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Virginia Tech protesters vow to stay, insist pro-Palestinian rally ‘peaceful’ after 82 arrests

Unorganized protest continues on campus, demands divestment

A new, smaller and less organized pro-Palestinian encampment remained at Virginia Tech on Monday afternoon — hours after police arrested 82 students and faculty members and disbursed demonstrators.

Students in the makeshift camp with Palestinian flags and signs told The College Fix their protests have been peaceful.

Three students said they stayed the night across from the lawn after the arrests to keep the spirit of the camp alive. Others joined their protest later Monday. Students said their small group has no affiliation with any established pro-Palestinian campus organizations. None were willing to share their full names.

They described to The Fix what happened previously, saying that on Friday, about 40 students from various pro-Palestinian campus groups came together and started an encampment on the Graduate Life Center lawn, calling for Virginia Tech’s divestment from the Israel-Hamas war and a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

The students stayed all weekend, and their demonstrations began gaining energy on Sunday night. Around 9 p.m., the Virginia Tech Police Department used their vehicles and caution tape to establish a perimeter around the lawn, separating the encampment from the growing crowd gathering outside of it.

Zander, one of the three Virginia Tech students to sleep across from the lawn on Sunday night, said he arrived at the same time the police began to block people off. He described seeing the police for the first time that night, and guessed what their intentions were.

“A bunch of cops start getting out and they all have zipties and it’s clear they’re gonna start trying to make arrests. And then from that point on for the rest of the night they slowly started picking people off one-by-one,” Zander said.

Arrested students were packed into white windowless vans, some detailed with Virginia Tech’s logo, others unmarked. Some yelled and chanted at the officers as they arrested their classmates — but kept to their goal of a nonviolent protest, the students told The Fix.

Another student, Ayah, said the demonstrators were expecting to be met with police force and even thought they might get tear gassed when VTPD officers started putting on protective goggles late in the night. She said police were probably unsure of how to handle a crowd of such a huge size despite the peaceful nature of the protest.

“We were fully prepared to have endured that kind of thing, but it wouldn’t have been because of one of us,” Ayah said. “None of us would’ve incited anything that would’ve caused them to tear gas us. It’s just that there was so many of us, they didn’t know how to deal with it.”

Kenzie, who slept on the lawn Monday after the arrests, stressed that everything the students did Sunday night was peaceful.

“The height of people being here was about 1 a.m. and it was at least- easily over 1,000 people. People were packed in,” Kenzie told The Fix. “I want to make it extremely clear — that is all we were doing. Nobody else did anything that would’ve been considered riot behavior, like we all just stood there.”

The Virginia State Police were called to the school after 1 a.m., but the majority of the arrests had already taken place by then, the students said. Most protesters were dispersed early Monday morning, but the movement’s drive continued as three lone students slept on the grass and revamped the weekend’s torn-down encampment later that day.

The new encampment remained under near-constant VTPD surveillance, with a police vehicle watching while The Fix visited.

In a statement Monday, university President Tim Sands said he was “saddened by the way our officers were treated” during the Sunday protest.

“I am also deeply disappointed to see members of our community choose uncivil and unlawful behavior over purposeful engagement in difficult conversations and robust debate that should be part of the Virginia Tech experience,” Sands said.

Meanwhile, the student protesters told The Fix they have no plans to leave their encampment as music from guitars and drums rang out from the group, surrounded by the camp’s two Palestine flags and one poster: “From the sea to the river, Palestine will live forever!”

MORE: Officers conduct mass arrests at UT-Austin pro-Palestinian protest — again

IMAGES: Andi Shae Napier, Anela Picotte

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Andi Shae Napier is a student at Liberty University where she is studying journalism and digital media. She also writes news and feature stories for the Liberty Champion.