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Police detained about 70 students during Baker 'occupation'

A group of student demonstrators in Baker Center linked arms and sang as police pulled their peers away one by one and handcuffed them.

“Shame, shame, shame on you,” the demonstrators chanted.

About 70 people were detained for criminal trespassing during an “occupation” of the fourth-floor lobby of Baker Center on Wednesday, where demonstrators demanded Ohio University President Roderick McDavis make Ohio University a sanctuary campus.

“I feel like we’ve been pushed to our limits, and it’s time to exercise our First Amendment rights,” Nick DeJesus, the assistant manager of Culinary Services and a first-time protester, said.

The demonstration began at 4 p.m., when a crowd of about 300 people gathered at the Athens County Courthouse and marched through the streets.

At about 5 p.m., the march reached Baker Center. Demonstrators sat down on the floor in the fourth-floor lobby and draped signs over the balcony above. They criticized President Donald Trump’s immigration policies through a megaphone, as a growing number of police officers watched from the sides of the room.

Demonstrators brought pizza and water bottles. They sat with laptops and notebooks, doing homework as their peers spoke against capitalism and the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Students moved into a circle, asking that white students sit on the outside to protect trans, minority and international students. A few offered the officers around them slices of pizza.

At about 7:25 p.m., Ohio University Police Chief Andrew Powers addressed the group with a megaphone. He said students remaining in the Baker Center lobby past 7:30 p.m. would be detained.

At about 7:50 p.m., police from multiple departments formed a wall around the seated demonstrators.

Police moved in and began detaining students at the edges at about 8 p.m. They handcuffed them with flexible plastic cuffs and detained them in Baker Ballroom.

A Post designer waiting nearby was detained and cited for criminal trespassing, though she was not protesting. Her court date is Monday, and she may have to pay up to a $250 fine.

Hazel Goodburn, a freshman studying anthropology and music, said as police detained people around her, her fellow demonstrators told her to “go peacefully.” Officers took her by the arm and handcuffed her.

Goodburn said she was proud to be detained.

“I’m not someone who looks for trouble, but I’d rather say I objected to this regime and their policies than just being compliant,” she said. “I want to be on the right side of history.”

Other demonstrators left when the detentions began.

At about 8:15 p.m., police led away the last demonstrators. Signs, trash and abandoned possessions littered the floor.

Powers said the demonstrators were cited for trespassing because the fourth floor in Baker is not a meeting space, and the students were blocking foot traffic after he asked them to leave.

“It was not our preference to arrest people,” Powers said. “They left us no choice.”

A statement from the university, posted on Facebook, stated that "disruption of University operations is unlawful."

Ian Billig, a sophomore studying physics who was detained during the demonstration, said he thought the officers did a good job.

“They were polite — they kept a decorum,” he said. “Some folks had cuffs too tight, and (police) adjusted them accordingly.”

It was Billig's first protest.

“I’ve never been arrested," he said. "Never protested. But I’m damn glad I did.”

Some of the protesters marched on Court Street again, stopping at the Courthouse before returning to Baker to “rejoin their comrades.”

When they returned, they chanted, “the people united will never be defeated,” and sang songs including “This Land is Your Land.”

A crowd gathered in the fourth-floor lobby again as people waited for their friends to be released. Some people heckled the police guarding the Collegium where people were detained.

“Who do you protect?” a few shouted.


Julia Fair and Jonny Palermo contributed to this report.

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