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Atlanta Police Violently Arrest Emory Students & Faculty to Clear Gaza Solidarity Encampment

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As a wave of student protests against Israel’s war on Gaza continues to spread from coast to coast, schools and law enforcement have responded with increasing brutality to campus encampments. One of the most violent police crackdowns took place at Emory University in Atlanta on Thursday, when local and state police swept onto the campus just hours after students had set up tents on the quad in protest against Israel’s war on Gaza as well as the planned police training center known as Cop City. Police used tear gas and stun guns to break up the encampment as they wrestled people to the ground, and are accused of using rubber bullets. Among those arrested were a few faculty members. We hear from two of the arrested professors: Noëlle McAfee, chair of the philosophy department, and Emil’ Keme, professor of English and Indigenous studies. We also speak with Palestinian American organizer and medical student Umaymah Mohammad, who describes how Emory has repeatedly suppressed activism on campus since the start of the war in October, and says law enforcement in Georgia work closely with Israeli authorities as part of a police training exchange. “We no longer accept our tuition dollars and our tax money going to fund an active genocide,” she says.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: A wave of student protests against Israel’s war on Gaza continues to spread from coast to coast across U.S. campuses. From California to Connecticut, students have set up Gaza solidarity encampments to call for an end to the Israeli assault and for university divestment from Israel and the U.S. arms industry.

University administrators have responded by calling in law enforcement, forcibly removing encampments, arresting students and faculty and suspending students. More than 500 arrests have been made on campuses nationwide in just over a week.

One of the most violent police crackdowns took place at Emory University in Atlanta Thursday. Local and state police swept onto the campus just hours after students set up tents on the quad to protest Israel’s war on Gaza, as well as the planned Atlanta police training center known as Cop City. Police were accused of using tear gas, rubber bullets and stun guns to break up the encampment as they wrestled people to the ground. One video shows multiple officers restraining a protester as they apply and hold a Taser to his leg, as students around him yelled for them to stop.

In an email addressing the situation shortly afterwards, the president of Emory University wrote several dozen individuals, quote, “largely not affiliated with the university” entered the campus for the protest, disrupting the Emory community amidst final exams. The university later said 20 of the 28 people arrested had ties to the school. Among those arrested were a number of faculty members, including the chair of the philosophy department at Emory University, Noëlle McAfee. A bystander filmed her being led away in handcuffs.

BYSTANDER: I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do for you right now?

NOËLLE McAFEE: Yes. Can you call the philosophy department office and tell them I’ve been arrested?

BYSTANDER: Philosophy department?

NOËLLE McAFEE: Yes, call the philosophy department office.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Democracy Now! spoke to professor Noëlle McAfee after she was released from custody on Thursday. She described what happened.

NOËLLE McAFEE: I was on campus this morning early for a long day meeting. And I heard and I saw that there was an encampment, and I heard some peaceful chanting. I thought I would just go and see how it was going, and also was concerned because in the past Emory University has not just called out their own police to monitor things, but the Atlanta police. And a moment after I got there, I saw the troopers coming up. I’m not sure if they were the Georgia troopers or the Atlanta police, but they were coming up. The students were protesting with tents and all. And I was just wanting to watch.

And I wandered over, and I saw suddenly things took a turn, from — the students got up to start marching. And then — I couldn’t see exactly from where I was — they were just being attacked by the police, over just over a few seconds. The police were attacking. I could hear rubber bullets. Then I could — then I smelled or tasted the tear gas.

And then I saw in front of me a student on the ground with about three or four policemen pummeling the student, just pummeling and pummeling. And I tried to video it. I was standing there about three feet away from it. And it went on for like a minute or two. And then I screamed, “What are you doing?” And then they stopped pummeling the student, and a policeman stood in front of me and said, “You need to leave.” And I felt like the person who just needed to stay and witness what had just happened, and so I stood there, several feet away. And then he started dragging me off and putting my hands behind my back and took me in.

He took me around the side, and there were a lot of students being arrested and processed, and also some other faculty members, and we were put in a van. The president sent out an email to the community shortly thereafter saying that these were outside agitators. But I was in a group of about 20 to 25 Emory people who were being arrested. So, this was a peaceful protest that became chaotic at the moment the Emory police — I’m sorry, the Atlanta police arrived and became very hostile.

