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Protests Over Police Violence Reach Ohio State Campus

Paige Pfleger
Protesters on the campus of Ohio State call for the school to divest from Columbus Police, on June 2, 2020.

Demonstrations over the killing of George Floyd grew heated on Ohio State’s campus Monday night, ending in the looting of a campus-area convenience store and police pepper spraying protesters and student reporters to enforce the city curfew. Rallies resumed on campus again Tuesday afternoon.

Ohio State students, however, have been part of the Columbus protests from the beginning.

“There’s been a significant student participation that we’ve seen ever since the first night that they had protests down at High and Broad Street. That night our student body president and vice president were there, and we’ve seen a student presence every single day,” says Max Garrison, associate campus editor for The Lantern and an intern for WOSU's All Sides With Ann Fisher.

Garrison was among the Lantern reporters who were pepper sprayed by Columbus Police near High and Lane Avenue on Monday night, despite showing their press credentials. Media is exempted from the city curfew.

A video taken by Lantern staffer Maeve Walsh shows a Columbus Police officer telling reporters, "Leave, or you're going to jail." When the reporters answered, "We're members of the press," the officer responded, "I don't care, leave."

Columbus Police Chief Tom Quinlan says the incident is being investigated by Internal Affairs, but he said police have the authority to move people out of an area.

In a tweet Tuesday, City Attorney Zach Klein said his office sent an email to police leadership "re-explaining" that media are exempt from the curfew, and said the use of mace against reporters should be investigated.

Summer semester is usually emptier on campus, exacerbated this year by the pandemic that sent many students back to their hometowns. Garrison says those left on campus have been active in the protests.

“There’s been multiple student organizations involved," Garrison says. "Protests on Saturday briefly came to campus, very peaceful, they marched up from High Street in the middle of the day and met on the Oval for 30-40 minutes of the day before they marched back down south."

The student government for both graduate and undergraduate students wrote Ohio State officials a letter Monday, urging divestment from the Columbus Division of Police.

"We, the student representatives of The Ohio State University, firmly and without hesitation, condemn the violent and inexcusable actions of the Columbus Police Department during these protests and harm the department has caused Black and marginalized communities for decades," the letter reads.

The university released a statement in response: “We know our students are hurting, we are here to support them, and we are inspired by their commitment to this cause. We must all work together to end abuse, discrimination, bigotry, and hatred. We will be in dialogue with our student government leaders about the specific concerns they have raised."

But students want a firmer answer.

“The letter, which was released Monday morning, asked for official response, details and everything, within 48 hours. That’s by tomorrow," Garrison says. "And as of this morning, our student body president has said she has not received that response.”

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.