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Ohio State students in an administrative building on campus protesting the university's association with Columbus Police. Photo: Twitter

Ohio State students show out against Columbus police after Ma’Khia Bryant’s killing

In addition to protesting in a school administration building, students took the streets to demand a response from the university.

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Following the fatal police shooting of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, hundreds of students at Ohio State University (OSU) gathered in a common area to demand that the school cut ties with the Columbus Division of Police. 

On Tuesday, April 20, minutes before the Derek Chauvin trial concluded with a guilty verdict, a Columbus police officer shot Bryant four times, and she died later in a local hospital. 

According to Bryant’s aunt, Hazel, her niece was the one who made the call to police for help because a couple of older girls in her suburban neighborhood were threatening her with assault. However, the police have not publicly identified who made the call. 

Bryant, who somehow got a hold of a knife, tried to defend herself against two of the girls, charging towards them, and an officer quickly responded by shooting Bryant. 

Bystanders who witnessed the chaotic incident were immediately shocked and outraged, yelling “she’s just a kid!”

Protests erupted shortly after the shooting, both at the scene of the crime on Legion Lane, and at the city’s police headquarters. 

Between both locations, hundreds of community members gathered, holding Black Lives Matter signs, chanting via megaphones and giving emotional speeches on trauma, grief, anti-police sentiment and Black liberation. 

Hana Abdur-Rahim, with the Black Abolitionists Collective, confirmed the stoic response, describing that this is just another day in Black America. 

“We are in a literal genocide. We are fighting for our lives,” he said..

On Wednesday night, demonstrations continued at Ohio State University. 

In the wake of the monumental racial justice case that finally brought accountability to the ex-cop who murdered George Floyd, tensions were high when people heard of yet another police shooting of an innocent Black person. 

Images posted to social media showed students packed in the Ohio Union, which houses student services, dining areas, a bank, and other university offices. Some people made speeches, but there were no reports of vandalism or unruly behavior. 

In a statement to Fox News, a university spokesman said that the school “supports the rights of our students, faculty and staff to peacefully express their views and to speak out about issues that are important to them.”

“Freedom of speech and civic engagement are central to our values as an institution of higher education,” the spokesman continued. 

The crowd eventually departed from their sit-in protest at the Ohio Union, and proceeded to march down a nearby street. 

Some carried signs with the victim’s name, along with phrases like “say her name,” while another student had a sign that said: “Being Black shouldn’t be a death sentence.”

Students are adamantly calling for the school to sever their connections with the Columbus Division of Police (CDP). 

The university currently has a contract with CPD for specific services, mainly traffic control for sporting events. The school police department also has a mutual-aid agreement with authorities to assist the police division off-campus. 

This is not the first time that students from OSU voiced these concerns and made the request to take action on behalf of their Black student population. 

In June 2020, following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, OSU’s student government councils sent a joint letter to university officials demanding that the school cut ties with the CDP.

Undergraduate Student Body President Roaya Higazi, Council of Graduate Students President Stephen Post, and Council of Student Affairs Chair Jordan Vajda cited in their letter that “injustices against the Black community and Columbus protesters” by CDP as the reason for their demands. 

The letter was addressed to President Michael V. Drake, Senior Vice President Jay Kasey, Vice President Dr. Melissa Shivers, Chief Kimberley Spears-McNatt, and Director of Public Safety Monica Moll. 

The student government leaders described the violent way in which Columbus police responded to peaceful protesters, “with wooden bullets, teargas, pepper spray and other chemical agents and military-grade forces.” 

“We witnessed our peers and Columbus neighbors endure unwarranted physical and verbal aggression for peacefully demanding justice and exercising their right to protest,” they wrote. 

The letter outlined five demands that they feel would provide more peace, respect, safety, and protection for their entire student population, particularly Black students. 

The students requested an immediate cease of contractual agreements between OSU and the CDP, and an immediate cease of the mutual-aid service contracts. 

They also demanded that the university stop accepting federal, military-grade resources and reduce the budget for expenditures that may be used for further militarization. 

As an alternative, the students suggested re-allocating the funds to invest in student support units like the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Student Life Multicultural Center and the Student Wellness Center. 

Next, they requested that the OSU Department of Public Safety release an action plan, designed through collaboration with students, that would affirm the commitment to Black student safety and overall safety through “disarmed, anti-force, and culturally competent practices.” 

Lastly, the student government representatives demanded that the university both acknowledge and condemn the anti-Black violence that the CDP committed against OSU students and the greater community of Columbus, Ohio. 

In response, an OSU spokesperson issued a vague statement, stating that university officials would “be in dialogue with our student government leaders about the specific concerns they have raised.” 

“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,” the spokesperson wrote, leaving much to be desired from the viewpoint of the student government representatives. 

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