Home Social Justice Students occupy Baker Center in protest of Ferguson verdict, racial problems

Students occupy Baker Center in protest of Ferguson verdict, racial problems

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Around 120 students kept Baker University Center open for all of Monday night as they protested the Michael Brown verdict and racism at Ohio University with a sit-in.

The protest, the name bouncing between #OccupyBaker and #OccupyBakerOU, planned to go on with or without police interference after the building closed at midnight, but it was ultimately kept open, with no police showing up and the Baker staff staying for the night as well.

The sit-in was sparked by the grand jury verdict not to indict officer Darren Wilson of any charges in the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. A crowd of about 60 people listened to a stream through a megaphone of the announcement by St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch at 9 p.m.

Afterwards, the group marched to the fourth floor of Baker, solemnly singing “Which Side Are You On?” After observing a symbolic four and a half minutes of silence in remembrance of Brown, protesters started giving passionate speeches on their reaction to the verdict as well as police brutality.

“This could be anyone’s brother or sister who’s being shot and left in the street,” Ryant Taylor, a senior studying creative writing, said. “This is happening in Beavercreek (Ohio). This is happening in Cleveland. This is happening everywhere. We are literally here to say that Mike Brown’s life mattered, and all the students’ lives here at Ohio University matter.”

At around 10:30 p.m., the growing crowd voted to occupy the fourth floor of Baker. Protesters hung banners saying “Stop killing us,” “Black lives matter” and “Disarm the police” and posters saying “No Justice, No Peace.”

Afterwards, the protesters starting forming a list of demands, writing them on a large white board. This included demands that no arrests be made from the protest, as well as implementing a mandatory “cultural competence” class for all incoming freshmen, increasing diversity in class and disarming the Ohio University Police Department and the Athens Police Department.

Conversations branched out after that, with protesters talking about the struggles a black OU student faces every day, student journalists covering race, intersectionality and the campus being unwilling to talk about race constructively, including racist remarks on the anonymous apps Yik Yak and Unseen.

“This is connected to so many issues across the nation, across the world,” Taylor said. “If you think about it, people hide behind their preconceived notions and their prejudice and their racist ideals. What we need to do is call them out on their bullsh*t as closely and as accurately as possible. That starts with what we’re doing right now.”

Tensions started getting high at 11:30 p.m. as the threat of police interference when the building closed at midnight became more possible. Dean of Students Jenny Hall-Jones and Vice President of Student Affairs Ryan Lombardi were in attendance to inform students of what could happen at midnight.

“The building will have to be cleared at midnight,” Hall-Jones said. “If you all stay, if you do not leave at midnight, then they will call the police and ask for help clearing the building.”

Despite the possibility of scholarship money being revoked if arrested, about 100 protesters decided to stay past midnight.

“I’m not going anywhere,” said Jolana Watson, a media and social change major. “I don’t know about any of you guys, but I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying right here.”

At around 12:20 a.m., Lombardi announced that the Baker staff would stay the night, keeping the building open for students, and the police would not get involved.

“We want to take the night and do what you need to do, support each other, and work with each other,” Lombardi said.

Protesters called this a success and continued to occupy the area past 1 a.m.
Despite the protest being heavy with emotions ranging from anger to fear, many were optimistic that it was a start for more calls for social change at OU and throughout the nation.

“I think something big is about to happen, and this is just the foundation,” Shambrion Treadwell, president of the OU chapter of NAACP, said. “So keep talking about it, and don’t get discouraged.”

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