Kenyon: Dartmouth shows it has no patience for peaceful protest

New Hampshire State Police wearing riot gear gather before crossing Dartmouth College Green to remove protesters who set up tents to protest of the Israel-Hamas War in Hanover, N.H., on Wednesday, May 1, 2024. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

New Hampshire State Police wearing riot gear gather before crossing Dartmouth College Green to remove protesters who set up tents to protest of the Israel-Hamas War in Hanover, N.H., on Wednesday, May 1, 2024. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

By JIM KENYON

Valley News Columnist

Published: 05-03-2024 7:43 PM

Modified: 05-05-2024 6:31 PM


Under the cover of darkness, 20 New Hampshire State Police storm troopers in full riot gear marched in a single row across the Dartmouth Green, where hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters were peacefully chanting their opposition to the war in Gaza and the college’s role in helping fund Israel’s military.

Before Wednesday night was over, 90 people — the vast majority of them Dartmouth student activists — were placed under arrest for criminal trespass. An undisclosed number were also charged with resisting arrest. All 90 were handcuffed with zip ties and hauled away in Dartmouth College vans to police stations in Hanover, Lebanon, Haverhill and even Manchester.

Mission accomplished.

It’s hard to imagine Operation Crackdown going any better for Dartmouth President Sian Leah Beilock.

I’m surprised Beilock didn’t don a helmet and body armor herself to pose for selfies with cops who traveled from across the state to carry out the taxpayer-funded mission.

Through the mighty show of force, Beilock reminded Dartmouth students that if they choose to exercise their rights to free speech and peaceful assembly, they do so at their own peril. At Dartmouth, campus policies aimed at shutting down nonviolent demonstrations trump the U.S. Constitution.

Beilock no longer need fret about House Speaker Mike Johnson showing up on campus to demand her resignation like he did with Columbia University’s president who didn’t have protesters arrested fast enough for his ultraconservative tastes.

In a statement released Thursday, Beilock said the protest violated the college’s policy against encampments. On Wednesday night, “people felt so strongly about their beliefs that they were willing to face disciplinary action and arrest. While there is bravery in that, part of choosing to engage in this way is not just acknowledging — but accepting — that actions have consequences.”

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Hartford parts with state champion girls hockey coach
Kenyon: By charging for after school program, CCBA loses sight of its mission
Over Easy: Baby crazy in West Lebanon
Fairlee and Orford Fourth of July parade canceled due to traffic concerns
Search for missing Dartmouth graduate student ends tragically
Plan for 240 apartments in White River Junction completes planning and zoning review

What Beilock left out was how ticked off she must have been for having to change her recent travel plans. She was scheduled to visit Tokyo and Hong Kong last week on her international “welcome” tour.

“Given the protests and heightened tensions across the country, President Beilock postponed a planned trip to Asia and remained in Hanover to focus on our campus community,” Dartmouth spokeswoman Jana Barnello said.

A globe-trotting college president isn’t a good look right now. And if there’s anything that Beilock excels at better than most elite college presidents, it’s managing her public image.

Beilock had performed the groundwork for Wednesday’s over-the-top police action in October when her administration called in Hanover police to arrest two students for — you guessed it — criminal trespass.

Kevin Engel and Roan Wade had pitched a tent for six hours on the lawn in front of Beilock’s office largely to bring attention to the plight of Palestinians in the Israel-Hamas war. They’ve pleaded not guilty.

Even with all that Dartmouth pulled off in a short amount of time through Operation Crackdown, there was still collateral damage.

Beilock and her lieutenants probably would have preferred not dealing with the fallout from video shot as a 65-year-old history professor was jumped from behind by officers.

As police were ramping up arrests around around 9 p.m., Annelise Orleck was among a group of faculty members who walked to the Green to check on students’ welfare.

Orleck apparently wandered too close to the action — or at least what a state police “special operations unit” and Hanover cops deemed too close.

