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Law enforcement dismantle pro-Palestinian demonstrations at VCU

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Overnight public safety and maintenance crews at Virginia Commonwealth University began dismantling an encampment set up by pro-Palestinian demonstrators, arresting students and non-students, according to officials.

The campus uprising follows numerous similar protests at universities and colleges across the country, including the University of Virginia, and an ongoing encampment at George Washington University.

Pro-Palestinian activists established a “liberated zone” on campus littered with tents and anti-Israeli posters.

Various law enforcement communities ascended on VCU in the early morning hours after the university released a post via social media warning protesters to leave the area, or they would be “subject to arrest.”

“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,” the university posted to social media sites.

The university said the gathering “violated several university policies.” The university underscored their support for freedom of speech, but said VCU “must maintain an atmosphere free of disruption to the university’s mission.”

Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears suggested in a social media post that protesters were being funded, claiming the demonstrations weren’t completely peaceful.

Sears wrote, “I am told that these protesters seem to be well-funded and well-supplied with food, tarps, tents, and pallets. Once the dust settles, I think we will see this was not entirely a peaceful protest.”

Sears provided updates from public safety officials, detailing that non-students were among those arrested and accusations “bottles filled with unknown substances” were thrown at law enforcement during the crackdown.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia Executive Director Mary Bauer released a statement condemning the arrests and disbanding of the “liberation zone” as a violation of demonstrators’ freedom of speech while undermining “democracy.”

“Universities that attack their students’ free speech undermine our democracy – as well as their own mandate to foster learning and the robust exchange of ideas,” Bauer said in the release. “The First Amendment guarantees people in Virginia the right to protest, including on behalf of Palestinians, so we’re disappointed to learn that Virginia universities have deployed police against their own students for expressing their views about the ongoing conflict.”

Del. Adele McClure, D-Arlington, said she was horrified by the force used against demonstrators, defending their rights to peacefully protest.

Writing on social media, McClure said, “As a VCU alum I’m horrified at how quickly protestors were met with such force. As a student, I protested many times on that campus and I strongly believe that students have the constitutional right to do so peacefully without being subjected to excessive force and arrest.”

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, visiting Germany on a trade mission, took to social media lamenting the demonstrations, saying some participants engaged in violence against law enforcement officials.

He wrote, “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.”

The governor defended the actions of law enforcement, saying their actions were necessary to protect the safety of the community.

The governor added, “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.”

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