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Police forcefully clear encampment near University Chapel, detain protesters

State Police used chemical irritants while clearing the encampment, which was formed Tuesday

<p>Virginia State Police in riot gear advanced on the encampment, using chemical irritants and detaining several protestors.</p>

Virginia State Police in riot gear advanced on the encampment, using chemical irritants and detaining several protestors.

Over 50 police officers, including state troopers in riot gear, cleared the pro-Palestinian encampment near the University chapel Saturday afternoon and detained at least 25 protesters. The removal of the encampment marked the end of a days-long protest that called on the University to disclose its investment portfolio and divest from institutions benefiting from Israeli occupation in Palestine, among other demands.

Protesters — who included students, faculty and Charlottesville community members — first formed the “Liberated Zone 4 Gaza” encampment early Tuesday evening. While protesters largely abided by the University’s policies limiting the use of megaphones and signage on trees, some began putting up tents Friday evening. Timothy Longo, chief of the University Police Department and vice president for security and safety, told faculty liaisons — faculty members present at the encampment to correspond with administration and law enforcement — Friday evening that the tents were a violation of University policy. 

According to University Spokesperson Bethanie Glover, protestors violated two University policies relating to tents, SEC-013 and SEC-030, and they also violated SEC-041, which prohibits amplified sound, including megaphones, which the people in the encampment began to use Friday evening.

Faculty liaisons, however, told Longo that Environmental Health and Safety documents provided exemptions for recreational tents, though the document was found on Saturday morning to have been updated to remove the exemption.

Members of the encampment left a list on the doors of the Rotunda Thursday night, which demanded that the University disclose its investments, divest from companies that support or profit from Israel’s “occupation of Palestine,” withdraw from any academic relations with Israeli institutions and protect faculty, staff and students protesting in support of Palestine. The group also demanded a response from the University by noon Friday. 

The University response, signed by Kenyon Bonner, vice president and chief student affairs officer, was delivered at 4 p.m., and only committed to the fourth demand to protect students, faculty and staff expressing pro-Palestine sentiments from administrative discipline. Bonner said, however, that this protection could only be extended “within the limits of laws and policies [the University] has in place.”

Longo issued several ultimatums regarding violations of University policy Friday evening which members of the encampment ignored. He told faculty liaisons on multiple occasions that if the protestors did not remove their own tents, Facilities Management would do so, and that resistance to those efforts could lead to arrest. After over an hour of correspondence with faculty liaisons and representatives from Student Affairs, Longo left for the evening. 

Longo returned Saturday at around 8 a.m. and delivered the same ultimatum via megaphone to the encampment — if tents were not disassembled in 15 minutes, Facilities Management would come in and do so. He left over an hour later after protestors did not respond to his demands. Police arrived at the scene around 11:30 a.m. and formed a perimeter around the encampment. Another ultimatum was delivered by an officer, by which point a crowd of onlookers, supporters and some counter protestors began to form. 

When some University Police officers attempted to disassemble a tent shortly before noon, they were met with resistance, and one person — who allegedly attempted to assault an officer — was detained. A standoff between protestors and police officers in riot gear ensued. This standoff lasted multiple hours, during which time different onlookers chanted in support of and in opposition to the protestors. Over 10 people ran past the police’s perimeter to join the protestors at the encampment — making the ratio of protesters in the encampment to police officers in riot gear close to even. 

A final ultimatum was given by an officer at around 2:30 p.m. — this warning told protestors to clear the encampment or be arrested for unlawful assembly. The University declared the encampment an unlawful assembly at 2:44 p.m. Shortly afterwards, Virginia State Police in riot gear advanced on the encampment, using chemical irritants and detaining several protestors. 

In videos filmed by The Cavalier Daily, police can be seen pushing protestors onto the ground and dragging them away from the encampment. Other videos show protestors having their eyes flushed with bottled water after being sprayed in the eyes with pepper spray by police. 

After several coordinated advances by officers in riot gear to clear the encampment and corral protesters, the police perimeter — which separated the protesters in the encampment from onlookers which had gathered in the vicinity — became less clear, heightening tensions between police and individuals not affiliated with the encampment. 

Police pushed protestors and onlookers all the way to University Avenue, which had been closed to traffic. At that point, the crowd dispersed, and the situation was labeled stable at 4:05 p.m., though police remained present on the scene.

University President Jim Ryan released a statement on the clearing of the encampment to the University community at 6:18 p.m. In the statement, he said that the protesters had behaved peacefully and abided by University policies until last evening, when they began to refuse to comply with University policy.

“I sincerely wish it were otherwise,” Ryan stated, “but this repeated and intentional refusal to comply with reasonable rules intended to secure the safety, operations, and rights of the entire University community left us with no other choice than to uphold the neutral application and enforcement of those rules.”


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