Orleck, who has taught at Dartmouth for 34 years, told me Friday that she’s still sore from the bruises she suffered when police “body slammed” her to the ground.

After Orleck confronted an officer about her treatment, she was dragged off and handcuffed. I’m sure cops will say that Orleck was giving them a hard time as they took her into custody. “I was thrashing because I couldn’t breathe,” she told me.

I guess Orleck should be thankful that she only ended up at the Lebanon police station, and not Guantanamo Bay. Conditions of her release state that she’s barred from campus, which prevents her from teaching her classes.

On Thursday, Orleck got a call from Beilock about that. The president wanted to assure Orleck that the college was doing all it could to get “Hanover police to address the clerical error.”

No mention was made of dropping the criminal trespass charge, however. “It’s all so patently absurd,” Orleck said.

Beilock has tried to sell inviting police onto campus as a way to make Jewish students, faculty and staff feel safer. But as Orleck told the president, “this old Jewish faculty member feels decidedly less safe now because of your actions.”

Since her arrest, Orleck has talked with Dartmouth colleagues and faculty at other U.S. colleges. Nationally, police have arrested more than 2,300 people during pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses during recent weeks, the Associated Press reported Friday.

“The criminalization of dissent is a national issue,” Orleck said. “We have to fight back.”

I didn’t catch Orleck’s arrest while it was in progress. I was distracted by three cops pinning a guy to the ground on a section of the Green nearest the Hanover Inn.

It was unclear whether he was a protester or merely a bystander. Either way, he seemed physically pained by the cops’ rough-and-tumble handcuffing techniques.

On this night, anyone who dared venture onto the Green after sundown was fair game.

A photographer and editor for the college’s daily student newspaper who were covering the protest were among those arrested. Freshman Alesandra Gonzales and junior Charlotte Hampton were wearing their press credentials, The Dartmouth wrote in a Thursday editorial.

The newspaper pointed out that “journalists should be off limits.” On Friday, I called Mariana Pastore, the Hanover Police Department’s prosecutor, to ask if she was dropping the charges against the working journalists.

Pastore would only say, “I have to look at every charge, individually.”

I arrived on the Green, shortly before the demonstration’s scheduled 5 p.m. start time.

Earlier in the day, Provost David Kotz had issued a warning to the “Dartmouth community” that pitching tents and other forms of peaceful protest wouldn’t be tolerated.

“Dartmouth’s policy explicitly states that we ‘may place limitations on the time, place, and manner of any speaker event, protest, or demonstration’ if it interferes with core educational or administrative functions of the institution.”

Other than serving as a not-so-subtle threat, the missive was pointless.

At a news briefing on Wednesday, Gov. Chris Sununu had already given Beilock and other college presidents around the state his pre-approval for answering pro-Palestinian campus protests with force.

Meanwhile, some college leaders in New Hampshire’s neighbor to the south were taking a more measured — and less frightful — approach. Encampments at Harvard, MIT and Tufts have been in place for more than a week without police charging in to dismantle them.

Now that Beilock has made the governor proud, he’ll probably need to have his lackey of an attorney general, John Formella, send legal reinforcements to Hanover. Pastore can’t be expected to handle 90 misdemeanor cases on her own, and since he grew up in Hanover, Formella might want to volunteer to help out. Or better yet, dismiss the charges.

It didn’t take a brain scientist to figure out on Wednesday that Beilock had no intentions of meeting student activists’ demands concerning Dartmouth’s investment policies.

As the demonstration got underway, Beilock dispatched two of her lieutenants to meet on the Green with senior Calvin George, of the Dartmouth New Deal Coalition. The student group helped organize the demonstration that drew a crowd estimated in the hundreds.

The Coalition wants Dartmouth to divest its $8 billion endowment from companies that profit from doing business with the Israeli government, particularly through the manufacturing and sale of military weapons.

Divesting is the “most important thing the college can do,” George, a mathematics major, said. When we talked before state police marched onto the Green, George said the Coalition also wants the college to drop the charges against Engel and Wade.

