Progress Virginia Condemns Violent Crackdown on Peaceful Campus Protests

Richmond, Virginia—Progress Virginia stands in solidarity with the protesters at Virginia Tech, University of Mary Washington, and Virginia Commonwealth University who were arrested, tear-gassed and threatened by armed law enforcement officers for engaging in their Constitutional rights of free speech and free assembly. Virginia student protesters are part of a greater national movement calling for an end to the war in Gaza, liberation for the Palestinian people, and divestment from and sanctions on the Israeli government until it ends the current apartheid state. 

On Monday night, 82 students were physically removed from campus and arrested at Virginia TechMore than 80 students were arrested at Virginia Commonwealth University, and hundreds more peaceful student protesters were tear gassed and intimidated by armed officers in riot gear. Additionally, nine students were arrested over the weekend at the University of Mary Washington. Republican officials, including Governor Youngkin and Lieutenant Governor Earle-Sears, used campus anti-Semitism as a partial pretext for the violent breakup of the protests. 

While Progress Virginia condemns anti-Semitism in the strongest possible terms and supports the call to protect Jewish students, Governor Youngkin and his party have never demonstrated that they understand the difference between Jewish people and the government of Israel, as evinced by the many Jewish student leaders who are currently rallying for Palestinian liberation. 

“It is telling that the same Republicans who claim to care about free speech on campuses have no problem using armed law enforcement to shut down free speech that they don’t like,” said LaTwyla Mathias, Executive Director of Progress Virginia. “Students in our community are bravely standing up to protest a humanitarian emergency in Gaza, and their rights to speech and assembly are protected by the US Constitution, whether or not Governor Youngkin believes that their protests are sufficiently polite. Governor Youngkin spoke to the press about protecting the First Amendment, then hypocritically allowed peaceful encampments to be shut down by armed agents of the state just a few hours after making those claims. We call on him to support the US Constitution according to the oath he took. We also call on university administrations to stop their attempt to quash student protests immediately. Our colleges and universities are not in the business of teaching young adults to be docile and not make waves. These students are doing precisely what the universities have trained them to do: being passionate, courageous, active citizens who ask questions and who use their education to speak out against injustice. We stand with them.”