Emory president alleges ‘highly organized, outside protesters’ set up initial camp; philosophy professor detained in protests disputes that

The school acknowledged yesterday that 20 of 28 people arrested during the protests were “Emory community members.”

ATLANTA — Emory’s president, Greg Fenves, issued a letter to the school community Friday morning addressing the previous day’s protests that turned chaotic as a heavy police response cleared an encampment that was set up in the early morning.

Unrest persisted throughout the day as the protests again later mushroomed with a tense standoff between a crowd, many of them appearing to be young people, and police on campus.

In all, 28 people were arrested, including among them 20 people the school said were “Emory community members.” That acknowledgment came after the school maintained earlier in the day that the protesters were “not members of our community.”

Fenves, in his letter, said he was “saddened by what took place at Emory yesterday.” He also asserted that while there were arrests of members of the Emory community — “something that I take very seriously” — the initial encampment at the beginning of the day was the work of “highly organized, outside protesters” who came to campus in vans to “overtake the Quad just days after it was vandalized with hateful and threatening messages,” calling that “deeply disturbing.”

The chair of Emory’s Philosophy Department, Noëlle McAfee, disputed this. McAfee was detained Thursday while observing the protests and told 11Alive’s Brittany Kleinpeter she was there “standing up for students and their freedom of expression” and that there was an “issue of higher education administrators clamping down on free expression and delegitimizing any dissent.”

She also said she had spoken to students who were organizers of the protests, countering Fenves’ characterization.

One way the protests are often delegitimized, McAfee said, was to “say they were outside agitators — and that’s false.”

“There were perhaps some students here from other universities,” she said. “But the students I’ve spoken with who are organizing it are Emory students that I’ve known for year.”

Also early Thursday morning at roughly the same time it was set up an op-ed was published by two individuals in the outlet Mondoweiss identifying themselves as students at Atlanta universities and outlining reasons for the encampment and protest goals. That piece indicated student activists from around the city came together to organize the camp.

“We are occupying Emory, not because it is the only institution that is complicit in genocide and police militarization, but because its ties are some of the strongest,” the op-ed stated.

That op-ed also highlighted opposition to the future Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, which activists refer to derisively as “Cop City” among the reasons for the protest encampment, and social media accounts long associated with the movement against the training center were posting videos and pictures from Emory on Thursday.

“We are students across multiple Atlanta universities and community members organizing against Cop City and the genocide of Palestinians at the hands of U.S. imperialism,” the Mondoweiss op-ed stated. “We are demanding total institutional divestment from Israeli apartheid and Cop City at all Atlanta colleges and universities.”

There was no way to verify what proportion of both the first protest crowd, in the morning, and the larger, later one in the evening would have been Emory students, students from other Atlanta schools, “Cop City” activists or some combination thereof.

The Emory president said the school would “not tolerate vandalism, violence, or any attempt to disrupt our campus through the construction of encampments.”

“Yesterday’s events echo similar incidents that have taken place at universities nationwide. I understand that the ongoing effects of the war in Israel and Gaza, including the humanitarian crisis engulfing the Palestinian people and the hostage crisis involving Israeli civilians, continue to stir painful emotions. At the same time, the construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center engenders fierce debate across our city,” Fenves wrote. “As Emory community members continue to express themselves and protest, we are committed to working with students and faculty, open expression observers, and the EPD to facilitate their peaceful expression.”

Fenves also said that he was aware “some of the videos are shocking” of the arrests, and “I am horrified that members of our community had to experience and witness such interactions.”

“The fact that members of our community were arrested upsets me even more and is something that I take very seriously. To the best of our ability, we are working with law enforcement agencies to assist detained community members and expedite their release,” Fenves wrote.

Many of those arrested on Thursday were in DeKalb County court on Friday for first appearances after various charges associated with their arrests, which were largely misdemeanors.

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