With the Tents Down, the Blowback Begins

by James A. Bacon

Following the decision to take down the tents in the UVA Solidarity Encampment for Gaza “liberated zone” at the University of Virginia Saturday, UVA President Jim Ryan is facing strong blowback from leftist elements in the UVA and Charlottesville communities.

Pro-Palestinian protesters had rebuked the administration’s orders to take down the tents and refrain from the use of loudspeakers in violation of University rules. After repeated warnings, the decision was made to send in Virginia State Troopers in riot gear Saturday to break up a tent encampment of anarchists and militants near the University Chapel, resulting in the arrest of 25.

The Jefferson Council contends that the takedown was fully justified. The issue was not the protesters’ right to free speech — they had been shouting and chanting their pro-Palestinian views for almost a week — but their refusal to abide by the rules regarding time, place and manner of protests that everyone else is expected to obey.

“The Jefferson Council applauds the actions of Chief Timothy Longo and the University Police as well as the Virginia State Police in ending the encampment on the Grounds,” said Jefferson Council President Tom Neale. “We support free speech and the pro-Palestinian protestors’ right to express their opinions. However, they cannot violate University regulations, which they clearly did when Chief Longo told them to take down the tent encampments and they refused. It is good to know that the University of Virginia set boundaries and enforced them, unlike other universities and states.”

But many others disagreed.

“With shock and dismay, we condemn the repression of a peaceful protest of our students by armed state police in riot gear,” stated an open letter signed by about 45 professors in the UVA History Department.

Many, including the history professors, repeated the protesters’ over-wrought rhetoric comparing the arrests — in which no serious injuries were reported — to the deadly shootings at Kent State.

As historians, we are acutely aware that this police action fell on the anniversary of the murder of four student protesters at Kent State University on May 4, 1970. History has not judged those who ordered the violent repression of that protest kindly. History will also judge the University of Virginia’s actions on May 4, 2024, and we have no doubt that history will also condemn the disproportionate, draconian and excessive use of force against nonviolent protesters exercising their free speech rights on an academic campus founded by the author of the Declaration of Independence.

Protesters and sympathizers also compared the police action in taking down the tents to police inaction in dealing with the unsanctioned tiki-torch march of White Supremacists on UVA grounds.

Several UVA student groups have issued denunciations on their social media accounts.

Additionally, religion professor Oludamini Ogunnaike has resigned from the Religion, Diversity & Belonging Task Force set up last year to ease tensions between Muslims and Jews on campus.

Said Ogunnaike: “How could I recommend ways to make Muslim and Jewish students, faculty, and staff feel more welcome on grounds to an administration that sent riot police to point guns at, threaten, pepper spray, manhandle, arrest, and ban from ground a small handful of Muslim, Jewish, and other students, faculty and staff — many of whom were not even part of the protest encampment? Nothing says “you are not welcome here” quite like violent arrest at gunpoint, an evening in the cells of the Albemarle Regional County Jail, and charges of trespassing on your own campus.”

Sounding a theme in Oggunaike’s resignation letter — “neither President Ryan nor [Provost] Dean Baucom was present to witness the horrible effects of their decision to deploy violent and massive police force — The Daily Progress made an issue of Ryan’s apparent detachment as the confrontation unfolded.

“Ryan had been noticeably absent from the episode itself,” wrote reporter Jason Armesto. “For hours Saturday, while his students were being dragged off Grounds, while state police were turning on the gathering crowd witnessing and protesting the display of force, while members of the press were being pepper-sprayed, Ryan’s office was silent.”

Reynolds Hutchins, editor of the Charlottesville newspaper, raised the same issues as his reporter about Ryan’s invisibility. He contrasted Ryan’s lack of presence with that of former President Edgar Shannon who addressed protesters directly and listened to their demands during Vietnam War-era protests a half century ago.

Ryan offered the following defense of the police action:

Beginning Tuesday afternoon of this week, a small group, including members of our community, participated in a peaceful public demonstration near the UVA Chapel. Until last evening, they complied with requests to adhere to University policies, including a long-standing prohibition on erecting tents absent a permit. We also learned last evening, after the protesters had made a public call for others to join, that individuals unaffiliated with the University – who also presented some safety concerns – had joined them. Despite numerous requests to comply with multiple University policies, the protesters refused.

Early this morning, Chief of Police Tim Longo offered a final warning to the protesters, reminding them once again of their University policy violations and pleading for a peaceful resolution.  That request was ignored. We hoped and tried to handle this locally. But when UPD’s attempts to resolve the situation were met with physical confrontation and attempted assault, it became necessary to rely on assistance from the Virginia State Police. This afternoon, the police declared an unlawful assembly, issued no trespass orders to those who refused to disperse, and arrested those who continued to refuse dispersal.

Free speech, Ryan continued, is a “bedrock University value.”

That said, public universities like ours rely on time, place, and manner policies, which are a way of ensuring that speech is free but does not interfere with the rights of others.  These policies must be applied consistently without regard to the content of expression, whether the protest is peaceful, or whether we agree or disagree with the cause. The neutral and even-handed enforcement of these rules is the only way to ensure that all members of this community have an equal opportunity to participate in the life of the University.  We also have a duty to ensure the physical safety of our community.

Unfortunately, a small group today made a choice to willingly break the rules after being given many opportunities to comply, and they then refused to leave the site voluntarily. I sincerely wish it were otherwise, 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.

May 4 was a significant day in UVA’s history, and the university community is undoubtedly in store for recriminations and counter recriminations regarding Ryan’s role in closing the encampment. While the Jefferson Council approves without reservation the decision to take down the tents and arrest those who resisted, we believe it is too early to comment upon Ryan’s performance. We will wait for more facts to come in before passing judgment.

Meanwhile, we think it would be useful to provide context about the anarchists’ provocations and tactics, which we shall do in an upcoming post. We will also address the fatuous comparison of the police response to the “encampment for Gaza” with the police response to the 2017 White Supremacist tiki-torch march.

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Clarity77
Clarity77
11 days ago

It just demands reposting here as to a reminder as to viewing an example of how a real leader and a real President acts and speaks as the adult in the room when dealing with the silliness of the kids whether they be students or, even worse now as then, the real kid leaders in the faculty(in UVA’s case apparently concentrated in the history department).

https://twitter.com/CitizenFreePres/status/1784400619513549169

How can you blame the students when you have faculty who you would rightfully assume should know better entrusted with their education?

Is it not crystal clear that the real root of the problem is not the students but rather the Marxist professors?

When are American university administrators going to finally get it that when you hire Marxist idiot faculty this obviously stupid campus behavior is what predictably comes with their idiocy?

As UVA alumni don’t you just “love” the obvious virtue signaling by the Marxist history department faculty who denigrate Jefferson every day but when it comes to defending their “social justice warriors” they pompously invoke the following, “and we have no doubt that history will also condemn the disproportionate, draconian and excessive use of force against nonviolent protesters exercising their free speech rights on an academic campus founded by the author of the Declaration of Independence.”

And OMG! it was the anniversary of Kent State!!!

Just plain silly.

Clarity77
Clarity77
10 days ago

For an up to date clear, concise, reason-based truthful perspective on all this the following:

https://victorhanson.com/the-end-of-old-left-wing-mythologies/

Wahoo 76
Wahoo 76
10 days ago
Reply to  Clarity77

I love this guy!

Clarity77
Clarity77
10 days ago
Reply to  Wahoo 76

Would that we could have more like him on university faculties as our nation and academia as a brand would certainly be in a far better place than at present.