When I approached them, Emma Wolfe, the college’s vice president for government and community relations, and Eric Ramsey, associate dean for student life, refused to talk about their discussions with George.

The Coalition’s top priority on Wednesday was getting Dartmouth to follow Brown University’s lead, George said. On Tuesday, student activists at the Rhode Island Ivy agreed to end their encampment. In exchange, university officials promised to bring students’ divestment proposal to a vote of Brown’s governing board.

But George’s discussions with Wolfe and Ramsey went nowhere. What Brown officials agreed to was “not an option” that Beilock would entertain, George said. She’d allow students to bring a proposal before Dartmouth’s board of trustees, but wouldn’t commit to her billionaire bosses voting on it.

Beilock and other Dartmouth officials “want to keep pretending they don’t have blood on their hands,” George told me.

“We’re not expecting the college to divest tomorrow. We know it’s a complicated process,” he added. “The college doesn’t want to have any meaningful dialogue with students because divestment is not profitable.”

With negotiations — if they could be called that — failing to progress, dozens of student and community activists linked arms to form a circle on the Green. Inside the circle, a small group of students began setting up tents with “Brave Space” stenciled in large letters, a mocking reference to Beilock’s campaign to create a campus environment where students aren’t afraid to speak out.

But before the tent posts could be driven into the ground, the state police special operations unit had lined up on the opposite side of the Green, adjacent to College Street. The officers held wooden batons and wore helmets with face shields.

“If you do not leave the area, the use of physical force can be used against you and you will be arrested,” a state police officer warned over a loudspeaker.

Across the street from protesters, two Dartmouth security guards stood on the stone steps of Parkhurst Hall, where Beilock and Co., were believed to be holed up. Hundreds of students not involved in the protest watched the “spectacle,” as one student put it, from the sidewalk and patches of grass that police didn’t control.

Later in the night, I stopped by the Hanover police station, where male arrestees were being booked. Women were taken to the Lebanon police station.

I hoped to talk with Hanover Police Chief Charlie Dennis, but he didn’t have time. He was busy in the station’s “command center,” a police spokeswoman said.

Hanover police had been gathering “intelligence” since Monday that an encampment was in the works, she said.

On Friday, I emailed Dennis and Hanover Town Manager Alex Torpey to ask if they plan to bill Dartmouth for all the extra work it created. The public deserves to know the amount of overtime pay racked up by dozens of cops from towns, the state and the Grafton County Sheriff’s Office.

Dartmouth needs to be told there’s no free ride. Providing the paddy wagons — Dartmouth Outing Club vans with tape covering the college’s logo — doesn’t cut it.

I didn’t hear back from Dennis or Torpey.

In the Hanover police station’s hallway late Wednesday, students waited for friends to be released from police custody. They were told to bring cash.

“I have $77,” said a student, after learning a bail commissioner charged a $40 service fee for everyone who was arrested. The good news is they had five days to pay up.

The students’ bail conditions included not setting foot on the Green, which is hard to do when trying to walk to and from classes.

Arraignments in Lebanon District Court are scheduled for July 15 and Aug. 5. If they plead not guilty, students and others arrested don’t have to show up for court on arraignment day. They can mail in their paperwork.

I suspect most, if not all, who face a single charge of criminal trespass will plead not guilty. If convicted of the misdemeanor, they can’t be hit with jail time.

Since the Lebanon court doesn’t have a full-time judge, it’s likely that some trials could stretch into 2025.

As Wednesday night turned into Thursday morning and students filed out of the police station after consenting to mug shots, Beilock’s strategy became more clear to me.

With the backing of bottom-line minded trustees, she seems determined to rid Dartmouth of students who question the college’s authority and investment practices.

After Wednesday night, Dartmouth’s admissions office might as well hang out a new sign: Mavericks need not apply.

And if they do, they must promise to keep their tents off Beilock’s lawn.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com