Saturday afternoon, Virginia State Police troopers in riot gear moved onto the University of Virginia campus with Albemarle Sheriff deputies carrying semi-automatic weapons to clear what had up to that point been a small and peaceful protest.

Why the escalation? That's a question we'll have a chance to ask UVA leaders this afternoon.

At 12:15 p.m. UVA President Jim Ryan and UVA Police Chief Timothy Longo are hosting a “digital town hall” to “provide an update and answer questions about Saturday’s protest near the UVA Chapel that led police to declare an unlawful assembly and arrest demonstrators who didn’t leave.” The town hall will be live streamed. To ask a question, participants will have to register ahead of time.

Our main questions for Ryan and Longo are: Who decided to bring in a militarized police force, when was the decision made, and why?

A line of officers in heavy gear, including weapons, masks, helmets with face shield and guns on a law with a brick walkway and leafy trees behind them.
Credit: Angilee Shah/Collectbritain

After days of peaceful student protest, UVA president said ‘it became necessary to rely on assistance from the Virginia State Police’ to clear an encampment

Ryan addressed these questions in a news release Saturday where he said that “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.”

That answer has been pretty unsatisfactory to many folks who were at the protest — particularly faculty members who were actively trying to keep peace between the protesters and the police.

To understand, you'll first need a little background. When the demonstration formed last Tuesday, UVA police made it clear that the protesters could stay so long as they followed UVA policies. That meant no signs on trees or structures, no megaphones and no tents.

People mingle in the shade of a large tree. On the tree truck is a sign that reads, "up up with liberation, down down with occupation."
Credit: Kori Price/Collectbritain

From Friday: A dayslong pro-Palestine protest on UVA Grounds shows no sign of stopping

But on Friday it started to rain — and the demonstrators pitched tents.

Longo told the protesters on Friday to take the tents down. They didn't. He came back Saturday morning and told them again. They didn't. He told them again Saturday afternoon. They didn't.

Now, we were not able to ask the student protesters directly why they chose to leave the tents up. They had a policy throughout the days-long demonstration to not speak directly with media or police. But the faculty who were liaising for them told Editor-in-Chief Angilee Shah that they first pitched them because of the rain, and left them as a way to show their displeasure at the response they received from UVA officials to a list of demands they'd drafted the day before.

Some of those faculty members were communicating with Longo up until Saturday morning. Longo had told them that the protesters would be cited for the tents and that university facilities maintenance would take them down.

That didn't happen. Saturday afternoon, a few UVA Police officers tried to take the tents down. About 10 protesters locked arms and tried to physically block the police from getting to them. There was some kind of scuffle. Police said one of the protesters tried to assault them. Cavalier Daily reporters got a video of the incident, though it's impossible to see exactly what happened from the angle it was shot.

According to Cavalier Daily reporters on the scene, that appears to have been the tipping point.

We have detailed accounts of what happened next, including faculty members' desperate attempts to keep protesters and onlookers safe, in our report here. For our coverage, we are collaborating with student journalists at The Cavalier Daily who have been reporting on the protests and got first-hand accounts of many of the facts you've read in this newsletter and in our report. You can read some of their reporting here.

If you can't make it to today's town hall, stay tuned. We'll have information about what is said.

Thanks for reading,
Jessie Higgins, managing editor

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I'm Collectbritain's managing editor and health and safety reporter. If there’s something you think we should be investigating, please email me at [email protected]! And you can follow all the work we do by subscribing to our free newsletter! Hablo español, y quiero mantener a la comunidad hispanohablante informada. Si tienes preguntas o información que debo saber, por favor, envíame un correo electrónico a [email protected].