Protesters peaceful at Ohio State pro-Palestine demonstration

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — As demonstrators on college campuses across the country have turned destructive, there was nothing but peaceful protests on the campus of Ohio State University Wednesday night.

Organizers of the protest urged the crowd to leave the South Oval after about three hours.

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A crowd of hundreds, bigger than the crowd at last Thursday’s protest, called on university president Ted Carter to end investments with Israel, marking the fourth such protest on the campus in the last two weeks.

Before the crowd began gathering just before 6 p.m., the university closed public access to some campus buildings, with the Ohio State Highway Patrol prepared to assist university police ahead of the protest.

Wednesday’s protest saw no encampment, which was the reason the university said it stepped in last week.

One of the leaders of Ohio State Students for Justice in Palestine said they wanted to come back to the same spot and show they aren’t going away.

“We’re talking about Palestinian lives that are being murdered, at the end of the day,” Mohammad Ghassan with Students for Justice in Palestine OSU said. “So I don’t know how people can oppose that, and it’s just disgusting behavior from the administrations of the schools and it’s disgusting behavior from the police itself. So, just disappointment.”

Hours before students planned to demonstrate on campus against Israel’s war in Gaza, Ohio State’s facilities operations and management sent a message to building coordinators asking them to post “Building Locked” signs on the doors of buildings. Only people with swipe card access will be permitted in buildings “out of an abundance of caution,” the email read.

A poster that reads "Building Locked" in large black text. Underneath, in red text, reads "Staff Use Buck ID to Gain Entry." In smaller black text, "Please only allow access to individuals who have scheduled business in the building." At the bottom of the poster is Ohio State's logo.
A poster that reads "Building Locked" in large black text. Underneath, in red text, reads "Staff Use Buck ID to Gain Entry." In smaller black text, "Please only allow access to individuals who have scheduled business in the building." At the bottom of the poster is Ohio State's logo.

“Given what has occurred on other college campuses, the university has locked some buildings. The buildings remain open for business,” Ohio State spokesperson Ben Johnson said in a written statement before the protest. “This proactive measure is intended to allow university employees to continue their work and best maintain safety on campus.”

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Several OSU faculty members came to show their support of the students during Wednesday’s protest. Many in the crowd were not affiliated with the university, some during from Cincinnati and Cleveland to protest.

Three dozen protesters were arrested last week for staging a pro-Palestine encampment there, one of dozens at universities across the U.S. calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Protesters, led by students, are calling on Ohio State to disclose its investments in companies tied to Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, and to ultimately divest from those.

The university has declined to disclose its investments and cited a state law forbidding targeted boycotting of Israel as an explanation for its inability to divest. On Monday, Ohio State President Ted Carter defended the arrests and general police response to the protests, saying that “Ohio State’s campus will not be overtaken” by protest encampments.

Thursday’s arrests marked the most arrests of protesters on Ohio State’s campus in more than 50 years. More than 40 people have been arrested for protesting there since April 23, when two students were arrested outside an academic building.

All arrested protesters have been charged with criminal trespassing, with Ohio State saying the planned encampments violated the university’s space rules. Amid calls to drop the charges, the Columbus city attorney’s office told NBC4 on Monday — and reiterated again in a Wednesday social media post — that the office is reviewing each case against protesters as it does with any criminal case.

The arrests — particularly of students — have sparked criticism from faculty, students and activists and commendation from Republican elected officials.

When an organizer was asked about the use of chants such as “There is only one solution” and “From the river to the sea,” he said it is not meant to offend anyone.

“These chants are not to offend or make people feel unsafe,” Ghassan said. “It is to show these chants shouldn’t be agitating anyone or agitating everyone. There are many Jewish students that are pro-Palestine. There were plenty here today.”

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On Tuesday, Ohio State’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors sent a letter to Carter and the board of trustees regarding the deployment of law enforcement against peaceful protesters.

“We just wanted to be peaceful and stand our ground, and then they made it not peaceful,” Ohio State student Saphia Abdelsalam, who has family members in Gaza, told NBC4 after the arrests last week. “They started attacking and started arresting.”

“The OSU administration’s avowed concern with student safety is irreconcilable with the decision to send in large numbers of armed police in response to a peaceful protest and prayer,” AAUP-Ohio State’s letter read.

Faculty, students and staff of Ohio State’s sociology department, graduate and doctoral students in the department of history and other academic departments have published similarly condemning statements about Ohio State’s response to protests.

From Gov. Mike DeWine to Sen. J.D. Vance and state representatives, Republican politicians, meanwhile, have praised how Ohio State and other colleges have broken up anti-war protests on their campuses.

“I think that it’s reasonable to say that, yes, you have the right to free speech, but there are certain time, place and manner restrictions to ensure that we still have an orderly society,” Vance told NBC4 on Wednesday. He previously posted on social media that “wanting to participate” in pro-Palestine protest encampments “is a mental illness.”

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DeWine said that Ohio State fairly balanced protesters’ freedom of speech with campus safety and security concerns. He told reporters at an event in Chillicothe on Wednesday that state police is prepared to assist the university at evening protests, as it did at the university’s request last week.

“We can’t camp out overnight. You can’t erect tents, but you can stand there and advocate, and that’s what Ohio State has enforced,” DeWine said. “They ask us for help from the Highway Patrol, our highway patrol. We are happy to do that. We will continue to do that if necessary.”

The Ohio State Highway Patrol declined to discuss its preparations ahead of the Wednesday protest, citing “safety concerns.” Last week, state troopers on the roof of the Ohio Union had rifles ready “reactively to protect the safety of all present, including demonstrators,” an Ohio State spokesperson confirmed.

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