VCU campus protest ends hours after police arrive at 'Liberated Zone for Gaza'

Posted at 2:28 PM, Apr 29, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-29 23:18:11-04

RICHMOND, Va. — 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, some people began to set up tents and make-shift barricades.

Scroll down for additional coverage.

10:45 p.m. Monday, April 29, 2024

Most of the protesters have dispersed, and those who remain face arrest, according to police at the scene.

Police have not yet announced how many people were arrested on campus Monday night.

Pepper spray or some other chemical agent was deployed during the Monday evening dispersal.

It was unclear how many, if any, people were seriously injured.

9:45 p.m. Monday, April 29, 2024

VCU shared this statement Monday evening:

Final exams begin this week and VCU must provide students the opportunity to safely and successfully complete the semester. The gathering violated several university policies.

VCU 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.

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

9:30 p.m. Monday, April 29, 2024

Police remain on campus on the VCU Campus working to disperse protesters.

8:34 p.m. Monday, April 29, 2024

Police are engaging with protesters at VCU.

The university issued an alert to students at about 8:45 p.m. to 'stay inside' due to a protest at the Monroe Park Campus.

Police arrive at 'Liberated Zone for Gaza' at VCU

6 p.m. Monday, April 29, 2024

Hours after establishing a so-called “Liberated Zone for Gaza” on the VCU campus in Richmond, Virginia, students, organizers, and participants began to set up campsites Monday evening.

Earlier in the day, VCU issued a statement that read:

"VCU is committed to upholding and protecting free speech, health, and safety while maintaining campus operations."

Campsites set-up on campus at VCU Gaza rally

CBS 6 reporter Tracy Sears indicated she did not see much of a visible Richmond or VCU Police presence yet.

Earlier, in response to a rally at Virginia Tech which ended in arrest, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin said, "We're not going to have encampments and tents put up [on college campuses in Virginia.]

He said he was working with our Attorney General Jason Miyares, university presidents, and police to make sure protests remained peaceful.

Noon Monday, April 29, 2024

A group established what was referred to as a 'Liberated Zone for Gaza' on Monday outside Cabell Library at the Virginia Commonwealth University campus in Richmond, Virginia.

Chants of Free Palestine, calls for an Israeli ceasefire in Gaza, and demands for various defunding of Israel were heard throughout the rally.

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.

Abdou, a second-year VCU student who did not share his last name, was one of the students who attended Monday's rally.

"What brought me out here was my ability to use my voice for people who can't use their voices and can't speak up for themselves or who are trying to but are being, you know, shut down and really oppressed from using their voices in that way," he said. "Just to make some noise to stand for something that everyone should stand for, honestly, for Palestinians and their rights, and our rights, and liberation, not only in Palestine but for everyone."

VCU student Abdou

Over the weekend, a pro-Palestine protest at Virginia Tech ended with the arrests of students who "refuse[d] to comply with policy and took further steps to occupy the lawn of the Graduate Life Center and outdoor spaces next to Squires Student Center. Given these actions by protesters, the university recognized that the situation had the increasing potential to become unsafe," according to the university.

Speaking about the protest at Virginia Tech on CNN, Governor Youngkin said, "First we have to begin with the fact that freedom of expression and peacefully demonstrating is at the heart of our First Amendment and we must protect it. But that does not go to in fact intimidating Jewish students in preventing them from attending class, and using annihilation speech to express deeply antisemitic views. And therefore I have been working with our Attorney General Jason Miyares, our university presidents, and law enforcement at the state, local, and campus levels, to make sure that if there are protests, they're peaceful. We're not going to have encampments and tents put up. And yes, we will protect the ability to peacefully express yourself, but we're not going to have the kinds of hate speech and intimidation that we're seeing across the country in Virginia."

WATCH: Pro-Palestine protest ended with arrests at Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech removes students from Pro-Palestine protest

In a statement released Monday, VCU echoed similar sentiments.

"VCU is committed to upholding and protecting free speech, health, and safety while maintaining campus operations," the statement read.

Abdou said he hoped others would join the demonstration at VCU.

"It's the numbers that really make the noise and really bring out the most, I guess within the noise, we're trying to make, within the voice we're trying to, you know, preach out for people. That voice is free Palestine, end the occupation, and end the killing. That's it," he said.

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