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Administration backs student-led protest near campus
When Webster University sophomore Andrew Gurney sat in his jail cell at the Richmond Heights Police Station, he had no idea Webster University Vice President and Provost Julian Schuster was waiting to assist him in his release. When he was released, Gurney said
Schuster embraced him and said, “We know you didn’t do anything wrong.”
On Dec. 2, Gurney participated in a student-led protest organized by the Association for African American Collegians (AAAC) and Students in Solidarity called Homework in the Streets. Gurney said he was on his way to Marletto’s Marketplace when he heard students chanting “This is what an education looks like” and saw it as opportunity to join the movement. Gurney said after Michael Brown’s death, he realized the amount of prejudice in St. Louis.
Homework In The Streets.
At 5 p.m., Webster students filled the University Center, handed out signs and prepared to shut down the intersection of Big Bend Boulevard and Edgar Road. Webster student Jeremy “Oreo” Coleman, who helped organize the protest, said the organizers originally planned to only block off the intersection. However, students continued to march down Big Bend toward the Murdoch Avenue and Interstate Highway 44 overpass to hold a “die in” by lying in the middle of the street.
Coleman said the purpose of the protest was to disrupt the Webster Groves community. Coleman said they wanted to trigger conversation, educate the community and send the
message they are not done fighting against racial injustice and police brutality.
This protest was a part of a series of demonstrations that have occurred across the nation in response to the grand jury’s decision to not indict Darren Wilson and minority deaths caused by alleged police brutality.
“People of color are dying everyday because of a system that was not built for us,” said Coleman. “We are just trying to create an inconvenience, because we have been inconvenienced all our lives.”
Dean of Students Ted Hoef said he learned of the demonstration through Public Safety, who heard the announcement at Washington University’s (WashU) demonstration Dec 1. Hoef said he met with Julian Schuster and the chief of Public Safety to form a plan the morning of Webster’s protest. Webster administration, faculty and staff wore orange name tags and walked alongside the protestors to observe the event and ensure their safety.
“Support from a content-neutral standpoint we are there to support no matter what — support the students’ right to express their opinions,” said Hoef.
Present at the protest was Student Affairs staff Nicole Parres, Katie Kenetzer and John Buck, along with Administrators Patrick Giblin and Julian Schuster.
Coleman said WashU and Saint Louis University’s administration was not present at any of their campuses protests.
“I was grateful that the administration was there,” said Coleman. “Because if they weren’t there, the policeman would have done anything that they wanted to.”
Coleman said in his eyes, the protest was a success, but that it was unfortunate a student got arrested. Coleman and Hoef did not witness what led to Gurney’s arrest. However, five student witnesses have said they believe the arrest was unjust.
Webster freshman Tatiana Tate said she was in front of Gurney when he was arrested. She said the students linked arms while they marched back to campus down Big Bend when the police officer pushed into the crowd and attempted to break through their line. Tate said the officer then grabbed Gurney, who was holding onto the pole of a banner.
Gurney was one of six students who held a banner that read: ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ Gurney said the officer walked toward him and shouted “You are done; it’s done; you are unlawfully assembling,” then scooped Gurney up with one arm and handcuffed him.
“I wasn’t fearful because I knew I didn’t do anything wrong,” said Gurney.
Gurney said he was placed on the sidewalk with his hands behind his back as the crowd chanted “Bring him back, bring him back.” He was first taken to the Webster Groves Police Department and then to Richmond Heights Police Department, where he was detained. He was released without bail and with a summons for third-degree assault.
Webster Groves Police Department Lt. Andy Miller said third degree assault is a misdemeanor a threat or injury of infliction, unlawfully touching an officer. Miller said to his knowledge the officer was not injured. However, he could not get into detail about the arrest. The Journal was denied access to the incident report.
Webster student Meghan Steineker, Tate and three other witnesses said Gurney did not touch the officer.
Schuster said he did not witness the arrest, but that Schuster’s actions speak for themselves on Gurney’s arrest. Schuster said he believed the students behaved in a dignified and peaceful way.
“For me it was very important to be with the students and feel what they feel,” said Schuster. “We are here to get closer to the students.”
Schuster said he wished he had embraced Gurney in a better location, instead of in at the police station.
However, Gurney said he appreciated the support.
“Having the administration there made me feel like they had my back,” Gurney said. “It was comforting.”
Gurney will appear in court Jan. 28.