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TIMELINE: A look back at the Baker 70, a year later

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Protestors demand that Athens be declared a "sanctuary city" in Baker Center during February 2017.

One year ago today, 70 people were arrested during a sit-in at Baker University Center. The protesters demanded that Ohio University become a sanctuary campus and protested President Donald Trump’s immigration ban.

In the year since, the protest itself and the issues it raised about free speech have continued to make an impact on campus. Here’s a review of everything that has happened since then.

February 1, 2017: Seventy people were arrested in Baker University Center during a protest against President Donald Trump’s immigration ban on seven Muslim-majority countries, as well as to express support for Ohio U becoming a sanctuary campus.

The protest began in front of the Athens County Courthouse with roughly 300 attendees. Protesters then marched down Court Street and entered Baker Center around 5:30 p.m.

“I was at the protest by accident,” Ian Billig, a junior studying physics at Ohio U, said about his experiences last year. “I was visiting a friend on West Green, and when I passed through Baker to get home, I saw some of my friends sitting in a circle. I asked them what was going on, and they told me that they were protesting the Trump travel ban. I hadn’t really ever protested before, but I figured it was about time to change that.”

At 7:22 p.m. OUPD Chief Andrew Powers delivered his first warning that any students who did not leave Baker lobby past 7:30 p.m. would be detained. At 7:58 p.m. OUPD began arresting those who did not leave.

The students arrested were charged with criminal trespassing; punishment for this crime is up to 30 days in jail with a fine up to $250, or prohibition and community service. Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle stated that these charges stemmed from students “unlawfully disrupting university operations.”  

The event was quickly compared to a similar sit-in two years prior meant to protest the Michael Brown verdict. No students were arrested in that protest, and the university kept the building open to students until 2:30 am.

February 9, 2017: Chief Powers issued a statement in order to “clarify some points of confusion and provide important information about protests in general.” He wrote that the decision to arrest students came because the gathering “impeded the use of the space for its intended purpose.”

Week of February 9, 2017: Twenty-one defendants pleaded not guilty at court appearances.

March 2, 2017: Fifteen of the seventy people arrested entered a plea of no-contest in acceptance of a plea-deal. Those who took the deal had the opportunity to have a reduced charge of disorderly conduct, a minor misdemeanor, instead of the original charge of criminal trespassing.

The protesters who took the deal accepted it to “finalize court proceedings and shift attention back to making Ohio University a sanctuary campus.”

March 20, 2017: The first case was presented at trial in Athens Municipal Court.

March 27, 2017: Athens Municipal Court Judge Todd Grace found protest organizer Michael Mayberry not guilty of criminal trespassing. According to Judge Grace’s decision, charges were dropped because Baker is a public forum.

March 29, 2017: Powers asked the Athens City Prosecutor’s office to dismiss the remaining charges related to the Baker Center sit-in. He wrote that he respected Judge Grace’s decision to drop Mayberry’s charge and wanted the remaining charges to be dropped out of fairness to the other defendants.

March 29, 2017: Interim President David Descutner issued a statement on the court decision. Descutner expressed appreciation for both the Athens courts and Powers’ ultimate decision to drop the charges.

Descutner also stated that the university planned to come out with an updated policy that would protect First Amendment rights on campus while also staying consistent with “the court’s ruling and with the values of Ohio University.”

August 17, 2017: Ohio U passed new “Freedom of Expression” and “Use of Outdoor Space” policies for interim use in response to the Baker arrests.
Presently

The 11-member advisory committee President Duane Nellis formed in October of last year, which gained criticism from the ACLU two weeks after its creation, currently continues to review comments on Ohio U’s freedom of expression policy.

Several students involved in the protests last year have long anticipated the one-year anniversary. Some students have organized an upcoming exhibition to commemorate the event, while others have simply reflected on their experiences.

Billig kept and framed his arrest citation from the event and continues to display it in his home. But he also pointed out that he has had some issues with the way the protest has been discussed in the last year.

“I wasn’t protesting to get praise or thanks or whatever else, I did it because I thought it was the right thing to do,” Billig said. “Besides, at the end of the day I was just a kid who stumbled into it by chance. But in particular, I was and still am frustrated that the focus of the events became freedom of speech rather than justice for Muslim folks.”

Jack Bruno, an Ohio U junior studying physics, has also been disappointed with conversations about free speech on campus overpowering conversations about immigrant rights.

“Speech on campus is a valuable conversation to have but it was a secondary conversation of the protest, not the primary goal,” Bruno said. “Coming up on the anniversary I find myself reflecting on the remarkable amount of regressive action we’ve seen from the Trump administration on immigrants in the U.S. over the last year and how fatigued we have all become to the issue. The anniversary is a good time, in my mind, to redouble commitments to fighting these changes and to not become complacent with this as the new normal.”

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