Cops Break Up Pro-Palestinian Student Protest in Virginia

A Monday gathering of dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University was broken up by law enforcement officers in riot gear and gas masks, who witnesses said moved in on the “Liberated Zone” with tear gas and zip ties.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch and ABC 8News reported that several arrests had been made, but it was not immediately clear on Monday night how many protesters had been detained or transported to jail.

The protest began that morning on a grassy patch outside the school’s James Branch Cabell Library, with protesters waving signs, setting up tents, and chanting “Free Palestine.”

After 7:30 p.m. local time however, university leadership sent an alert that police had arrived at the scene of a “violent” protest on campus. Cell phone footage from the scene showed Richmond Police Department officers and Virginia State Police deputies facing off against the students, some of whom erected a makeshift barricade and threw water bottles.

The university said in a statement that it “respectfully and repeatedly provided opportunities for those individuals involved–many of whom were not students–to collect their belongings and leave. Those who did not leave were subject to arrest for trespassing.”

It added that while “supporting an environment that fosters protected speech and expressive activity, VCU must maintain an atmosphere free of disruption to the university’s mission.”

With final exams beginning this week, the statement said, “VCU must provide students the opportunity to safely and successfully complete the semester. The gathering violated several university policies.”

ABC 8News journalists reported that “hundreds” of officers were present, corralling the protesters towards the library, tearing down the tents, and deploying tear gas.

The VCU union, which represents campus faculty, staff, and student workers, condemned the sweep in a social media statement. “Sending VCU’s police force into a peaceful demonstration is a violation of students’ rights and of the most basic tenets of a free and public education,” the union said.

In a subsequent statement, the union added, “There can be no justification for the use of riot gear, tear gas, pepper spray, or weapons of war on students. There can be no justification for the presence of these tools of violence on our campus.”

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