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Breaking news updates: Sb4Palestine organizes Gaza solidarity encampment on Staller Steps

This is a breaking news story. The Statesman will provide updates as they become available.

Stony Brook University students are gathering on the steps of Staller Center for Arts to establish the Gaza solidarity encampment, as titled and organized by the group Sb4Palestine. Similar efforts are taking place at universities around the country such as Columbia University, Cornell University and California Polytech State University. 

“We’ve already had discussions with both police and admin, and we’ve made our demands,” said Zubair, an organizer for Sb4Palestine who requested his last name remain anonymous. “We are waiting to hear back from admin on any of our demands and we have full intention to stay here until [our] demands are met.”

Sb4Palestine’s demands include complete divestment from Israel, publicizing all university investments, acknowledging the actions of Israel in Gaza as a genocide and the dropping of charges against those arrested during a pro-Palestine protest on March 26, 2024. 

When the demonstration began at 7 a.m., organizers set up tents on the steps. That was until officers from the University Police Department (UPD) informed them that setting up the tents was not allowed. 

“Even though the tents weren’t … going into the ground, they were just sitting on the surface of the lawn, they told us that we had to remove the tents because they count as a structure,” Zubair said.

He also said he attempted to use a megaphone for chanting at the beginning of the protest, only for UPD to inform him that he could not do that if he did not have an amplified sound permit — something he claims he never needed when using a megaphone at previous protests. 

After trying to receive a comment from police on the site of the demonstration, The Statesman was told to reach out to the University’s media relations team. 

“There is no ‘encampment’ at Stony Brook University,” University officials wrote to The Statesman in an email. “We have continued to allow our students to express themselves peacefully in accordance with the university’s long standing policies and the law.”

However, Amin Khwaja, a protester, spoke out and shared his disappointment with the University for not taking action. 

“I think it’s time that the school and the administration steps up and speaks up … against what is going on in the Middle East,” Khwaja said. “It’s been too long they’ve tried to stay neutral when it’s clearly a problem that needs to be addressed. Stony Brook is an institution where they teach the [equality and inclusion] and at least in my eyes, it’s kind of upsetting to see that our institution is not speaking out against what is clearly an act against the Palestinian people.” 

Zubair emphasized that the students’ goal is to show the Stony Brook community that they have a voice and to promote civic engagement, as well as to show support for the people of Palestine.

“Even though we’re here [to protest] our rights, we don’t believe that we’re free until Palestine is free,” Zubair said. “I was arrested myself. I’m not here for myself, I’m here for the people of Palestine.”

Update 5:26 p.m.

The Stony Brook Undergraduate Student Government (USG) arrived at the Staller Steps at 4 p.m. to host their planned Club Social event. In order to accommodate the protestors, USG held the event away from the demonstration near the entrance of the Staller Center.

Akaansha Kundra, USG’s Vice President of Clubs and Organizations and a senior majoring in psychology, told The Statesman that “we’re just trying to coexist, free speech.”

The crowd has grown significantly since the demonstration began this morning. Organizers led the group in a chant, with a protester yelling out, “make sure you have your masks on, these Zionists be doxxing us.”

Faculty also joined in on the protest. Josh Dubnau, a professor in the Department of Anesthesiology and the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, said that he did not focus so much on whether the UPD or University labeled the demonstration as an encampment.

“I don’t worry about that sort of thing,” he said. “I focus on the message. I think that it’s good that the University has backed off of trying to clear [the students]. I think it’s wonderful that this group of students coordinated with other groups that have reserved this space to share the space, and it shows the adults in the room are the students.” 

Update 11:41 p.m.

MARIAM GUIRGIS/THE STATESMAN

Approximately 40-50 students remained on the Staller Steps, with temperatures around 50 degrees. Students played games with each other, talking and praying, while some slept. Supplies, including food and drinks, were plentiful. 

“We are really appreciative and we’re really proud of the Stony Brook community that definitely turned out for us, especially the alumni and the local community members here on Long Island.” Zubair said. “We had food, a surplus of food throughout the day. Anytime we needed materials like coolers, water, stuff like that we always had it.” 

Around 11:20 p.m, several protestors got into an argument with officers from UPD, one of whom raised concerns that the tarps and other materials students were sheltering under violated guidelines about setting up prohibited structures. 

Protestors countered that the rules UPD was attempting to enforce were arbitrary and did not give demonstrators any clear guidelines to follow. 

Nelson Castilla, UPD’s Deputy Chief of Investigations, stepped up to speak on behalf of the officers present.

Castilla told the group prohibited structures would be defined as, “[if it is touching] the ground on all sides, and it’s popped up in the middle by your body or any kind of packaging, or a stilt, or any kind of wood.”

“You’re being reasonable,” one of the protesters told Castilla. “I understand where you are coming from. But your officers saw that and immediately said ‘You can’t have a structure’ as if it’s equivalent to a tent.”

Another one of the protestors said he did not believe anything present at the demonstration would legally fit the definition of a structure.

“[A structure] is a framework or structure with elements identifiable giving stability and able to resist strain,” the protestor said. “There’s a f****** blanket, it’s none of those things.”

Eventually, Castilla came to an agreement with the protestors that if any of the University officers on site had concerns with the demonstrators, they would bring it to his attention and he would communicate with organizers.

Update 4:56 a.m.

Many of the demonstrators slept in the early hours of the morning. Stony Brook received rainfall overnight, and Sb4Palestine posted on their Instagram story questioning the University and UPD for not allowing them to set up tents.

“SBU students are currently sleeping under sheets of tarp as it rains because structures aren’t allowed on campus,” the group wrote. “Scared of a tent? Why does a tent bother you more than genocide?”

Caroline Flynn, a reporter for News 12 Long Island, was also present reporting at the scene.

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About the Contributors
Mariam Guirgis
Mariam Guirgis, Assistant News Editor
Mariam is an Assistant News Editor at The Statesman. She is a second-year journalism minoring in political science. When she's not editing news articles, she is deeply involved with her Church community, planning events and hanging out with friends.
Sky Crabtree
Sky Crabtree, Assistant News Editor
Sky Crabtree is an Assistant News Editor for The Statesman and a sophomore studying journalism and political science. He joined the paper in the spring of 2023 as a news reporter and was promoted at the end of the same semester. Outside of The Statesman, he works as a news intern for WSHU Public Radio and hosts "The Political Corner," a segment on the Stony Brook Media Group's news show.
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    Hélène VolatMay 1, 2024 at 4:32 pm

    So proud of these students. I wish I were there with them. Never give up history is on your side.

    Reply