Apr 30, 2024 - News

Pro-Palestine campus protests come to Richmond; 13 arrested at VCU, including 6 students

Data: Axios research; Note: Universities with joint encampments reported separately; Locations approximated for clarity; Map: Kavya Beheraj, Tory Lysik and Will Chase/Axios

Police arrested 13 pro-Palestine protesters, including six VCU students, on campus Monday night for refusing a police order to disperse and remove an encampment that was beginning to form in front of the school library.

Why it matters: Unlike the multiday, overnight demonstrations ending with arrests on college campuses across the country, VCU's lasted roughly 12 hours before three divisions of law enforcement intervened with pepper spray and riot shields.

State of play: Protesters calling for a ceasefire in Gaza formed what they called a "Liberated Zone for Gaza" in front of VCU's Cabell Library Monday morning.

  • The group planned to stay until their demands were met, which included calling for VCU to disclose and divest from Israel-connected companies, and the removal of Gov. Youngkin as the school's commencement speaker.
  • For most of the day, those gathered worked on homework, danced and chanted. By evening, the demonstration had grown to include several hundred people and dozens of tents, per the Times-Dispatch.

Zoom in: The scene seemed to change around 8:30pm, according to various news reports.

  • That's when VCU Police warned protesters that they were "in violation of university policies" and needed to leave. Police did not elaborate on the policies being violated.
  • Some protesters hurled water bottles and set up barricades with shipping pallets.
  • Around the same time, VCU closed the library — which is normally open until 3am — locking some students inside and others out.
  • VCU Police, joined by Richmond Police and Virginia State Police, some clad in tactical gear, responded by forcibly removing protesters using pepper spray and riot shields, VPM reported.

What they're saying: "I'm never going to forget the images of [students] being pressed up against the library and sprayed in a single file line. The library glass was shaking from people on the other side that were locked in banging on [it] telling the cops to stop," VCU junior Summer DeCiucis tells Axios.

  • Some Republican officials condemned their condemnation.

The latest: On Tuesday, VCU said the encampment was in violation of the school's Reservation and Use of Space policy for holding a large event without advance notice or permission.

  • The 13 people arrested were charged with trespassing and unlawful assembly; the six VCU students will also face VCU's student conduct process.

The big picture: The protests over the treatment of Palestinians in the Israel-Hamas war spread after a demonstration at Columbia University drew international attention when the university's president requested that the protesters be removed, Axios' Russell Contreras reports.

Flashback: The use of pepper spray at VCU Monday night echoed scenes from Richmond's racial justice protests in 2020, which prompted hundreds of police misconduct claims.

Sabrina Moreno contributed to this story.

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