Ohio State students supportive of anti-Israel protest say police response went too far

0
28

Following the arrest of 36 people Thursday night during a protest at Ohio State University calling for an end to investment in Israel and the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, several students voiced support for the protesters and said law enforcement actions made them feel less trustful of campus police.

Hundreds of Ohio State students, employees, and community members attended the protest held on the university’s South Oval, and many didn’t watch the events unfold live on Instagram and other social media platforms. Of those arrested, 16 were current students, and 20 were not affiliated with the university.

All 36 were charged with criminal trespassing, a fourth-degree misdemeanor punishable if convicted by up to 30 days in jail or a $250 fine. All the defendants were released on their own recognizance—wwithout having to pay any bond amount—aand are scheduled to have their first appearances in Franklin County Municipal Court early next week.

Two people protesting were arrested on Tuesday and three more on Thursday. With the 36 on Thursday night, a total of at least 41 people have been criminally charged.

Ohio Rep. Munira Yasin Abdullahi, D-9th, participated in the Thursday protest and posted on X, formerly Twitter, that she suffered some “bruised ribs” after speaking at the encampment, but she was not among those arrested. Abdullahi’s district is comprised largely of Columbus’ Northeast Side.

“What I witnessed and how myself and other demonstrators were treated was horrific and remains to be both physically and mentally painful,” Abdullahi said later in a prepared release. “They surrounded us at a moment when we were supporting students who were conducting prayer. I was grabbed by my headcarf. I was pushed toward the ground by the students. Ultimately, I sustained painful bruising around my ribs and midsection. 

“I believe there was absolutely no reason for the police to respond the way they did. We posed no threat to them or anyone else,” she said. “We were simply making our voices peacefully heard for the millions of Palestinians who have no voice of their own right now.”

University spokesman Ben Johnson said overnight events and camping are prohibited by university rules and that protesters were instructed to disperse and given multiple warnings before they were arrested. But students who spoke to The Dispatch on Friday said they believed the arrests and the heavy police presence were unnecessary.

The Ohio State University main campus in Columbus was quiet on Friday with a normal presence of police and security. Following the arrest of 36 people Thursday night at an anti-Israel protest at Ohio State University, students voiced support for the protesters and said police actions that night on the South Oval made them feel less trustful of campus police.

“I think that OSU should really be listening to their students, and they shouldn’t be trying to quash peaceful protests,” said Connor Duguid, a freshman chemistry major.

Duguid said he disagreed with the arrests and would be less comfortable going to campus police for help in the future, fearing that they may be overzealous.

“They responded with such violence,” Duguid said. “Generally speaking, it would make me nervous.”

Kenzie Rounds, an Ohio State University senior from Maryland, sat outside the Ohio Union on Friday afternoon waving a Palestinian flag and holding a sign saying, "I support Palestine. I support Jewish people."  She said she was present at the protest Thursday night, but left before arrests began.

Kenzie Rounds, a senior from Maryland studying city and regional planning, sat outside the Ohio Union on Friday afternoon waving a Palestinian flag and holding a sign saying, “I support Palestine. I support Jewish people.” She said she was present at the protest Thursday night but left before arrests began.

“Even though the police and OSU crack down on the encampment and they crack down on people’s freedom of speech, we’re still out here, and we’re still going to fight for a free Palestine,” Rounds said.

Rounds said protesters remained peaceful Thursday night and that the police response was excessive.

“We’re peaceful protesters, and it’s intimidating on purpose,” Rounds said. “They know what they’re doing. We know what they’re doing, and we’re not stupid.”

Campus was quiet on Friday with many students enjoying the beautiful spring weather in the 70s and studying or taking finals. Mobile security cameras and banks of lights remained on the South Oval where 36 people were arrested Thursday night at an anti-Israel protest.

Rounds said she saw police officers watching the protest from the roof of the Ohio Union, which was “scary.”

“They almost looked like snipers up there,” Rounds said.

Other protesters Thursday night pointed to the roof of the Ohio Union, which overlooked the protest on the South Oval, saying there were armed officers pointing firearms down at them. The Lantern, Ohio State’s student newspaper, originally reported around 8 p.m. Thursday that Johnson confirmed the Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers on the roof were unarmed.

While Johnson said the information he gave Thursday was correct at the time, he said Friday afternoon that once law enforcement began using force to arrest protesters around 10 p.m., protocol changed and those on the roof did have long-range firearms.

“Ohio State Highway Patrol provided overwatch support, which is a standard safety measure when they assist with large gatherings,” Johnson said. “We don’t discuss specific public safety protocols. In general, overwatch support is armed, and the team carries standard equipment, including firearms, that would only be used reactively to protect the safety of all present, including demonstrators.”

Columbus City Council issued a statement Friday stating that it “believes in the right of residents to protest peacefully. We work with our Division of Police and residents who are protesting to make sure that there can be honest dialogue in the most difficult conversations.”

City Council also emphasized that Columbus police were not involved in Thursday night’s arrests.

Rounds said she wasn’t very concerned that the arrests would deter future protests. She said the organizers of Thursday’s protest warned participants that arrests would be possible and that those who joined the protest were willing to accept the risk.

“I’m hoping that for people, it won’t be a deterrent, but it’ll just make people realize they’re really scared of what we’re fighting for,” Rounds said. “We’re actually making a difference.”

The Council on American Islamic Relations Ohio Chapter (CAIR-Ohio) issued a statement Friday condemning Ohio State for the “violent crackdown and alleged use of excessive force on students during an on-campus protest.” The organization demanded that OSU “adhere to its values of protecting the free speech rights of its students.” 

“It is deeply concerning that OSU’s response to students demonstrating peacefully in solidarity with Palestine is forcible suppression of free speech and assembly. This mirrors a nationwide trend of colleges and universities attempting to censor pro-peace, anti-war, and pro-Palestine advocacy on campuses,” CAIR-Ohio Outreach Director Victoria Hickcox said.

“It is alarming to receive reports of protesters having their hijabs ripped off and being arrested while in prayer,” she said. “Muslim students are not just feeling unsafe on campus but being actively criminalized. All students should feel safe while expressing their views and engaging in their right to assemble peacefully. We demand OSU immediately cease any further acts of repression against the protesters and take action to respect and protect the speech of its students.” 

A sign posted on Thompson Library regarding finals week warns patrons that “disruptive activity” is prohibited.

Max Myers, a senior, said he was more likely to join protests in the future after seeing the police response to Thursday’s protest.

“I hope they don’t stop protesting,” Myers said of those involved. “I hope they continue to do so. Because I feel that it’s the right thing to do and that they have the right to do so.”