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VCU crews clean up after Pro-Palestinian protest, arrests

Posted at 11:36 AM, Apr 30, 2024

RICHMOND, Va., — Virginia Commonwealth University crews power washed messages and drawings written in chalk on campus in support of Palestine hours after officers made several arrests and dispersed crowds.

Police were called to disperse a pro-Palestine protest on the VCU campus in Richmond, Virginia on Monday evening. Earlier in the day, a small group gathered outside Cabell Library and established what they called a "Liberated Zone for Gaza."

The crowd grew throughout the day and in the early evening as some people began to set up tents and make-shift barricades.

The encampment defied a request by Governor Glenn Youngkin to university presidents that encampments not be allowed on any Virginia campus.

Cell phone video captured by VCU student journalist Sarah Hagen of The Commonwealth Times showed police officers using pepper spray to disperse the crowd.

"Individuals who chose not to leave threw objects and used chemical spray on officers. Officers used pepper spray to disperse the crowd. VCU Police report that officers did not use other chemical agents, such as tear gas," the school said in a campus update.

Protesters were seen using bottled water to rinse the eyes of individuals who were sprayed.

The arrested were scheduled to appear in Richmond General District Court Friday morning.

"Overall, 13 individuals were arrested and charged with unlawful assembly and trespassing. Six of those arrested were students; these students will proceed normally through the university’s student conduct process," the update stated.

A list of demands presented to others covering the rally included the disclosure of VCU's investments with Israeli ties and the removal of Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin as this year's VCU commencement speaker.

From Germany, Youngkin shared a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter, about the continuing demonstrations.

“Across the Commonwealth we’ve seen student and significant non-student participants, throw projectiles at law enforcement, violate the policies of our colleges and universities, obstruct and disrupt student life and endanger public safety,” he posted. “After repeated warnings and refusal to disperse, law enforcement must protect Virginians. My administration will continue to fully support campus, local and state law enforcement and university leadership to keep our campuses safe.”

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney also responded to the protests with a statement.

“My administration and Richmond Police have been in close contact with VCU officials and will continue to support them in their mission to ensure the safety of all students and community members.”

VCU President Michael Rao shared his own statement Tuesday morning:

“Yesterday's events outside of Cabell Library remind us of the complexities we face as a university committed to free speech, safety and operating our university. While our community cherishes the right to peaceful protest, setting up structures on our campus lawn violated our policy. Our staff respectfully and repeatedly asked individuals to comply. As has happened on other campuses around the country, conflict between police and protesters took place,” he wrote.

“I deeply appreciate those who peacefully expressed their views and the efforts of our staff during this time. Please know that VCU stands ready with support services. Student resources include TimelyCare and University Counseling Services, available 24 hours a day. Faculty and staff resources can be found through VCU's RamStrong program. It's essential to recognize that the vast majority of events at VCU occur without incident. It's in this spirit of togetherness that I believe our community will move forward,” Rao’s statement continued.

The protest at VCU follows nationwide protests at other schools including Virginia Tech where 82 demonstrators were arrested, according to Virginia Tech Police.

"VCU will enforce its directive that prohibits encampments, including the installation of structures and stockpiling items that could be used to build a structure or aid an encampment. This will be done to comply with our policies and to support allowing students, faculty and staff to complete the semester successfully," the university's statement said.

A man named Abdou who didn't want to share his last name attended the demonstrations at VCU.

"To just make some noise for Palestinians and their rights and their right to liberation, not only in Palestine but for everyone - it ties into everything," he stated.

Jewish students were encouraged to stay away from the protests altogether.

"When I hear from teachers and professors that are taking off their kippah for fear of being attacked or shouted down - that’s unacceptable," said Daniel Staffenberg with the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond

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