Violence at protest against student debt, one student arrested

By Wesley Hood / Staff Writer

Pitt police arrested two people – one who is a Pitt student – during a protest Thursday evening.

Police handcuffed three protestors – two female, one masked individual – after they forced entry into Tower B during a protest that began at the Cathedral of Learning around 5 p.m. Thursday evening.

The march of about 85 people, which was billed online as “Students Rising! march against trump, march for one another,” was planned originally as opposition to student debt, but changed post election to incorporate issues that organizers say young people faced both prior and after the election of Donald Trump.

Organizers would not provide their names or information regarding which organization they belonged to. The original Facebook event, started by Pitt Against Debt, has since been deleted.

Before the march from the Cathedral, Michael Quinn – a community member who took part in the protest – urged his fellow protesters to be responsible in their actions.

“It is our right to protest, but to protest responsibly,” Quinn said through a megaphone to the crowd.

In response, some attendees shouted back at Quinn saying things like “You protest your way, I’ll protest mine” and “I’ll be violent if I want to.”

About 85 protesters marched in Oakland Thursday night against Trump and student debt. John Hamilton | Senior Staff Photographer
About 85 protesters marched in Oakland Thursday night against Trump and student debt. John Hamilton | Senior Staff Photographer

Joe Miksch, a university spokesman, released a statement on behalf of the University following the incidents.

“Protesters attempted to enter Litchfield Towers lobby after being asked by University police not to do so,” Miksch said, citing the statement. “Subsequently two arrests were made by Pitt police. One of the arrested is a Pitt student. Charges for both arrestees include aggravated assault, resisting arrest and trespassing. No injuries were reported.”

The woman arrested – wearing a green jacket in the video – is Victoria Brown, a member of the Pittsburgh Student Solidarity Coalition. Brown is charged with aggravated assault, criminal trespassing, riot, resisting arrest, failure to disperse and disorderly conduct. Brown has a preliminary hearing set for Nov. 30.

Regina Hendley, a Pittsburgh resident who participated in the protest, said she was in the lobby of Tower B when the altercation between officers and protesters began. The fighting began when an officer tried to physically move a protester, who pushed back, prompting other officers to try and subdue the protester.

“I’m just really shaken up. Really shaken up. [The police] just started pushing people and then people fell to the ground and were cuffed,” Hendley said.

Because the change in theme post-election – which occurred eight days before the planned march – many in attendance were there for different reasons, ranging anywhere from treatment of minorities to outrage about the recent political climate.

Avani Kolla, a senior neuroscience major who attended the rally, was there because she wanted to stand up for those who couldn’t be heard on their own.

“I’m here to stand in solidarity and to give marginalized groups a voice,” Kolla said.

Josh Cook, who identified himself only as being a “fed up Pittsburgh resident,” was there specifically to protest Trump’s election to office.

“This city belongs to it’s residents, not to Trump, not to fascism,” Cook said. “I oppose Trump in every possible way.”

This latest protest took place after two others that occurred this week on Pitt’s campus. In the city alone, there have been upwards of five protests since the presidential election.

As participants were escorted by officers from both the Pitt police and City of Pittsburgh police, chants of “Oink oink, bang bang, everyday is just the same,” rose from the crowd.

The march made its way down both Forbes and Fifth Avenues between Carnegie Mellon University and Pitt’s campus, with paths that diverted down Atwood Street into Central Oakland and near UPMC Presbyterian, before participants made a final stop at Litchfield Towers, where the group gained entry into the main lobby.

Prior to leaving the lobby, protestors all joined together in song. As they left the lobby they sang: “Don’t walk in front of me I may not follow, don’t walk behind me I may not lead. Together we will walk in peace again.”

According to organizers, as they left Towers lobby, a protester was restrained by police, but was not taken into custody.

Protesters then moved to the Schenley Quadrangle, when they expressed concern for a member of the protest who was taken by police from Towers lobby.

The crowd shouted, “Let him go! Let him go,” at the police who were standing by.

One organizer who would not provide her name, then shouted through a megaphone directly at the police.

“Aren’t these supposed to be the people who protect us?,” she said.

Agreeing with the speaker, protesters then proceeded down the sidewalk along Fifth Avenue, back to the Towers patio where they attempted to storm the lobby once more.  

Officers blocked the entrance into the main lobby of Towers, forcing protesters to enter Tower B from Fifth Avenue. Only about a third of the protesters made it into Tower B before police forced themselves in front of the door to block the remaining crowd from joining.

Officers from both departments were shouting “back up and leave” at the crowd in an effort to disperse the crowd that remained outside Tower B.

Meanwhile in the lobby, an altercation turned aggressive between officers and protesters when one protester pushed back at an officer who was trying to force her out of Tower B. Following this, at least three people were seen being put into handcuffs – with at least one of them being taken away from the scene by police.

During the altercation, more officers from both the city and Pitt police arrived with riot gear, threatening to arrest those who didn’t disperse.

Around 6:30 p.m. – less than an hour after the march began – protesters left the area peacefully.

Officers locked the entrances to buildings around campus – the Cathedral, the William Pitt Union and Towers – after the altercation, to prevent the protesters from re-forming in other locations.

“We tried to exercise our rights, we tried to be peaceful, and this is what happens,” Hendley said.