Police allegedly use rubber bullets and teargas at university protest in Georgia

<span>Police detain a demonstrator during a protest against the war in Gaza at Emory University in Georgia on Thursday.</span><span>Photograph: Elijah Nouvelage/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Police detain a demonstrator during a protest against the war in Gaza at Emory University in Georgia on Thursday.Photograph: Elijah Nouvelage/AFP/Getty Images

Police have carried out multiple violent arrests at Emory University in Decatur, Georgia, in what appears to be the first campus crackdown in recent days to involve rubber bullets and teargas after students set up an encampment in solidarity with Palestine and against Cop City.

On Thursday, Emory students set up multiple tents on the campus’s lawns in protest against the university’s ties to Israel, as well Atlanta’s Cop City, a police and fire department training center that is being constructed on a 171-acre plot in a forest south-east of Atlanta.

Related: Student protesters are demanding universities divest from Israel. What does that mean?

In a statement released on Mondoweiss, student organizers wrote, “We are students across multiple Atlanta universities and community members organizing against Cop City and the genocide of Palestinians at the hands of US imperialism. We are demanding total institutional divestment from Israeli apartheid and Cop City at all Atlanta colleges and universities.”

The statement accused the university of being uniquely “complicit in genocide and police militarization” and said the protesters’ fight against Cop City “is interconnected with global movements against oppressive state practices, most notably the Palestinian struggle for liberation”.

Signs at the encampment read, “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” and “Divest from death”. Videos posted online showed students peacefully gathering around the encampment as a student organizer addressed the crowd.

“This is Emory University. Those greasing the gears of the war machine think that this predictable rhetoric will erode public support for bold actions at Emory. They are wrong,” the organizer said.

Other photos and videos showed Kate Rosenblatt, a religion and Jewish studies professor at Emory University, holding up a sign that read, “Hands off our students!”

Photos also appeared to show effigies of babies wrapped in white cloth and covered in fake blood, a common display seen at Palestinian solidarity protests to mourn the more than 13,000 children who have been killed by Israeli forces in Gaza in the last six months. Since Hamas’s 7 October attack on Israel which killed more than 1,100 Israelis, Israel’s military counteroffensive has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, displacing 2 million more and precipitating famine conditions.

Following the set-up of the encampments, multiple Emory and Atlanta police officers, as well as Georgia state patrol officers, arrived on campus, with videos showing the officers forcefully arresting people. One video appeared to show multiple officers holding down a restrained person as they tased the person. Another video showed an officer arresting Noelle McAfee, chair of the university’s philosophy department.

The university’s student-run newspaper, Emory Wheel, reported that officers deployed gas into the crowd. The Atlanta Community Press Collective, a local independent outlet, also reported use of teargas on the crowds, in addition to stun guns and rubber bullets being deployed against the protesters.

In a video posted online, one person who identified themself as Bella said, “I’m a senior at Emory University. Today we were trying to build an encampment … We were out here chanting peacefully … All of a sudden a huge patrol of police … basically swarmed the entire crowd.

“Students of color were significantly targeted throughout the process. There were Black students that were being tased, there were Black students that were being teargassed. I got teargassed as I was trying to leave the protest,” Bella added.

In a statement released on Thursday, the university said, “Several dozen protesters trespassed into Emory University’s campus early on Thursday morning and set up tents on the Quad. These individuals are not members of our community. They are activists attempting to disrupt our university as our students finish classes and prepare for finals. Emory does not tolerate vandalism or other criminal activity on campus. The Emory police department ordered the group to leave and contacted Atlanta Police and Georgia State Patrol for assistance.”

A student organizer who spoke to the Guardian anonymously said that several students were among those arrested, including some from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). In the Guardian’s reporting, two students at Morehouse College were found to have also been arrested on Thursday.

By 1.30pm, a gathering of at least 150 students and faculty assembled at Convocation Hall and, according to Atlanta police radio calls, Emory’s president, Greg Fenves, was evacuated by car from campus at around the same time, according to the Atlanta Community Press Collective.

As the crackdowns continued in the south, Princeton University students in New Jersey set up their own Gaza solidarity encampment on Thursday morning at 7am local time. Two students were arrested and barred from campus. It is unclear when they will be able to return.

The tents have been removed per the university’s policy which bans “outdoor encampments”, but people were still sitting together on blankets and mats on the campus’s lawn near Princeton’s McCosh courtyard.

Some classes, like Professor Max Weiss’s last lecture of the semester, were held at the encampment protest.

“Students might not know, class is here today,” one protester chanted.

Just after noon, Muslim students in the encampment gathered for the afternoon prayer. Other student protesters shielded them with their bodies and keffiyehs to give them privacy and protect them from being photographed by the press.

Yesterday, W Rochelle Calhoun, Princeton’s vice-president of campus affairs sent a warning to any students planning on defying warnings on camping, occupation or “unlawful disruptive conduct” that they faced arrest and being barred from campus.

Elsewhere on Thursday, a new protest camp sprang up at the University of California, Los Angeles, with local news reports saying dozens of tents were erected on Thursday morning. Also in Los Angeles, officials at the University of Southern California canceled its main graduation ceremony, citing fears that the protests on campus could disrupt plans.

At Indiana University Bloomington, a tent encampment popped up before police with shields and batons shoved into a line of protesters, arresting 33 people.

And the City College of New York, hundreds of students who were gathered on the lawn beneath the Harlem campus’s famed gothic buildings erupted in cheers after a small contingent of police officers retreated from the scene. In one corner of the quad, a “security training” was held among students who said they expected to be arrested in the coming hours.

Late on Thursday Columbia University backed off from an overnight deadline for pro-Palestinian protesters to abandon an encampment there. The office of New York-based Columbia University president Minouche Shafik issued a statement at 11.07 pm (0307 GMT Friday) retreating from a midnight deadline to dismantle a large tent camp with around 200 students.