Police confront Israel-Hamas war demonstrators at Emory University

Hundreds of protesters arrested in ongoing demonstrations at college campuses across the U.S.
Pro-Palestinian protesters rally at the Emory campus on Atlanta on Thursday, April 25, 2024. (Arvin Temkar / AJC)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Pro-Palestinian protesters rally at the Emory campus on Atlanta on Thursday, April 25, 2024. (Arvin Temkar / AJC)

Several people were detained by police Thursday after setting up an encampment at Emory University to protest the Israel-Hamas war, echoing recent conflict at college campuses across the U.S.

Students, faculty and other protesters said they were prepared to camp out in the center of campus until the university cut ties with companies that advance Israel’s military efforts in Gaza and groups that fund the construction of a new police training facility in DeKalb County.

But within a few hours, campus police had called in reinforcements from the Atlanta Police Department and the Georgia State Patrol.

The university did not say how many people were taken into custody or if any charges were filed by the time of publication. Earlier in the day, Emory police Commander Thomas Manns told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that those taken into custody could face charges including criminal trespassing and assaulting police officers.

Witnesses and attendees said the protest was peaceful until police intervened. Atlanta police said in a statement that officers were met with violence when they tried to secure the campus. Videos of the interactions posted to social media showed Atlanta police officers carrying rifles and zip ties walking through the encampment. Atlanta police used chemical irritants to disperse the crowd, but did not deploy rubber bullets, they said.

Tara Doyle, a lecturer at Emory’s Candler School of Theology, said the use of force was unnecessary.

“I am so disappointed in this university,” she told the AJC. “It was … heavy-handed, unnecessary violence against our students.”

More than 100 Columbia University students were arrested last week by New York City police officers in riot gear after setting up an encampment at that school. This week, a similar scene is playing out all over the country: Encampments go up, and law enforcement goes in.

At New York University, 133 protesters were taken into custody. At Yale University, more than 40 protesters were arrested. At Emerson College in Boston, 108 people were arrested and four police officers suffered injuries that were not life-threatening, police said. And Los Angeles police arrested 93 people on trespassing charges at the University of Southern California, which canceled its main stage graduation ceremony.

The protesters who set up the encampment at the Atlanta campus were “largely not affiliated with Emory,” said University President Gregory Fenves in an email to the school community. He said the individuals were trespassing, and law enforcement cleared the area when they refused to leave.

“This is completely unacceptable,” he wrote.

Emory student Bella Montealegre came to support the demonstration and witnessed the arrests. She said officers used more force than necessary.

”We have the right to be upset at the police for coming into our space when we’re doing something peaceful,” she said. “This is our campus. We literally pay for it. We’re the ones who fund all this and we should have a say.”

Laura Diamond, a university spokesperson, said members of the Emory community weren’t recognized as part of the initial group of protesters, but joined in later.

State officials were weighing in by Thursday afternoon. Gov. Brian Kemp said college campuses “will never be a safe haven for those who promote terrorism and extremism that threatens the safety of students.” Lt. Gov. Burt Jones decried “pro-terrorist radicals and liberal anarchists” at Georgia campuses. And Attorney General Chris Carr posted on social media that “nobody has the legal right to shut down our schools by camping out and making antisemitic threats.”

Conversely, a group of 11 Democrat state lawmakers condemned the “use of extreme anti-riot tactics” in a statement, and criticized state leaders for responding to peaceful protests with violence.

Emory has served as a center for debate in metro Atlanta since the onset of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7. The small private university has a large percentage of Jewish students, some of whom have said that rhetoric around the war has made them feel unsafe on campus this year. University leaders were already facing pressure to defuse tensions on campus.

The initial Hamas attack killed an estimated 1,200 Israelis and foreigners. More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed during the ensuing conflict, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. An estimated 1.7 million people have been displaced from Gaza.

The group at Emory gathered at 7:30 a.m. but dispersed by the afternoon. At its largest point, there were hundreds of people gathered at the Quadrangle at the center of campus.

Nearly 30 miles north, there was not a police officer in sight as about 150 pro-Palestinian demonstrators marched across Kennesaw State’s main campus. The students called for an end to Israel’s offensive in Gaza as a small contingent of pro-Israel counter-protesters stood nearby.

Ali Dabdoub, a Palestinian KSU student studying software engineering, said he was impressed by the turnout — not just at KSU, but at colleges across the U.S.

“I believe the world is waking up,” he said. “I know it’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of time.”