U.Va. Faces Test Responding to Pro-Hamas Riots, Anti-Semitism after 2017 Spotlight


() While many other schools have seen the limits of free speech tested by leftist pro-Hamas encampments—in which students have vandalized property, disrupted learning and terrorized Jewish classmates—few have faced the same political pressures as the University of Virginia, where any missteps threatened to fuel accusations of a blatant double standard, drawing the wrath of former President Donald Trump and others.

U.Va. President Jim Ryan, a former Harvard dean and Barack Obama acolyte who arrived in Charlottesville shortly after the 2017 violence that left a local activist dead, used the episode as his basis for implementing a woke agenda that has informed countless policy decisions, touting the need to make the university not only great but “good.”

Under Ryan’s watch, for instance, the school founded by former President Thomas Jefferson recently went viral after its staggering investment in diversity, equity and inclusion was exposed.

Meanwhile, the once famous beacon of free speech has become a shameful trailblazer in politically-correct revisionism—undertaking blue-ribbon studies to change everything from the hilt on its iconic saber logo to its library name in the interest of cultural sensitivity.

With this as its backdrop, Ryan and other university officials were forced awkwardly to explain their decision to call in Virginia State Police to shut down protesters on Saturday, leading to the arrest of 27 individuals, only 12 of whom were students.

“Saturday was a terrible and terribly sad and upsetting day,” Ryan said in a virtual town hall Tuesday.

“It was traumatic, I know, for everyone involved, and it was far from the resolution I or any of my colleagues had hoped for,” he continued. “In fact, it was a situation we had been working hard all year to avoid.”

Ryan explained that administrators had not wanted to involve state police, but it seemed to them to be the safest choice for everyone at the time.

“That was a very hard decision. But we felt like we didn’t have a safer option at that point, given the circumstances of an ever-growing crowd and defiant protesters, who were continually calling for others to join them,” Ryan said.

Meanwhile, the fear of a double-standard undoubtedly was very much on his mind, although Ryan attempted to scapegoat the 2017 event by suggesting that the school’s underreaction to it made officials reluctant to come down too harshly under the present circumstances.

Charlottesville District Attorney Jim Hingeley has attempted to prosecute about two dozen of the far-right activists who peacefully marched up to U.Va.’s Rotunda on Aug. 11, 2017, some wielding tiki torches. In its aftermath, the school declared it would begin to require permits on public demonstrations and use of its grounds.

President Joe Biden has frequently exagerrated the scene—as have other Democrats, painting it as a horrific hellscape—and the serial fabulist-in-chief often cites Charlottesville as his reason for pursuing the presidency, even though he had already considered doing so in 2015.

Yet, one common thread that the 2017 “white supremacist” demonstration had with the present Palestinian ones was the overtly anti-Semitic rhetoric, which has made for an uncomfortable parallel after the Left spent so long condemning the former and accusing Trump of fomenting a culture of hate.

U.Va.’s Hamas protests began on Tuesday, April 30. Ryan maintained that things remained peaceful and protesters “largely complied” with university policies until Saturday. However, the week was not without incident. 

Students initially attempted to erect tents and later, to smuggle in construction materials “hidden under a tarp”—as has been done at other universities—to create a barricade around the encampment, they ultimately deferred to authorities when challenged in both instances.

When it started raining on Friday, demonstrators began to put up tents despite pleas from administrators not to and requests that they resume in the morning. 

“Kenyon Bonner [vice president for student affairs] told them himself that he would be happy to stay there all night,” Ryan said. “They could go home, get dry and come back in the morning and their site would still be there.”

Others showed up on Friday evening, drawing suspicion from law enforcement.

“Four men dressed in black, carrying large backpacks and wearing helmets entered and remained in the encampment,” Ryan said. “At least two of these were known to law enforcement as participating in violent acts elsewhere in the commonwealth.”

Saturday morning, administrators insisted the tents come down, but the protesters refused, according to Ryan.

After repeated warnings—including assurances that they could continue the demonstration as long as they took the tents down—University Police Chief Tim Longo approached the group to start dismantling tents but didn’t get very far.

“The group clustered tightly around the space that I was approaching, and my immediate fear was that they would encircle myself, the assistant chief and my student affairs colleagues—and so I stepped back,” Longo said.

The protesters told Longo they had “a duty to fight for their cause,” “a duty to win” and “nothing to lose.”

“Their actions and words caused me to conclude that voluntary compliance with my requests wasn’t an option they’d be willing to consider.”

Multiple times, university police ordered that demonstrators disperse, and after several such announcements, attempted arrests. But protesters resisted arrest, locking arms and fending off officers with objects on hand, according to Longo.

“The operations commander, a captain at the scene, determined that because our officers were in a standard uniform and absent any protective gear, the risk of injury was likely to the officers and others present,” Longo continued. 

It was at that point they determined to involve the Virginia State Police to put an end to the demonstration.

The state police declared an unlawful assembly and a no-trespass directive was given “seven separate and distinct times,” according to Longo, before the police began making arrests. 

Using their shields and pepper spray, police cleared the area within about 15 minutes. Longo underscored that no one reported any serious injury following the event.

“There were no serious physical injuries to any of those persons taken into custody that were either visible or reported to police or medical personnel,” Longo said. “Persons that were impacted by pepper spray … were treated by medical staff on the scene.”

On Sunday, more than 30 of the university’s history professors signed an open letter condemning the response to the protest, and reporters and others continue to excoriate the school for its handling of the situation.

Ryan also addressed the looming question of graduation and said the school plans to carry on with regular business in that regard.

“We are moving forward as planned and will do everything in our power to make sure graduation activities happen and happen safely.”

Headline USA’s Ben Sellers contributed to this report.


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