In an open letter Monday, three student body groups demanded Ohio State cease operations with Columbus Police on campus and review contracts between University Police and Columbus Police for off-campus activities.
This comes amid five days of protests in downtown Columbus, Ohio, which began after the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis police custody. His death and others resulted from the actions of law enforcement officers. Videos and photos circulated on social media Saturday of Columbus Police using tactics that Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther called “aggressive.”
The letter, which has received more than 1,000 signatures, was addressed to University President Michael V. Drake and other administrators and sent by the presidents of the Undergraduate Student Government, Council of Graduate Students and the Inter-Professional Council. The letter asks for a response within 48 hours.
“Our city is burning, our students are hurting, the safety and wellbeing of the Black community is at inherent risk and there is no other time to act than now,” the letter reads.
The recommendation comes after the University of Minnesota limited its university police collaboration with Minneapolis Police May 27, following the death of Floyd.
“We have a responsibility to uphold values and a duty to honor them,” Joan Gabel, president of the University of Minnesota, said in a letter. “We will limit our collaboration with the [Minneapolis Police] to joint patrols and investigations that directly enhance the safety of our community or that allow us to investigate and apprehend those who put our students, faculty, and staff at risk.”
Roaya Higazi, president of USG and a signee of the Ohio State letter, said the student governments realized the university needed to take similar action after “witnessing the brutalities of the protests.”
“We witnessed our peers get assaulted and maced and teargassed by the Columbus Police Department and at that point, we knew immediately that we could no longer engage with that department and continue to say that what we are doing is in the best interest of students,” Higazi, a fourth-year in city and regional planning, said.
The demands call for Ohio State to “no longer accept federal, military-grade resources,” reduce the University Police “budget used for expenditures that may be used for further militarization” and redirect police funds toward university student support offices, including the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Multicultural Center, Counseling and Consultation Services, and the Wellness Center.
During the first night of curfew in Columbus Saturday, University Police were seen patrolling North High Street using at least one armored vehicle, joining other armored vehicles from the Franklin County Sheriff’s office and Columbus Police.
The letter also demands the university’s Department of Safety to release an action plan “that affirms the commitment to Black student safety and overall university safety through disarmed, anti-force and culturally competent practices.”
“We can no longer accept bias trainings, reactionary meetings, or community dialogue,” the statement reads. “Community dialogue does not work when you kill the community.”
Ohio State canceled a “force science” training mid-March after backlash from groups that said the training perpetuated and promoted police brutality.
“We know our students are hurting, we are here to support them, and we are inspired by their commitment to this cause,” Ben Johnson, a university spokesperson said in an email. “We will be in dialogue with our student government leaders about the specific concerns they have raised.”
Saturday’s protest started peacefully but quickly turned violent when Columbus Police began using pepper spray, tear gas and shot wooden projectiles at the demonstrators. On Twitter Sunday, Ginther said some of the Columbus Police action Saturday was “aggressive” and that he was “proactively addressing these incidents.” Ginther has since deleted the tweet following criticisms of the city’s leadership by the Fraternal Order of Police president, who said the leadership had “created more tension” and that Columbus residents and police deserve better leadership.
Also on Saturday, Columbus’ chief legal counsel Zach Klein wrote on Twitter that he would soon have “concrete calls for action” to address how Columbus handled the weekend’s protests.
“For generations, our residents have called for change. As it relates to the Columbus Police Division, that means addressing systematic racism impacting the Black community and the way we police our community,” Klein said.
The letter also demands Ohio State acknowledge and condemn “the anti-Black violence the Columbus Police committed against students and the greater Columbus community” during the protests this weekend.
“On Saturday, President Drake asked of the university community to reflect on what we must do to prevent crimes like this from happening and what we can do to make things different,” the statement reads. “We reflected, we listened, and we collaborated.”
It’s not certain how the security of large gatherings and sporting events, such as football games, will be affected if Ohio State does limit Columbus Police involvement. However, Higazi said that is a conversation the student governments intend to have with administrators.
“No matter what those safety precautions look like at large gatherings, we now know that the Columbus Police Department has shown their community and their students that they are not interested in the safety of everyone at Ohio State,” Higazi said.