Rolling Out

Protesters at Morehouse decry Biden, US role in Gaza war, ‘Cop City’

Students from Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University join Morehouse College brothers to sound alarm on ‘genocide’ and leave no doubt about President Biden being unwelcome as commencement speaker

Dozens of Atlanta HBCU students, alumni and sympathizers declaring solidarity with protesters on college campuses across the nation made their displeasure known Wednesday — about the U.S. role favoring Israel in its war with Hamas, about President Joe Biden’s imminent visit to speak at Morehouse College’s Spring commencement, and about the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center (more commonly referred to as “Cop City”) that’s being built in neighboring DeKalb County.

They gathered on the northwest corner of Westview Drive and West End Avenue, in the shadows of the Walter E. Massey Leadership Center—students and alumni from Morehouse, Spelman College, and Clark Atlanta University mixed in with the merely curious—carrying placards and chanting, even in Arabic, as one young woman taught them. There were no obvious counterprotesters and only a smattering of campus police officers. Passing cars occasionally sounded their horns in support of the protest.

The protesters implored Morehouse president David A. Thomas to rescind the U.S. president’s invitation, which was extended in September before the war in Gaza started. The school’s announcement of Biden’s acceptance was made seven months later. Biden is expected to speak at only two commencement exercises this year, according to the White House. The other, where he’s certain to get a friendlier reception, will be at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Malik, a Morehouse senior who asked that his surname not be used, said Biden’s timing was fishy because news of the president accepting the invitation didn’t come until former president Donald Trump, his rival in the November election, appeared April 10 in Atlanta, ordering 30 milkshakes at a nearby West End Chick-fil-A.

“It is so obvious that it’s just about the presidential campaign, and under normal circumstances, Joseph R. Biden would not be on our campus,” Malik said.

The protesters decried their treatment at the hands of police and of those treated similarly at other Georgia campuses like Emory, Georgia Southern, and the University of Georgia. Some claimed protesters had been subjected to tazing for minutes at a time and called for Atlanta University Center protest policies to be abolished. None of that mistreatment was evident at Morehouse on Wednesday.

But chief on their minds and in their chants was the war in Gaza, where more than 34,000 Palestinians have died, including more than 13,000 children — compared to about 1,200 Israelis.

‘Complicit in this genocide’

Amel Mohdali, a Spelman freshman of Sudanese descent, the one who taught the protesters to chant in Arabic, said the protest was urgent and personal to her. “Our institutions are complicit in this genocide,” she said. Unchecked, she continued, the greed that’s behind the war will only escalate until it affects all of Africa.

So, for us to be out here, not paying attention to what’s happening in Africa, not paying attention to what’s happening in Palestine, that’s crazy,” Mohdali said.

The Atlanta University Center Student Intercommunal Coordinating Committee (@auc_sicc) took its protest online last week, using to petition Morehouse to rescind its invitation to Biden to speak at the HBCU’s 140th graduation exercise on May 19. As of 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, the petition had been signed by 764 people, with the next stated goal being 1,000. Several Morehouse faculty members have said they won’t attend the graduation if Biden appears.

In an open letter to the Morehouse community, however, Thomas did not indicate that he would comply with their demands.

“Drawing inspiration from Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community, we recognize that personal, community, and international conflicts are inescapable,” Thomas wrote. “However, it is our mutual duty to resolve these conflicts peacefully and to reconcile through an inclusive, joint commitment to goodwill and allyship. 

“We are excited to have President Biden as our commencement speaker and eagerly anticipate welcoming him back to The House … His presence serves as a reminder of our institution’s enduring legacy and impact, as well as our continued commitment to excellence, progress, and positive change.

Malik, senior at Morehouse, on why he’s protesting:

Amel, freshman at Spelman, on why she’s protesting:

2 Responses

  1. These admirable young people have too limited an understanding of the complexity of the issue. Netanyahu needs the war to satify the right wingers in his government and thereby stay out of jail. He is the one committing heinous acts. Biden is not responsible for that nor does he approve. He was invited and accepted before the Hamas attack. Israel isn’t its prime minister and has a right to exist and defend itself. It’s a US ally in dangerous world, especiallyin the Middle East. Remember the attack from Iran? Iran is also our enemy. It’s complex.

    1. No. Just stop!
      With all due respect, this is propaganda and fear mongering using words like “US ally in a dangerous world” and “Iran is also our enemy” and “rights to exist”. Nations have no “rights” only powers given to them by their citizens. Even their own citizens are against bloodshed in their name.
      Our billions in taxes should not fuel such atrocities. Plain and simple and Biden IS POTUS so yes he takes blame.
      Proud they protested though.

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