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Police Disperse VCU Protests Make Several Arrests

At this time it is unclear how many arrests were made.

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Yesterday a pro-Palestine protest began around Cabell Library on the VCU campus. As the day progressed an encampment “Liberated Zone for Gaza” was created to stay until demands were met. The protesters were demanding an Israeli ceasefire in Gaza and the cancelation of Governor Youngkin as this year’s VCU commencement speaker.

Richmond, state and VCU police began gathering at 8:30 PM near the encampment. Shortly after the police gathered VCU sent out an alert declaring the protest  “violent” and declared the assembly unlawful. By 9:15 PM the area was surrounded by police and they began tearing down the encampment. At approximately 9:30 PM the police deployed tear gas.  The protest dispersed over the next hour or so.

At 9:45 PM VCU released the following statement on Twitter

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.

UCWVA-VCU released the following statement in support of VCU students and the VCU Liberated Zone.

Tonight VCU Police joined with Virginia State Police in a horrifying and wholly unprompted act of violence against VCU students and workers who were camped peacefully on the lawn in an act of solidarity with the people of Gaza.

Violence against students is an act of cowardice and shame. There can be no justification for such an unmitigated display of brutality against students exercising their rights to free speech on their own campus. The encampment built by VCU students today was an act of love, bravery, and solidarity. They spoke out for the humanity of others, only to see their school rob them of their own.

Members of our union are reaching out to their own students to check their safety, to hear their experiences, and to offer support where we can. All of us — faculty, staff, and student workers — are grappling with a profound violation of our community, our safety, and our trust. Those of us who work directly with our students know the trust parents hold when they send their children to our campus. We know the hopes these students have for a better world. We see the bravery they exhibit every day in their work to realize that world. We know how powerful they can be. We have no words for the images and reports coming out of campus tonight.

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. There is no statement President Rao, Chief Venuti, Mayor Stoney, or any member of the Board of Visitors can put forward that can hide the violations of human rights we are witnessing on our campus, or in our city. Those “leaders” who condone these acts have no moral authority to govern.

Without students, there can be no university. VCU students acted tonight in concert with students across the country who are standing up against the genocide unfolding before our eyes in Gaza. Across the country students are engaging in campus-based protests that are part of a long and very powerful tradition. Student activism is a powerful vehicle for change.

Our students can build a better world; our work as educators is to help them birth it. That work cannot be contained to a classroom, nor can it be done without facing what happened on campus tonight. As we piece together what that work will look like tomorrow, we know what we have always known to be true: we do this work in community — wall to wall, with our students at the fore.

For those looking to support our students as they heal, rebuild, and continue to fight for a better VCU, we urge you to review the below resources:

Donate to the Richmond Community Bail Fund

Sign the Open Letter in Support of VCU Students’ Rights to Civic Engagement

Read VCU Students’ Field Guide to the VCU Liberated Zone

Teach your students about Palestine

Teach your students about the history of student activism on campuses

Local citizen reporter Goad Gatsby was there for the entirety of the event and you can see it unfold on their X (Twitter) timeline.

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