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Case Western Reserve University president apologizes after contractor spray-painted protesters

A screengrab of a video posted on Instagram by the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at Case Western Reserve University. The video shows a university-hired contractor spray-painting over pro-Palestine student protesters standing in front of art they had painted at the campus Spirit Wall.
A screenshot of a video posted on Instagram by the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at Case Western Reserve University. The video posted May 7, 2024, shows a university-hired contractor spray-painting over a pro-Palestine student protester standing in front of messages painted on the campus Spirit Wall.

Case Western Reserve University President Eric Kaler apologized Tuesday night after a video was posted on social media showing a university-hired contractor spray-painting pro-Palestinian student protesters in front of the campus Spirit Wall. The wall is meant to be a space for students to share information and advocate for causes.

Protesters with the campus Students for Justice in Palestine chapter - who have camped out at the university since last week seeking the university's divestment from Israel, among other demands - had painted the wall with messages like "I dream of breaking the siege" and the number of Palestinian children killed in the war in Gaza.

The video, posted by the student group, shows a man painting over that art with students standing in the way in protest. The contractor paints over one of the students, who was given a face shield moments before. The contractor mostly spray-paints around several other students. The video shows campus police officers standing by as this happens.

Kaler, in a message posted on the university's website, said he was "disturbed by what occurred."

"Let me be clear: No students—or any individuals—should ever be treated this way, especially on a campus where our core values center on providing a safe, welcoming environment," he wrote. "This is not who we are as an institution, and I am deeply sorry this ever occurred. The university will continue to fully investigate these actions and hold individuals responsible for this behavior, including the failure of our own officers to intervene."

Students for Justice in Palestine said they followed campus policy in painting on the Spirit Wall and accused the university-hired contractors of assault.

Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb and Police Chief Dorothy Todd in a statement in response to "recent incidents on the CWRU campus" said the community deserves venues where "they have the ability to constitutionally express their opinions without fear of criminal interference."

"We support 1st Amendment rights and implore CWRU leadership to consider this and think about how the decisions they make and the actions they take – especially against those who are abiding by the law – will influence some of the progress we have collectively made as a city. At the same time, we urge individuals to demonstrate peacefully," they wrote in the statement issued Wednesday afternoon.

Tensions have risen between the university's administration and student protesters since last week, with Kaler accusing student protesters of intimidating some students on campus and of defying a university order to disperse, while students have argued Kaler and other leaders are ignoring students' voices and concerns.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.