Contributing reporting by Heather Willard.
Around 70 people were arrested Wednesday evening during a sit-in at Baker University Center. The protesters were demanding Ohio University become a sanctuary campus after about 300 people rallied earlier at the Athens Courthouse against President Donald Trump’s immigration ban.
Though the official arrest numbers have not been released, this is on track to be the second-largest mass arrest resulting from a protest in Ohio University’s history, following a Gulf War protest in 1991
— Austin Linfante (@AuLinfante) February 2, 2017
The students arrested are being charged with criminal trespassing. The charges stem from students unlawfully disrupting university operations by blocking transit areas at the top of Baker Center and refusing police requests to move to a designated meeting location, Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle said.
Elizabeth Boch, a studio art major in the Honors Tutorial College, spoke about her experience as a protester and arrested citizen.
“They are letting people out at several places,” she said. Boch was held for around an hour and a half in the Baker Ballroom, and she was charged with trespassing. “I was unlawfully in a space I wasn’t allowed, I was trespassing without allowed being there and then I wouldn’t leave.”
OU said in a statement that Ohio University Police and university administration “worked together to arrange an alternate space for protesters to gather” that would allow operations and transit through Baker to continue uninterrupted and protect students, faculty and staff.
“Protesters gathered at Baker Center at approximately 5:30 p.m. Protesters were informed repeatedly that they were impacting operations, egress and creating a safety issue. 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.”
Powers issues last warning, offers other places for protestors to gather. #TNPLive
— Heather Willard (@HeatherDWrites) February 2, 2017
In addition to demanding Ohio Univeristy be classified as a sanctuary campus, the protesters were also asking to include “immigration status” as a protected class, along with race, gender, age, and similar categories. Their third demand was to prohibit concealed carry weapons on campus.
Student Senate passed a bill in support of Ohio University becoming a sanctuary campus at their meeting Wednesday evening.
Students partook in a similar sit-in two years ago as part of a protest responding to the verdict in Michael Brown’s case. In that instance, no one was arrested, and the university decided to keep the building open for students until they left around 2:30 a.m.
Ryan Lombardi, then-vice president of student affairs, stayed with the protesters at Baker.
“We want to take the night and do what you need to do, support each other, and work with each other,” Lombardi said in 2014.
When asked about the differences between that sit-in and Wednesday’s protest, Pyle said the officers made decisions on a case-by-case basis.
OU Chief of Police Andrew Powers told Athens NEWS reporter Conor Morris the two events are different.
Police/OU response to this protest is far cry from how sit-in protesters were treated in 2014, and OU Police Chief's rationale is, uh… pic.twitter.com/4ylhUNjeKK
— Conor (@condormorris) February 2, 2017
If charged with criminal trespassing, protesters could face up to 30 days in jails and a maximum fine of $250 or probation and community service.