By Max Greenwood
Jack Adams and Harry Huggins contributed reporting
Chaos erupted at the University of Illinois at Chicago Friday evening after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump cancelled a campaign rally on campus amid mounting security concerns over tensions between Trump supporters and a large number of protesters.
Less than an hour after the candidate was set to appear at the UIC Pavilion, personnel announced that the campaign had decided to postpone the event. That led to shouting matches and skirmishes between Trump supporters and protesters inside the arena, and eventually large-scale demonstrations on the streets outside. No arrests were made, according to Chicago police.
“Mr. Trump just arrived in Chicago and after meeting with law enforcement has determined that for the safety of all of the tens of thousands of people that have gathered in and around the arena, tonight’s rally will be postponed to another date,” a statement issued by the Trump campaign said. “Thank you very much for the attendance and please go in peace.”
The cancellation and subsequent scuffles came as concerns grow about violence at Trump’s campaign stops. A video taken at a recent rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina shows one of the GOP frontrunner’s supporters sucker-punching a protester. A Breitbart.com reporter filed a police report against Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski Friday, alleging that Lewandowski forcefully grabbed her at a rally in Jupiter, Florida. And at a rally in St. Louis Friday, hours before Trump was set to appear in Chicago, violence and protests resulted in dozens of arrests.
A petition created by a UIC graduate student last Friday aimed to have the event cancelled, citing safety concerns, and arguing that the Trump rally would create a hostile environment on campus. That petition was met with silence by the Trump campaign, and UIC Chancellor Michael Amiridis pushed back against the petition, saying that the university had adequate security measures in place.
“We welcome the diverse sentiments expressed by our students, faculty, staff, alumni and the neighboring communities regarding the upcoming political event,” Amiridis said in a letter to UIC students, faculty and staff Sunday. “And we want to ensure everyone that security plans are in place to address the safety of our campus community during this event.”
A Facebook page created to rally protesters prompted 19,000 people to say they were interested in attending. As of last evening, the page reported 11,000 having attended.
In the hour before the indoor rally was scrapped, confrontations between protesters and Trump supporters had already began to unfold, with several protesters being removed from the arena. An announcement on the venue’s loudspeakers called on Trump supporters not to “touch the protesters,” adding that they should instead chant, “Trump, Trump, Trump,” when protesters were escorted out of the building.
— Raquel Zaldivar (@raqzal) March 12, 2016
Even before the most intense protests and skirmishes on Friday, rally-goers were anticipating confrontations. Tom Piper, a Trump supporter, said the planned protests made the university “look foolish.”
“They use terms like bigotry and prejudice,” Piper said. “What’s more prejudice than saying that an individual shouldn’t come to an event like this. I can’t think of anything bigoted that Donald Trump has done.”
Jumana Kassar, a student at DePaul University who was among the protesters, said “I feel like (Trump) has so much influence, he needs to realize that his hate speech is not something the majority of students in Chicago support. I don’t know why he came here of all places. He doesn’t condemn what his supporters do against anyone who is not white and middle class. I wear a hijab and get called out on it in the middle of the street all the time. I get called all sorts of racist names recently and a lot of that is because Trump has made it permissible to call Muslims ISIS, terrorists, he doesn’t deny it. We feel the hate, the pressure.”
Calling into MSNBC Friday night after he had cancelled the rally, Trump said he had made the right decision to scrap the event, adding that he didn’t want to see violence break out.
“You can’t even have a rally in a major city in this country anymore without violence or potential violence,” Trump said in an interview with MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews. He later added, “I don’t want to see people hurt.”
But in the wake of the cancellation, one of Trump’s rivals, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said Trump was responsible for the violence that has broken out at his rallies.
“In any campaign, responsibility starts at the top,” Cruz said Friday night. He was in Chicago on Friday as well. “Any candidate is responsible for the culture of the campaign. When you have a campaign that disrespects the voters. When you have a campaign that affirmatively encourages violence. When you have a campaign that is facing allegations of physical violence against members of the press, you create an environment that only encourages this sort of nasty discourse.”