivelu of UT-Austin’s The Daily Texan, writes:

In this picture, University of Texas police officers are pinning a protester on the concrete sidewalk and zip-tying them. Law enforcement would push in at intervals and surround the protesters, 360 degrees. I wanted to show the feelings of imprisonment and suffocation that the students were experiencing, so I tried to depict the officers’ legs as bars that were already surrounding the student.

While the reporting has heavily focused on law enforcement and militarized interventions, one emotion has been largely overlooked in the toll on the students. Despite the students’ remarkable composure and resolve in the face of suspension, expulsion, intimidation, and physical harm, there is a scarcity of photographs that capture the fear they have been burdened with.

The NYPD knocked down and arrested credentialed journalist Olga Fedorova in New York, NY, on May 8, 2024. Photo: Alex Kent via Twitter

“The cops began to kettle us, threatening to arrest us. It was terrifying. Moments ago, Wyatt, who was taking video, and I were standing and then the next moment, they were moving toward us so quickly.” Photo by Gabriella Gregor-Splaver/Columbia Spectator

Given weeks of reports of student and professional photographers being harassed, this photo by Alex Kent showing an NYPD copy knocking down and arresting credentialed journalist Olga Fedorova at a “free Palestine” encampment at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Columbia Spectator’s Gabriella Gregor-Splaver’s image of an anxious staffer being kettled by police, personalizes and vividly frames the mockery of press rights.

Racism and Double Standards

UMiss for Palestine protest met with opposition on campus. Photos by Maria Ramirez and Antonella Rescigno/The Daily Mississippian

The focus of the free Palestine protests has mainly been geopolitical. But this scene from the University of Mississippi and the accompanying images are driven by overt racism, hatred, and Islamophobia. The flaunting of Trump signs by enraged white male youth in what has been normalized as a “counter-protest” is unsurprising.

Police drag anti-war protesters out of an encampment at the University of Virginia on Saturday, May 4, 2024. Photo: Cal Cary/The Daily Progress

White nationalists participate in a torch-lit march on the grounds of the University of Virginia ahead of the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 11, 2017. Photo: Reuters Pictures

For context, I have juxtaposed an image of riot cops violently raiding a peaceful “free Palestine” encampment at the University of Virginia last weekend with an image of the white nationalists who gained national attention walking unimpeded through the campus in 2017.

The Police Doing Their Thing

We’ve seen many images of police in crowd control or riot mode. These pictures caught my eye for the different stories they tell.

APRIL 24, 2024 – LOS ANGELES, CA: Pro-Palestine demonstrators, including university students, rally at an encampment in support of Gaza at Alumni Park on the University of Southern California’s campus. Campus protests over Gaza have intensified amidst pushback by universities and police and photographed by Mark Abramson for the New York Times

In the photo, LAPD officers process protestors before being loaded into transport vehicles after a large group of protestors were arrested after a sit-in on the USC campus. I don’t know about the rules or the procedures here. All I know is that the sight of the keffiyeh stuffed in a bag feels intrusive and suffocating. Though probably innocuous, the officer’s glance over his soldier creates an even weirder vibe, as if he has something to hide. I’m sure reports of Arizona State University police officers forcibly removing the hijabs of at least four Muslim women protesters during campus demonstrations have colored my perception.

Sinna Nasseri strange.victory@instagram. Posted May 3, 2024

I wish I could find that photo of the policeman launching a surveillance drone next to the Columbia encampment. Sinna Nasseri’s photo taken at UCLA is particularly gritty and vivid, documenting police not just taking names but recording faces. And you wonder why masks and keffiyehs fully covering student faces are so ubiquitous.

Campus Scenes that Confound the Media Narrative

In another photo by Mark Abramson, students from the U.S.C. graduating class of 2024 who were taking photographs ahead of their graduation ceremony come across a protester tagging the plaza in Alumni Park with pro-Palestine slogans.

APRIL 27, 2024 – LOS ANGELES, CA. Campus protests over Gaza have intensified amidst pushback by universities and police. LAPD was called in on Wednesday to arrest protestors on the USC campus and clear out an original encampment that had been erected. On Saturday, students erected a new encampment and moved it into Alumni Park. Photographed by Mark Abramson for the New York Times

I am at a total loss to understand what the two students with the champagne bottles may be thinking. On the other hand, it is an outstanding photo that confounds almost every other type of campus protest image I’ve seen. The two graduating women’s sense of curiosity shatters the black-and-white/us vs. them visual standard typical of most of the reporting.

UC Berkeley “Free Palestine” encampment, May 3, 2024. Photo: Sara Warshaw

Finally, consider this a “call out” about how the protests are going on campuses where university administrators, unintimidated by politicians and donors, negotiate quietly with protest leaders. Not that peace and quiet makes news, but except for a few minor incidents at the nearly three-week-old UC Berkeley encampment, you can almost hear a pin drop.

Post By

Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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