November 18, 2016
By Tallon Kennedy
On November 17th, a group of protesters took to the streets of Pitt’s campus to rally against tuition hikes, to voice support for making the University of Pittsburgh a sanctuary campus, as well as to voice concerns for the wave of racism and alt-right ideologies surfacing throughout the country as a result of Trump’s election to the presidency.
The students went into the Towers Residence Hall on campus, and according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, police forces ordered the students to leave the residence hall, and when the protesters refused, the police got violent, pushing the demonstrators out of the dormitory, and using batons against them. The Post-Gazette also reported that the students began pushing back, and claimed that since they pay tuition to the University, that they have a right to protest in a residence hall they help pay for.
Since the incident, the response from the campus authorities has been less than admirable. Vice Provost and Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner sent out a statement to the student body, saying that, while the University wants to protect the students’ rights to protest on campus, that “protesters do not have the right to act in a manner that disregards the safety of others or damage property,” and that students who do protest without following the law “risk losing the great privilege of attending” the University.
The problem with this statement is that no reports indicate that the protesting students were damaging property as Bonner claims, or were acting in any manner that would make them a genuine risk to the safety of others, as Bonner also claims. This blatant lie from the Vice Provost is reprehensible, and is no doubt attempting to raise fear and antipathy of protests across campus, and is attempting to quell any protests from breaking out in the future. I believe Bonner has a moral obligation to retract his statement and to clear up the lies that he has espoused. University officials must be held accountable for their falsehoods and for promoting antipathy towards peaceful protests.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s report indicates that the protest didn’t become violent until the police started to use force. By all means, up until that point, the protest was a peaceful one, and while it’s fine to argue that Litchfield Towers is private property, and thus the protesters didn’t have a right to protest there, to suggest that the protesters were damaging property or compromising the safety of others is a blatant falsehood. If anything, the actions of the police in the situation were more damaging to the safety of community members than anything else.
Kenyon Bonner, Vice Provost, Dean of Students, if you want to take the moral high ground, you should apologize for lying about the Litchfield Towers protest.
To contribute to the bail of the students arrested at the peaceful protest, you can go here: https://fillerpgh.wordpress.com/2016/11/18/anti-fascist-legal-defense/