Comets, community members demand return of 21 individuals detained overnight at Collin County Jail

Demonstrators gathered outside jail to protest arrest of UTD students and staff at May 1 pro-Palestine encampment

Alexander Lawless | Mercury Staff


Nine students, three professors, one alum and eight community members were arrested after state troopers and local police stormed UTD’s “Gaza Liberation Plaza” encampment at 4 p.m. May 1. Officers transported the detainees to Collin County Jail, where they remained until the evening of May 2. 

Protests demanding the release of the 21 individuals began at 7 p.m. outside the county jail. By 9 p.m., over 150 demonstrators from UTD and the local community arrived on jail property. Nesren Abdelaziz, mother of one of the arrested students, said she and her family arrived at the county jail at 7 p.m. and began demonstrations alongside other protesters, including songs, chants and prayers inside the lobby before police moved them out of the building. Officers kept the lobby entrances locked for the protest’s remainder, only opening them for attorneys or police to enter or leave. 

“My 18-year-old son got arrested on UTD campus, he was literally not even part of the encampment, just walking on the sidewalk,” Abdelaziz said. “I have been here since the beginning. We waited around in the lobby a little bit before they kicked us out … My little girls tried to use the restroom, but the officers would not let them use the restrooms. Injustice all around us here.” 

Abdelaziz said protests supporting Palestine and those jailed for their pro-Palestine activism are particularly important to her and her family because she and her husband are Palestinian. Abdelaziz said she is always devastated by the “apartheid” conditions she experiences when she visits Palestine, particularly because of the differences in how she and her husband are treated because he holds a Palestinian passport while she holds a U.S. passport.  

“We are proud of you and you are doing this for a great cause,” Abdelaziz said, addressing the jailed students and professors. “Hold your head up, we have got your back.” 

After the protesters were sent outside of the building, they began covering the cement barricades and the walkway to the jail lobby with chalk drawings supporting the arrested individuals and calling for the liberation of Palestine. At 9:30 p.m., protesters gathered around the entrance to the county jail lobby to pray Isha, the final obligatory prayer of the day in Islam. After Isha, volunteer organizers and UTD SJP members led the crowd in a series of chants.  

The crowd included not only UTD students and families of the arrested, but local community activists who had heard about the encampment and its removal. Leslie Cunningham, a retired member of the Texas State Employees Union, arrived to support the students and staff arrested after learning of the arrests through Signal.   

“The people arrested are very brave,” Cunningham said. “It is wonderful that they are passionate enough to feel and to believe that this cause is so important that they are willing to get arrested to further the fight. Palestine needs to be free.” 

Cunningham said the current protests across the nation are reminiscent of her time in university during the 1960s, where she protested as part of the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movements.  

“I am here because I care very much about the liberation of Palestine,” Cunningham said. “I have had many Jewish friends who have joined Jewish Voice for Peace, but many others still want to believe that Israel is wonderful. But it is all a packet of lies that has been served for decades.” 

At 10 p.m., a group of volunteer attorneys who had spoken to the arrested students and filed bail requests for all 21 arrested individuals made an announcement to the gathered protesters.  

“You guys being here made a difference tonight,” one volunteer attorney said. “We have met with 18 of the 21 people arrested already, and your pressure has enabled us to see the students who were arrested way quicker than we normally would have. Unfortunately, they are not going to let them out tonight.” 

The attorneys said the presiding Collin County Magistrate, Lisa Bronchetti, had barred individuals charged with criminal trespassing from being released on an attorney appearance bond. All 21 arrested individuals have been charged with a Class B Criminal Trespass misdemeanor and must pay a $350 fine each to be released, which the attorneys have already prepared. The potential release of the 21 individuals will come after their arraignment May 2. The attorneys said each detained individual is allowed a maximum of two family members present during their court hearing, though the public may not attend. The attorneys emphasized that everything was prepared to bond out all the arrested individuals; however, because of Bronchetti’s order, proceedings could not continue until the morning.  

“It is important for the families to show up and for you guys to show up,” volunteer attorney Marwa Elbially said. “Show them that we are a strong community, we believe in the freedom of Palestine.” 


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