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About 30 arrested as police break up pro-Palestine demonstration on South Oval

This story was updated on April 26, 2024 at 12:20 a.m.

Police arrested about 30 pro-Palestine demonstrators Thursday night after converging on what had been a peaceful demonstration of about 600 on Ohio State's South Oval.

"I believe that we will win!" they chanted before helmeted Ohio State police and State Highway Patrol troopers moved in after 10 p.m. Police told them over a loudspeaker to leave or they would be charged with criminal trespassing.

The demonstrators linked arms and formed a circle around about a dozen tents that had been set up on the South Oval. People also gathered within the circle.

Lines of police walked toward them and began breaking through the circle to arrest people. Meanwhile, people inside the circle were praying.

Four or five officers would go in and drag out a demonstrator at a time, then walk them to Franklin County Sheriff's Department buses.

A National Lawyers Guild legal observer said they counted 27 arrests before 11 p.m., but then several more were seen being arrested shortly afterward when a scuffle broke out between police and demonstrators.

By then, police had pushed demonstrators off the South Oval to College Road and West 12th Avenue.

Protest leaders then implored demonstrators to go home. Organizers had scheduled the rally to begin at 5 p.m.

In an emailed statement, OSU spokesman Ben Johnson said: "Well established university rules prohibit camping and overnight events. Demonstrators exercised their first amendment rights for several hours and were then instructed to disperse. Individuals who refused to leave after multiple warnings were arrested and charged with criminal trespass."

 Earlier Thursday, three pro-Palestine demonstrators were arrested Thursday at a protest in the South Oval on Ohio State's campus.

Johnson told WOSU one person was a staff member, another was a graduate student and a third person was not affiliated with the university. The names of the people arrested and what charges they face have not been released.

The arrests come two days after OSU police arrested two other protesters, both OSU students, at a demonstration of more than 50 people in front of Meiling Hall on south campus. Both were charged with criminal trespassing.

And that came a day after Ohio State President Ted Carter said in a statement that comments made at recent student protests are deplorable. He warned if any hate speech escalates to incitement or threats of violence, the university will quickly enforce the law.

8:55 p.m. Police do not disperse protesters after multiple warnings

As the sun set, more than an hour passed since OSU PD ordered protesters to disperse in 15 minutes, or else they would take action.

About 30 officers are gathered at the edge of the South Oval and hundreds of protestors are still gathered in a circle.

Police tell WOSU they are waiting for more officers until they develop a plan and act. Multiple dark, unmarked vans arrived and parked near the police. Police also activated flood lights.

Some protesters are taking time to pray during the demonstration as it continues into its 4th hour.

Two police helicopters also began flying overhead around 9 p.m.

8:15 p.m. Ohio State Police ordered protesters to disperse.

Campus police issued multiple 15-minute warnings ordering protesters to disperse around 7:30 p.m. About 45 minutes passed and around 30 OSU officers who were observing the protesters did not try to break up the protest. Demonstrators continued chanting saying they would not leave and that it was "our university."

Sarah Deitsch was watching the demonstration with an Israeli flag draped over her back. She is a co-director at the Schottenstein Chabad House at OSU.

"I am here because I am not a weak Jew with trembling knees," Deitsch said. "And when they protest and try to decimate Zionism and they try to announce and pronounce accusations against Israel that are absolutely unfounded and untrue, and they scream things like 'Zionism must go,' I will come so they can see that the Jews are not going anywhere."

7:00 p.m. Protesters gather outside Ohio Union on the South Oval. Some set up several green tents.

About 500 protesters started gathering just before 5 p.m. on the back patio of the Ohio Union. After 5, they marched to the front of the South Oval and began listening to on organizer pray in the middle of a circle they did

Many of the protesters carried Palestinian flags and signs stating their support to an end to the war in Israel and Gaza. The protesters main message was to the OSU administration to disclose any funding they give to Israeli companies and to halt that funding.

About two dozen OSU police officers were also present at the protest and fewer than a dozen observers wearing Israeli flags on their shoulders.

OSU police told WOSU the students wouldn’t be allowed inside the Ohio Union or any university building. Multiple signs were posted inside the Union and on the windows warning that students were studying and taking exams in the building and to be quiet.

The police said the protest would be broken up if it became disruptive.

The protesters began setting up bright green tents in the center of the circle less than an hour into the demonstration.

At one point OSU police spoke over a megaphone and told the protesters not to build tents or they would break up the protest in 5 minutes. The police did not do so and the protesters kept the tents up.

Besides “Free, free Palestine” the protestors chanted things like “Settlers, settlers go back home” and “Disclose, Divest, we will not stop, we will not rest.”

At one point, a man standing with the group wearing Israeli flags yelled to the main protest “Hitler would be proud.” The group also chanted “Arm Israel.” In response. That group dissipated mostly by 7:20 p.m.

Protesters received multiple 15-minute warnings from Ohio State Police to disperse, but the protesters continued to chant.

3:10 p.m. Protesters wait outside Ohio Union, OSU Hillel issues statement

At about 3 p.m., less than 2 dozen protesters were waiting around the back patio of the Ohio Union.

About 6 OSU police officers were monitoring the group as students walked past to their exams.

The protesters were sitting and talking among themselves and holding signs that demanded the university divest from companies that financially support Israel.

Protestors sit at the Ohio Union near the South Oval.
Katie Geniusz
Protestors sit at the Ohio Union near the South Oval on April 25, 2024. Three protestors were arrested at the South Oval earlier in the day.

OSU Hillel sent WOSU a statement over email through a D.C. public relations firm, Crosscut Strategies.

