Approximately 70 students and others were arrested Wednesday evening after more than 150 Ohio University students, faculty and community members staged a sit-in protest at Baker University Center.
The OU Police Department, Athens Police Department and State Highway Patrol all had officers present at Baker Center when the arrests happened around 8 p.m. OU's media relations office released a statement soon after the arrests.
"Protestors were informed repeatedly that they were impacting operations, egress and creating a safety issue," OU spokesperson Carly Leatherwood said. "At approximately 7:22 p.m. OUPD Chief Andrew Powers delivered his first warning that anyone refusing to leave would be arrested within the hour. They were given ample opportunity and time to relocate, and at 7:58 p.m. OUPD began arresting anyone who refused to leave. Approximately 70 protestors were arrested and charged with criminal trespass.
Prior to the arrests, dozens of protesters sat peacefully on the fourth floor of Baker Center while sharing stories and political messages through megaphones. Holding signs reading "No wall, no ban, resist," "Make racists afraid again," and "Trump is a Nazi," the protesters in part were responding to U.S. president Donald Trump's executive order banning travel and immigration to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries.
OU Police Chief Andrew Powers said in an interview soon after the arrests that the protesters will likely be charged with criminal trespassing, although some could be cited for resisting arrest or other crimes.
"This is not a meeting space, this is a transient space," Powers said. "...If there had been an emergency in the building it could have been chaos in here."
Powers noted that Baker Center opened up a meeting room for the protesters, but said they refused to go. He said one of the main issues was access to the building's entrance and exits, although at one point, this reporter observed the protesters clearing a path for people to walk through after being asked to by police.
The arrested protesters appeared to be held in Baker Center Ballroom for at least an hour before being released slowly throughout the evening. Before the protesters were arrested, police forced all non-protesters from the fourth floor of Baker Center, including members of the media.
The arrests for trespassing are a far cry from a student-led sit-in protest that occured in the exact same part of Baker Center in 2014. No students were arrested, and they were allowed to stay past Baker Center's closing time (midnight, at the time).
"Last time, the person in charge of Baker Center made a decision to open the facility longer than it was (supposed to be open)," Powers said. "The problem is that every time that we do this, that we allow anyone to do it, we've got to allow everyone to do it. That means that if the Ku Klux Klan came in and sat in on the rotunda, we'd have to let them stay if we allowed other people to stay."
The sit-in started as a protest in front of the Athens County Courthouse with roughly 300 attendees, with themes on signs and in chants reminiscent of #NoWallNoBan protests that have spread across the country. The protesters then took to the streets, marched up Court Street, and entered Baker Center around 5:30 p.m.
According to a Tweet from Emma Ockerman, editor-in-chief of OU's student newspaper, The Post, one of The Posts' designers was arrested.
"A designer for @ThePost was charged with criminal trespassing for existing in the building where we make the paper. Just released," she wrote.
A legal defense fund for the arrested protesters was created soon after the arrests. As of late Friday morning, almost $8,000 had been raised.
EARLIER IN THE DAY, Ziad Abu-Rish, an OU assistant professor of history, commended the bravery of the non-citizen students (on visas and otherwise) present at the protest outside the Courthouse prior to the sit-in. He said those from the seven countries in Trump's travel ban have "never attacked this country," and decried the damage that Trump's executive order does to immigrant families, including those at OU who wish to do research abroad.
"We are standing with millions of people around the country and the world that are taking to the streets to say no to racism, no to xenophobia, no to anti-immigrant bans, and no to all the problematic authoritarian fascist homophobic and sexist policies of the Trump administration and many other right-wing administrations in the world today," Abu-Rish said
For a gallery of the protests before the arrests, click here.
The protesters said they would continue the sit-in until OU administration comes to meet them to talk with them about their demands. The protest group's demands follow:
• That OU make a statement condemning the travel/immigration ban on Trump’s part, and develop a plan to make the university a “sanctuary campus.” A sanctuary campus is one that states its opposition to working with federal immigration authorities on enforcement actions, including deporting students or faculty.
• Include “immigration status” as a protected class under OU’s definition of harassment and discrimination. A very similar proposal was sent to OU Provost Pam Benoit on the part of OU Faculty Senate in early January, but it’s not clear if she has approved the proposal as an official OU policy yet.
• “Do not allow concealed carry weapons on campus.” OU’s Student Senate, Faculty Senate and Graduate Senates have all passed measures asking the OU Board of Trustees not to allow concealed carry on campus.
The question of how becoming a sanctuary campus could affect the university was discussed by OU's Board of Trustees during their meeting earlier this January, but nothing conclusive came out of that discussion.
Protest organizer and OU student Bobby Walker said in Baker Center that it's no longer enough for people to "sit on Facebook and Twitter" and complain about the Trump administration. She argued that physically "being there" for protests is how change will come about.
"There are a lot of people here who are prepare do sit down and occupy this space for a while," Walker said. "...until the administration comes here and is ready to meet our demands because we want to win."
Walker also argued that OU's response to Trump's executive order so far does not show the university is willing to protect its immigrant, international and undocumented/DACA-documented community.