By THE BLUE & GRAY PRESS STAFF
Virginia state police arrested three members of Divest UMW inside George Washington Hall at the University of Mary Washington Wednesday night after UMW administration issued the group a warning to vacate the premises.
The three individuals arrested were released on a $1,500 bond that is to be paid when they appear at court on April 30 at 8:30 a.m.
“All participants in the ‘sit-in’ taking place on the first floor of George Washington Hall are directed to depart and remove all belongings no later than 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 15, 2015,” read the statement from university administration sent to Divest UMW members. “Those who persist in the location will be considered trespassing and subject to applicable law and police intervention.”
The administration warning cited the school’s expression clause as motivation for the removal. The clause allows students to protest peacefully, but states, “persons or their belongings may not block or otherwise unreasonably interfere with ingress and egress into and out of campus buildings.”
Rationale for the removal was due to “escalating safety concerns” and the “increasing volume of material possessions in the hallway.”
Members of Divest UMW prepared themselves in the moments leading up to 6:30, when campus police and state troopers entered GW to threaten the arrests of students that remained in the building.
Zakaria Kronemer, a senior philosophy major, led the group in directions for handling the police prior to their arrival. Those who were willing to risk arrest planned to stay in the building, while a majority of Divest UMW members intended to leave the building to congregate on the steps facing Campus Walk.
Chants filled the hallway of GW as Kronemer and Rabib Hassan, a junior sociology major, spoke to their team. Kronemer warned against speaking to police and mentioned that only he and sophomore environmental science major Beatrice Ohene-Okae were designated to speak to police.
“We’ve been doing nothing but peaceful, nonviolent civil disobedience, and we’ve been practicing our first amendment rights,” said Kronemer to the group prior to the arrival of police.
“Let’s show them that students will remain united in the face of intimidation.”
“At the end of the day, they are going to be on the wrong side of history,” added Hasan.
Approximately 15 state troopers and campus police officers parked outside of GW Hall on Double Drive at about 6:40 p.m. and proceeded to enter the building. Everyone in the building was told by Campus Police Chief Michael Hall to leave the premises after he issued his warning, or they would be arrested.
“You are in violation of the university policy. You were told that at 6:30 this evening, you were to vacate the premises. It is now past 6:30. Anyone staying in this building after I finish talking will be arrested for trespassing. You may have your moment to leave now. Once I finish talking, everyone in this building will be arrested,” said Hall.
All but three members of Divest UMW remained, two male students and a female member from the Fredericksburg community. The male students include freshman performing arts and French double major Noah Goodwin and sophomore environmental science major Adam Wander. Nina Young, a citizen of Fredericksburg and creator of the “Food not Bombs” program, was the third person arrested. She lives with her husband and two children. Young’s husband, Justin Young, was also at the Divest UMW sit-in on April 15.
State troopers arrested the three individuals and placed them into a prison transport van. Their wrists were zip tied together, and all three were also put in ankle restraints and connecting belly restraints before being put in the vehicle.
“All but three individuals complied, vacated the building. The three that were arrested for trespassing were taken to the regional jail and will be processed for trespassing, which is a class one misdemeanor, and barring anything unusual, a bond will be posted if not a personal bond, [which is] being a promise that you will be in court,” said Hall. “Unless there is something else that we are not aware of, they will be released.”
According to Kronemer, the police did not read Miranda Rights to the three individuals arrested.
According to Hall, in situations where advanced warning is given and police have no questions to ask those being arrested, Miranda Rights are not required.
Divest UMW has “legal fees prepared to bail students out,” according to Kronemer. At the time of publication, Divest UMW raised $500 through GoFundMe, requesting donations for more legal funds.
“The administration decided that they had the opportunity to express their concerns, and they decided that with the increased amount of people that were in the building and the contents that were building up,” said Hall. “Everything was moving to a point that the safety of the individuals in the building and those occupying the building was compromised.”
The University stated it had kept the building open 24/7 and hired a private security guard to monitor and protect the student protestors. The statement issued by UMW administration also said, “The University continues to support the right of students to advocate for issues of concern, but they must first meet health and safety standards and expectations.”
At 6:45 p.m., members and supporters of Divest UMW congregated on the front steps outside GW Hall and continued their chanting.
“The students, united, will never be divided,” chanted the student group as the arrests occurred on the side of the building.
“After more than 165 students, faculty members and members of our community joined this action of civil disobedience, the administration informed us that we are no longer allowed to peacefully assemble in the administrative building, and they gave us one and a half hours notice, saying that we would be arrested by the authority of our administration and our Board of Visitors if we did not leave that space,” said Kronemer after the arrests.
“We made it clear that we are not going to leave, and we are going to advocate and uphold our first amendment rights to peacefully assemble in the space and advocate for the voices of more than a quarter of our student body who are concerned about our future, who are concerned about fossil fuel industry, which is directly driving climate change, an issue that would affect each and every one of us,” he continued.
Students and UMW community members looked on from Campus Walk, many filming the events on their cell phones.
Sydney Allen, a senior English major, watched as the three Divest UMW members were arrested.
“I completely support police officers,” said Allen. “I believe students were breaking the law, and this is their consequence. I am hearing a lot of people saying things to the police like ‘all they do is kill people.’ I’ve made sure to go up to as many officers and tell them I support them.”
Assistant Professor of Sociology Eric Bonds attended the event and expressed support for the group.
“I’m an advocate of divestment in general and definitely concerned about students’ well being, so I wanted to come out and see what was happening and make sure that students were being treated appropriately, especially for what I consider to be expressing fundamental right to free speech and something that I think should be promoted,” said Bonds.
According to Kronemer, Divest UMW will assemble at Friday’s BOV meeting to “show the community that has been formed by the sit-in and the collection of faculty, students of alumni, other community members who are outraged by the neglect that we’ve seen from this administration and this board of visitors.”
“This is a clear indication that the administration and the Board of Visitors has no interest in hearing the voices of the students,” continued Kronemer. “They’ve arrested students for doing the very thing I learned in the James Farmer seminar of upholding our rights to peacefully and honorably fight for our voices.”