In the statement, OSU Hillel CEO Naomi Lamb said students have a right to protest, but they do not have the right to intimidate or threaten Jewish students, nor do they have a right to physically block access to campus buildings.

"Calls for “Zionists have got to go” are dangerous, directly targeting the vast majority of Jews who have a deep connection to Israel. Our most important priority is keeping Jewish students safe — first, foremost, and always. We appreciate the OSU administration holding students accountable to the code of conduct and President Carter’s statement reminding everyone that hate speech does not align with OSU’s values," Lamb said.

12:50 p.m. Demonstrator says police arrested two people on South Oval.

Shey, a protester with an OSU faculty and staff group supporting Palestine, said they were one person in the small group of people gathering on the South Oval after the initial encampment had been broken up.

Shey, who uses they/them pronouns and is transgender, declined to give their last name.

Shey said them and two other people sat on the grassy area reading and opening their laptop to study when police approached them.

“What is more quintessentially American college than sitting on a grass and reading a book? That’s what part of the American dream is,” Shey said. “What we were doing is exactly what Ohio State says this space is for.”

Shey also said another person, who they did not know, set up a blanket nearby. Shey was wearing a Keffiyeh scarf, symbolizing their support for Palestine, and a beanie with the Palestinian flag on it.

Shey also said police officers told them to leave multiple times and also said they weren’t allowed to gather in the South Oval. Shey said the officers eventually returned with dozens of other officers.

Shey said they got up, but the other people did not.

According to Shey, police arrested another university employee who was wearing a hijab, but Shey declined to identify the employee. “More than a dozen officers surrounded her and arrested her right there,” Shey said.

“There’s dozens of police officers and they all move towards the member who is wearing a hijab and arrest her first,” Shey said.

Shey said the person sitting on a blanket who was not affiliated with them was also arrested.

“I am a Black, trans, person and I was really nervous about getting arrested and what they would look like in booking and if they would be safe,” Shey said. “I was prepared to be arrested and my wife called me and told me to be safe… so I exited the green area. And once I exited about 90% of the police officers left.”

Shey said it was “absolutely wrong” that the three people were arrested Thursday.

Shey said they are hoping people still show up to the planned protest at 5 p.m. to show their support for Gaza. (The protest) is so the university sees that people care and that action is needed,” Shey said.

Shey said they are worried the arrests set a precedent at the university for what is allowed on campus. “All around the country right now, there are universities and university leaders make rules that are convenient,” Shey said.

12:00 p.m. Police still lingering around South Oval after encampment is broken up.

About a dozen police were still at the South Oval around noon and an OSUPD patrol car was parked on the grass.

Around 11 a.m., most of the demonstrators had left the South Oval. Another demonstration at the Ohio Union is planned for 5 p.m. Thursday.

Johnson said whether the protesters can even be in the Union on Thursday is “an ongoing conversation.”

Officials are discussing how the university will manage Thursday's demonstration. Johnson said the union is a testing site for final exam week and other activities take place in the union all the time.

Johnson said police are still at the South Oval to keep people safe and informed of the rules. He said they are there to keep the area clear so university business can continue.

Johnson stated he doesn’t know how long the “no gathering” rule in the South Oval could last for. He said it's possible it could last up until or even during the planned Thursday night demonstration at the Ohio Union.

“What’s most important to remember is that people were informed this morning not to be here, not to gather here, so they were moved off,” Johnson said.

10:30 a.m. OSU Police break up group of demonstrators setting up encampment

A group of about 25 pro-Palestine demonstrators gathered in the South Oval on Ohio State's campus Thursday morning to begin constructing a camp.

Before 10 a.m., demonstrators were starting to put up tents. A table had been set up and food, drink and blankets covered the ground.

Two deputy chiefs from the Ohio State University Police Department were also present.

"They can't have any types of tents and tarps. You have to get pre-approval for that," Deputy Chief Dennis Jeffrey said.

Deputy Chief Eric Whiteside told instructed the protestors to remove duffel bags too.

Ohio State University Deputy Chief Eric Whiteside (left) and Deputy Chief Dennis Jeffrey talk to OSU professors Johanna Sellman and Ashley Perez during a pro-Palestine demonstration on the South Oval Thursday morning.
Mark Ferenchik
Ohio State University Deputy Chief Eric Whiteside (left) and Deputy Chief Dennis Jeffrey talk to OSU professors Johanna Sellman and Ashley Perez during a pro-Palestine demonstration on the South Oval Thursday morning.

One demonstrator told the officers that was unfair. "We pay tuition for this university," she said.

Two Ohio State professors, Johanna Sellman and Ashley Perez, saw the demonstrators and walked over to see what was happening.

"I want to be here for our students," Sellman said. Both she and Perez were students at the University of Texas and saw what happened there on Wednesday. More than 50 people were arrested there during a peaceful pro-Palestine protest calling for an end to the Hamas-Israel war.

Perez asked police if demonstrators could at least use their blankets to sit on.

"We want to make sure that the students are allowed to actually use the space in ways that they can use the space," Perez said. "It would be very hard to sit out here and study without anything between you and the grass, right?"

Jeremy Strickland of the Columbus chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America didn't understand why the demonstrators couldn't set up the camp.

"There's no rule that you can't have water or you can't have a blanket out on the oval. You can have a picnic out here if you want," Strickland said.

Students for Justice in Palestine said in an Instagram post the protestors will demand that Ohio State stop investing in companies and initiatives the group says profits off the genocide of Palestinians.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.
Jared Clayton Brown joined the WOSU News team in November 2022. He spent seven years working for the Fox and NBC affiliate stations in Louisville and three years with the CBS affiliate station in Columbus.