OPINION: Chalk this up: Emory and other college protests help Trump

Police arrest Emory economics professor Caroline Fohlin during a rally in which Pro-Palestinian protestors set up an encampment at the Emory Campus in Atlanta on Thursday, April 25, 2024. (Arvin Temkar / AJC)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Police arrest Emory economics professor Caroline Fohlin during a rally in which Pro-Palestinian protestors set up an encampment at the Emory Campus in Atlanta on Thursday, April 25, 2024. (Arvin Temkar / AJC)

There was anger and disappointment in the crowd at Emory University, from both students and faculty, this week. There was antipathy directed at university President Gregory Fenves for calling the cops on protestors last week. And for initially saying the pro-Palestinian protesters at the campus were outsiders when, in reality, they were largely Emory’s own.

There are calls for him to resign and also a vote of no-confidence.

The arrival of police last Thursday to Emory’s quad created quite the commotion. Protesters and even some bystanders got tossed about and manhandled. Rounds of pepper balls were deployed to spice up an already chaotic situation. One person was tased.

The first of the two events I attended Monday at Emory was at Asbury Circle, the university’s gathering area. It was the same place, fittingly enough, where I spoke with students in 2016 after the infamous Trump Chalking Incident.

A serial chalker in support of Donald Trump put Emory University in the news. A Trump opponent apparently added “STOP” in front of “TRUMP 2016.” And, yes, the first word in the chalk message is misspelled. Photo by AJC’s Bill Torpy

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In March of that year, someone went around campus overnight and wrote “Trump 2016″ and other slogans about the then-GOP presidential challenger.

Back then, the mood was not only anger, but fear. Students felt intimidated and micro-aggressed. Some felt unsafe. Yes, that’s right. From chalk.

It almost seems quaint now, seeing how message delivery has gone from midnight chalking to spray-painting historic marble buildings.

As I walked over to Emory’s quad, a workman painted over some of the weekend’s graffiti on Convocation Hall. He said he’d return later to sand the paint off the marble. “Death 2 Israel,” was one of the messages. “Free Palestine” was across the quad on the Michael C. Carlos Museum.

The current question causing rage and angst on campuses is, of course, Israel’s one-sided offensive into Gaza following the murderous slaughter committed by Hamas on Oct. 7. The former is oft-mentioned. The latter? Not so much.

Protesters this week called for Emory to divest from Israel, railed about the “genocide” of Palestinians, and chanted the almost mandatory, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

While walking to the rally, I ran into Eytan Davidson, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, who was monitoring the protests.

The chant, he noted, “Is a call to wipe Israel off the map. It’s concerning that even after explaining to people what it means, they keep doing it.”

Pro-Palestine protestors set up tents in the evening at Emory’s campus in Atlanta on Thursday, April 25, 2024, before eventually retreating. (Arvin Temkar / AJC)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Colleges across the U.S., and now even France, are witnessing increasingly shrill student protests, headlined by Columbia University in New York. There, scores of tents were pitched in the center of campus protesters called the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” and a group took over a building. Police finally cleared it Tuesday night.

So, last week, when protesters at Emory tried to copy that tactic, the school’s president determined it would be less painless to stop the effort early on rather than after tent stakes were firmly in the ground. Emory, a school that is largely far-left, determined it was not going to be that far-left.

Administrators are generally supportive of protest — that is, until the kids bring their sleeping bags with them.

Also, Fenves was no doubt spooked by the presence of opponents of the Atlanta public safety training center setting up on campus. A faction of the group has claimed credit for setting construction equipment and police vehicles on fire, and protesters have camped in the woods near the training center site.

Police arriving at Emory last week — Emory and Atlanta cops, as well as Georgia State Patrol — found a largely peaceful but boisterous bunch intent on not leaving as ordered.

Force, meet movable object.

Police arrest Pro-Palestinian protestors who set up an encampment at the Emory Campus in Atlanta on Thursday, April 25, 2024. (Arvin Temkar/Atlanta Journal Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

The protesters locked arms, making them hard to extricate. Placing an unwilling person into custody often makes for ugly video and today everyone is an instant videographer.

Beefy cops yanked and slammed scrawny students to the ground. Two middle-aged women professors were arrested after coming across the scene and telling police they were going overboard.

One professor, Noelle McAfee, the philosophy department chair, did not back up when ordered. “Please tell the philosophy department that I’ve been arrested,” she told an onlooker as she was hauled off in cuffs.

Economics prof Caroline Fohlin was aghast that a protester was getting squished by four officers, face on pavement, with one pushing down on his neck. She bent down to urge them to back off and apparently tapped one on the back to get his attention. Wrong move. Cops don’t like interference when making an arrest.

An Emory police sergeant immediately grabbed Fohlin and ordered her to the ground. She hesitated and soon had her own face on the pavement, as she bewilderedly cried, “I’m an Emory professor!”

It definitely seemed like an example of too much force for that situation.

John Lewis was booked in 1961 in Jackson, Miss. during the Freedom Rides for using a "white" restroom. He was arrested 45 times over his lifetime. (Jackson Police Department)

Credit: Jackson Police Department

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Credit: Jackson Police Department

On the other hand, a protestor was seen on video clearly spitting in the face of an officer before being led away.

Note to protesters: Part of protesting is being willing to get arrested for your beliefs. It’s almost a badge of honor. See the civil rights protesters of yore. There was a dignity to it and it built public support and even grudging respect from the other side.

The continued unrest, and the left’s increasing antagonism towards President Joe Biden, may very well make Trump 2024 a winning ticket.

Chalk that into your sidewalk!