AMY GOODMAN: Arrested professor Noëlle McAfee, the chair of the philosophy department at Emory University.

Several Georgia legislators have criticized the police response at Emory yesterday. In a statement signed by at least 19 state Democratic lawmakers, they said they were, quote, “deeply alarmed by reports of excessive force,” writing, quote, “The use of extreme anti-riot tactics by Georgia State Patrol, including tasers and gas, is a dangerous escalation to protests which were by all accounts peaceful and nonviolent,” they wrote.

For more on the protest at Emory University, we go to Atlanta, where we’re joined by two guests. Emil’ Keme is a professor of English and Indigenous studies at Emory University. He was also arrested at the campus yesterday, jailed for four hours, charges with disorderly conduct. And we’re joined by Umaymah Mohammad, an MD/Ph.D. student, Palestinian American organizer at Emory, who took part in the protest.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Professor Emil’ Keme, you were arrested. Why were you out at the protest as the people started to begin the encampment? And explain what happened to you.

EMIL’ KEME: Yeah. Well, thank you. Thank you for the opportunity to be here.

Yeah, I was just going to work. I was going to my office to prepare my classes I was supposed to teach yesterday. And then I ran into some of my students who were participating in the protest, and I went up to say hi to them, and I also saw some of my colleagues. So I was talking to them, and then somebody had mentioned that the university had called the police. And pretty soon, they got there, and I literally felt that I was in a war zone, when I saw the police with all the gear.

And then, like, they immediately began to forcibly remove and destroy all the tents and forcibly remove students. I saw then that — I started feeling the tear gas. And I held arms with some people that — you know, we were being pushed back out of the encampment. And the student that I was holding arms with, she was then arrested. And then, the next thing I know, I was on the floor, you know, being forcibly on the floor, and I was being arrested. But yeah, it was like a horrible experience, very surreal and, yeah, unacceptable, really unacceptable. And it was just a horrible situation and a horrible experience.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor, the police are denying they used rubber bullets. What did you see?

EMIL’ KEME: So, I did see somebody being tased. And then I saw the tear gas, and I felt it. I felt it in my eyes. I was also next to an older lady, and I was trying to reach her and tried to see if I could offer her some water. But then, you know, I did see the footage, some of the videos, of police using rubber bullets, as well. But it was very forceful, and the screams. And yeah, it was very violent and really unacceptable.

AMY GOODMAN: The Emory administration has also had a similar response against Stop Cop City protests on campus. Can you talk about the connections between the two?

EMIL’ KEME: Yeah. I mean, the protesters were not only asking the university to divest from investing in Israel, but also Cop City. And, I mean, it is the right thing to do. You know, it’s the right thing to do, because we have to remember that the university is on Indigenous lands, and these are Indigenous territories. And there was an eviction notice written by Muscogee leaders about not building Cop City in Atlanta. And it is a just demand. And hopefully, the university will listen to what the students are saying about this, because I think it’s extremely important.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Umaymah Mohammad into this conversation. Umaymah, you’re an MD/Ph.D. student at Emory. Can you talk about these protests that you helped to organize and why you felt it was so key to take this stand on campus?

UMAYMAH MOHAMMAD: Yeah, absolutely. So, we are at past the seven-month mark of this genocide. And on our campus and in our community, we have repeatedly organized peacefully to put pressure on our institutions, especially at Emory, to stop harassing and doxxing students and to stop repressing speech around Palestine and to divest from the Israeli apartheid state. And every single time, Emory shuts us down. Every single time, they crack down, and they punish students. Every single time, they silence our voices.

And at some point, we decided that we no longer accept our tuition dollars and our tax money going to fund an active genocide. And that was, I think, the main motivation for a group of students and community members and faculty and graduate students coming together so powerfully in this moment to say we just reject this. We refuse to move until Emory listens to divesting from both the apartheid state of Israel and stop Cop City.

AMY GOODMAN: I read an open letter that you had written. I mean, you’re particularly deeply concerned about healthcare. You quoted the Palestinian doctor Hammam Alloh, killed in November when an Israeli artillery shell struck his wife’s home. His father, brother-in-law and father-in-law also died. Democracy Now! spoke to Dr. Alloh on October 31st. This was his response when asked him why he refused to leave his patients.

