Capital News Service

Police Clash with Protesters at VCU Pro-Palestine Event

Police arrest 13 people, pepper spray some protesters


RICHMOND, Va. - Law enforcement officers arrested 13 individuals during a chaotic clash that involved use of chemical agents to break up a pro-Palestine encampment on the Monroe Park campus of Virginia Commonwealth University. 

Officers with VCU police, Richmond police and the Virginia State Police were on the scene when an unlawful assembly was declared. Six students were arrested and seven were non-students, according to a VCU release.

The protest, similar to those at colleges across the country, was organized by VCU’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter. Chapter leaders posted a statement on the organization’s Instagram demanding that the university disclose its expenditure and divest from any companies and partnerships that profit from or support the “colonization and genocide of the Palestinian people.”

The statement also called for the university to defend activism for Palestine and the students involved. They requested that VCU declare the “occupation, colonization, and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, and the US-Israel genocide in Gaza as indefensible.”

The encampment settled on the lawn outside of James Branch Cabell Library early Monday morning. The protest was relatively small at first, primarily consisting of a handful of students sitting on the lawn and making signs. The Students for Justice in Palestine group published an Instagram post in the late afternoon calling for students to gather for a rally at 5 p.m.

By nighttime, state and local police swept through the camp, released pepper spray to control the crowd’s movement and removed all items from the lawn. 

VCU police issued a statement the next day that officers used pepper spray. Richmond police reported use of an OC fogger, or pepper spray. There were multiple reports as events unfolded that tear gas was used. 

Many students used masks or keffiyehs to cover their faces while others passed out water to anyone directly hit. Protesters also appeared to be hurling bottles and other objects at police.

“VCU respectfully and repeatedly provided opportunities for those individuals involved – many of whom were not students – to collect their belongings and leave,” VCU posted in a statement. “Those who did not leave were subject to arrest for trespassing.” 

Students chanted throughout, shouting phrases heard at many other protests across the country like, “Who do you protect, who do you serve?”

Michelle, a student at VCU who declined to give her last name, arrived at the protest shortly before the police arrived, having passed by the encampment all day and observing the students sitting in. 

“I will say not every single student here represents everyone else’s views, but we’re all here for the same purpose,” she said. “We all want a free Palestine and the police are agitating the students on purpose.”

A member of VCU’s NAACP chapter, who declined to give their full name, was at the protest from start to finish. 

“I’m here for Black Palestine solidarity, and I’m in support of all these people,” they said. “My experience here was great until the police arrived, and then it turned into less of a peaceful protest because they are pushing us back.” 

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin said Sunday in an interview with CNN that he is in full support of “peaceful protests” but that Virginia will not have “encampments or tents put up.” There were papers strewn about the lawn, including multiple with Youngkin’s face on it that read: “War profiteers stay off our campus.”

Youngkin is set to speak at VCU’s commencement ceremony in May. 

VCU initiated a temporary lockdown as the protest ensued, locking students inside the library and forcing the protesters to stay out. As the lockdown was slowly lifted around 10 p.m., protest organizers urged everyone to leave – for now.

“We have to remember why we came here in the first place–in solidarity with the Palestinian people,” Sereen Haddad, a protest organizer, said to the crowd. “If you would like to continue that and continue the reason that you came here in the first place, you need to leave now and we will rebuild in the morning.”

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