Fifteen of the 70 people arrested during the Feb. 1 Baker Center sit-in entered a plea of no-contest in acceptance of a plea-deal on Thursday morning in Athens Municipal Court.
Those who took the deal have a reduced charge of disorderly conduct, a minor misdemeanor. The protesters who took the deal accepted it to finalize court proceedings and shift attention back to what they believe is the central issue: making Ohio University a sanctuary campus.
Bobby Walker, a senior studying women’s and gender studies, said the need to become a sanctuary campus is growing stronger.
“Since our arrests, the attacks on immigrants and refugees has escalated significantly, making these sanctuary campus policies even more necessary,” she said in a press release from the OU Student Union.
“Gestapo-like raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are taking place across the country, breaking up families and communities, and deporting people into extremely dangerous conditions, frequently resulting from the U.S.’s own foreign policy.”
Five other protesters have decided to challenge the charges and hope their efforts will help defend the right to protest on campus. In response to the pre-trial, supporters rallied at the Athens’ Courthouse. Caitlyn McDaniel, graduate of Ohio University and coordinator at the Buckeye Forest Council, came to the rally to support those who were charged.
“We are gathering to support the Bobcat 70,” she said. “We are rallying right now to bring attention to the real reason we were arrested, which is making our campus a safe space for international students regardless of whether they have documentation, and not just students, but teachers, community members, people who live in Athens County. We want the university to take a stand and say that they will not cooperate with ICE.”
ICE, or U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, “enforces federal laws governing border control, customs, trade and immigration to promote homeland security and public safety,” according to its website.
McDaniel said she was hopeful about the City Council’s movement to become a “welcoming city” instead of a sanctuary campus.
“I think that any action taken by the city or county to express that refugees are welcome here is important,” she said. “Right now just making a statement about this is enough, but we also need to remind City (Council) and (Student) Senate that just saying you’re welcoming is not going to be enough.”