DR. HAMMAM ALLOH: And if I go, who treats my patients? We are not animals. We have the right to receive proper healthcare. So we can’t just leave. … You think I went to medical school and for my postgraduate degrees for a total of 14 years so I think only about my life and not my patients?

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Hammam Alloh would be killed several weeks later. Umaymah Mohammad, can you talk about this issue of what we’re seeing at this point, over 34,000 Palestinians killed, the number of doctors and nurses, staff, universities, and why this is of particular concern to you?

UMAYMAH MOHAMMAD: Yeah. So, as a future healthcare professional and a current medical student, I am deeply concerned about the lack of concern healthcare institutions in America have for what we’re seeing. And it’s not just in Palestine. Healthcare professionals largely aren’t invested in the health and care of community members, like the police violence we saw on Emory’s campus. I mean, it’s absolutely mind-boggling to me that these people call themselves providers and care workers and are deeply disinvested from the structural and state violence of community members, both locally and internationally. And I used that quote in a letter that I wrote to the School of Medicine a few months ago because of the absolute silence from a healthcare institution on the decimation of the healthcare system in Gaza, on their own peers being murdered in cold blood by the IDF.

And so, I think one of the concerns that I have with Emory, and with the School of Medicine specifically, is that they have also, along with the greater Emory community, participated in suppressing Palestinian voices. So, a great example of this is very early on to this genocide, in October, Emory fired a Palestinian physician for posting a private social media post on her Facebook in support of the Palestinians. And yet one of the professors of medicine we have at Emory recently went to serve as a volunteer medic in the Israeli Offense Force and recently came back. This man participated in aiding and abetting a genocide, in aiding and abetting the destruction of the healthcare system in Gaza and the murder of over 400 healthcare workers, and is now back at Emory so-called teaching medical students and residents how to take care of patients. I mean, the disconnect is, for me, very obvious. And it’s very frustrating that the School of Medicine and the greater Emory community continues to ignore these major disconnects.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m wondering, as we wrap up, Umaymah Mohammad — you’re a medical student — about GILEE, the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange, and this connection between Cop City, which would be the largest police training facility in the country, that is being protested as it’s being built in Atlanta, and the Atlanta police and Israel, what this is all about.

UMAYMAH MOHAMMAD: Absolutely. So, GILEE, like you said, is the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange program, and it was started in the ’90s at a university, at Georgia State University. And the function of this program is to exchange local police with international police forces. But what this program has become, majorly, is a connection between the Atlanta police force and the Israeli Offense Force. So, they send Atlanta police, along with people like medics and first responders, over to train under a military that is illegally occupying land in Palestine, to better learn surveillance techniques, to better learn tactics on how to suppress and repress protesters in Atlanta. And they bring back these techniques, that are highly militarized and violent, and use them against students.

And, in fact, yesterday we had a Palestinian student speak, who said the last time that she experienced what was a war zone on Emory’s campus was when she was in occupied Palestine. When we were tear-gassed, all she could see was the vision of when she was in occupied Palestine similarly being tear-gassed with those tear gas canisters saying “Made in the U.S.A.” And so, what we’re seeing happening is an exchange between the Atlanta police and the Israeli Offense Force, which is currently committing a genocide, to exchange tactics on how to better surveil, repress and harm community members.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, just 10 seconds, but as you talk about the Israeli Offense Force, you’re referring to what’s officially known as the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces. Can you explain why you call them the IOF?

UMAYMAH MOHAMMAD: Right. So, we reject the idea that the Israeli Offense Force is defending anything legitimate. The Israeli Offense Force has always been on the offensive, effectively enacting ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians, effectively stealing land, creating illegal settlements, checkpoints, creating conditions that are highly unlivable for Palestinians. And that’s why we use the language “Israeli Offense Force,” not the IDF.

AMY GOODMAN: Umaymah Mohammad, we want to thank you so much for being with us, a Palestinian American student from Indiana, now an MD/Ph.D. student at Emory University. And we want to thank Emil’ Keme, professor of English and Indigenous studies at Emory University, who was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct yesterday. Meanwhile, University of Southern California has canceled their mainstage graduation ceremony because of the protests.

Next up, the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on Idaho’s abortion ban and emergency healthcare. We’ll talk about that, and then we’ll speak with the author Ari Berman about his new book, Minority Rule, and how that has determined the current Supreme Court of the United States. Stay with us.

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