GOP Senate hopeful visits Penn encampment: ‘They should be arrested’

David McCormick and other politicians are using the camp for their messaging. Students say they feel unsafe after an attack with an unknown substance and other incidents.

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Dave McCormick with student Eyal Yakoby at UPenn’s protest encampment

Republican Dave McCormick (right), running for U.S. Senate, came to UPenn’s protest encampment with 21 year-old student Eyal Yakoby (left) to record a video denouncing the protesters on May 1, 2024. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

It was an eventful day at the pro-Palestine encampment at the University of Pennsylvania, with the site becoming the new political stumping ground as politicians and city officials made stops at the protest site.

Earlier in the day, an unidentified person reportedly walked through the encampment spraying an unknown substance on the grounds, including on the food that had been donated to the effort. The man was reportedly arrested, possibly facing charges. Police were also earlier seen taking down signs hanging on the barricade but otherwise left the encampment alone.

the UPenn encampment
Members of a protest encampment at UPenn hang signs around their camp on May 1, 2024. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Visits to the encampment included those by U.S. Senate Republican nominee David McCormick, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier.

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“DA Krasner’s visit to the Penn encampment today was simply fact-finding in nature to gain a clear understanding of conditions there,” Dustin M. Slaughter, a spokesperson with the District Attorney’s Office, told WHYY News in an email. “He takes his role to seek even-handed justice and uphold the Constitution seriously.”

McCormick told WHYY News that the student protesters “can’t distinguish the difference between right and wrong and good and evil” and are impacting the ability of other students to study.

“They should use the campus police and shut down the tent city,” he said. “For those that are students, they should be disciplined appropriately and kicked out of schools. For those that are on student visas, this violates their student visa.”

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McCormick argued that the encampment — now approaching its seventh day — went beyond exercising First Amendment rights.

“Peaceful protest on university campuses has a long history and that’s a tradition, a key value in America,” McCormick said. “The fact [is] that the things that are being said are truly antisemitic. The things that are being said are intimidating to students and, in many cases, calls to incite violence, making it very difficult for others to learn.”

Dave McCormick at the UPenn encampment
Republican Dave McCormick (right), running for U.S. Senate, came to UPenn’s protest encampment with 21 year-old student Eyal Yakoby (left) to record a video denouncing the protesters on May 1, 2024. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Student protesters, however, said that was a mischaracterization of reality.

“It’s very typical of a Republican politician to employ state violence to quell anti-war movements,” said sophomore Rishi Arun. “Since we’ve set up this encampment, there have been no recorded incidents of us creating an intimidating environment by reminding people that a genocide is going on. We specifically tell people who enter the encampment not to antagonize anyone, even when provoked.”

Arun argues that it’s the student protesters who are being intimidated, pointing to the spraying and other incidents. During the night, he said, people will shout “wake up terrorists” and tell them they are all “going to die in Gaza.”

Junior Sophia Rosser added, “It’s very clear the police are only here to protect one side.”

“Even when violence is being perpetrated against us, we’re still the ones associated with the ones doing the violence,” she said.

Organizers added that they had a meeting with school officials the day before, but that the school didn’t appear to take their demands to make the school’s endowment fund more transparent and to divest from “corporations that profit from Israel’s war on Gaza and occupation in Palestine” seriously.

The university was not immediately available for comment but previously released a statement saying that they have opened “several student disciplinary cases.”

“These actions, while unfortunate, are necessary when individuals choose to violate University standards,” the statement read.

The students appear undaunted, however, believing that public opinion is with them.

“The city of Philadelphia is on our side,” Arun said.

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