Students react to violence at Thursday protest

Pitt students gathered Monday afternoon to hear speeches and protest a violent incident between Pitt Police and students Thursday night. Kyleen Considine | Staff Photographer

After a week of tension — both in person and online — between protesters and the University, students once again gathered on Towers patio to express their frustration with police and Pitt.

This time, Dean Kenyon Bonner — who has written two public letters in response to the violence that erupted during Thursday night’s protest — was in attendance to hear student’s concerns. Bonner released a letter early Monday morning, reiterating the rights students do and do not have as protesters.

“As a reminder, among the rights Pitt students have under the University of Pittsburgh Student Code of Conduct, is the right to engage in peaceful, orderly and nondestructive picketing, protests and demonstrations to the extent they do not violate public law and do not interfere with the educational process or the rights of other members of the University,” Bonner said in the letter sent out Monday.

His doubled-down stance on protesting did nothing to calm students’ complaints that the University has been misrepresenting the events of Thursday night’s protests, when police used force to remove students from Towers lobby.

But during Monday’s event, Bonner, University spokesperson Susan Rogers and several other administrators stood watching from inside Towers lobby, which police blocked the students from entering.

Bonner said he came to Monday afternoon’s protest to show support for the students and willingness to address their concerns. After students tried to approach him inside Towers but were denied, he came outside to hear them.

“We are always open to listen to students to solve some of the issues they have,” Bonner said afterwards. “We may not always agree, but I think it’s important to have dialogue. We have always been open to that, and we will continue to be open to that.”

Bonner said that students can contact him through email or by phone to set up an appointment for further discussions.

Although Bonner didn’t say anything to the crowd, for about 15 minutes, the students — from several groups on campus spoke — about their experiences with the police on Thursday and asked Bonner to retract the statement he made Friday, which defended the actions of the officers.

Protesters held homemade signs that read “Students will not be silenced,” “If you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention” and “Dean Bonner, stop lying.” Five speakers addressed the crowd while reading off of a document composed of several witness and marchers’ testimonial of Thursday night’s event.

The document’s writers called Thursday night’s protest non-violent and peaceful but antagonized by police officials.

Alex, one of the organizers of the event who asked to not have her full name published, said that she and other students wanted to set the record straight and stick up for their constitutional rights to protest.

“I was here Thursday night when police started to hit back,” she said. “I was in the front line, and [I said to] the police in front of me, ‘This is my university, and I deserve to be here.’ And he looked at me and said, ‘F*** you,’ and he started to ram me with his body and hit me — it was traumatic.”

The police presence Monday unnerved Alex, even though there was no interaction between protesters and police that afternoon.

“I feel unsafe from [police presence],” Alex said. “They could get violent at any time and feel justified by it. It’s scary, but I feel good that all these people are by my side and standing up to what happened Thursday.”

As people clutched their hats and gloves, enduring the harsh wind and cold, the protesters’ attitudes were positive — indicated by their attentive reactions to speeches. They showed their approval through claps and cheers, boos of disdain during moments of alleged injustice and chants that included, “When student rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”

Phil Cancilla, 20, from Banksville, Pennsylvania, was one of two people arrested during Thursday night’s protests.

“[Police in jail] dehumanize you,” Cancilla said to the crowd. “There was no way to tell what time it was, and [I was] not given any food except expired white bread and bologna.”

In addition to Cancilla’s own testimonial, the speakers read other statements from individuals who were unable to attend the afternoon’s gathering.

“As we were walking, we chanted: ‘No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!’ The police officers around me said to me and others, ‘Oh, well Trump is your president now, too bad’ and ‘Trump is president now. What are you going to do about it?’ I tried to ignore it and just kept walking and chanting,” one testimonial read.

Although the protesters felt the response from police and university officials are disappointing, they have not deterred the individuals from protesting social injustices.

“My experience has not frightened me,” Cancilla said. “I’m still gonna be fighting for a change.”

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