For previous reporting on the sit-in from inside the Fleming Administration Building, click here.
After 7.5 hours in and around the Fleming Administration Building, Washtenaw County Climate Strike demonstrators left at approximately 9:30 p.m. Friday night. Melissa Overton, deputy chief of police and public information officer for the Division of Public Safety and Security, wrote in a message to The Daily that 10 demonstrators — including two minors — chose to remain in the building after multiple warnings. The 10 were arrested and given citations for trespassing, and the minors were held inside until their guardians arrived, Overton wrote.
Elizabeth Blackwell, a junior at Washtenaw International High School, said demonstrators inside were given an ultimatum by University employees of either leaving the building by 8 p.m. or facing arrest. If they chose to say, they were told they would be photographed and the case would be referred to the prosecutor’s office.
“I wasn’t an organizer for it, but I was really amazed by all the work they did because they did a really great job of getting everyone together to have group discussions without alerting the people there, the security guards there, about what was going on,” Blackwell said. “When they gave us that final ultimatum, they (the organizers) did a quick straw poll of who would be willing to stay to get arrested and of those people they confirmed that they were actually able to do this and then made plans based on that.”
The Climate Strike was part of a youth-led global movement calling for action on climate change. Organizers estimated 2,500-3,000 attended the initial rally at 12 p.m., which led to a march to the Administration Building.
Following the march, a portion of the demonstrators entered the building for a sit-in in University President Mark Schlissel’s office. At 6 p.m., approximately 60 demonstrators were still in the office.
LSA senior Olivia Perfetti said demonstrators had intended to sit in Schlissel’s office until their demands were met by the University and expressed frustration with the University’s response. One of those demands was a one-hour public meeting with Schlissel in which questions regarding the University’s plan to address climate change and carbon neutrality were not screened beforehand.
Perfetti was one of the demonstrators who was arrested and received a trespassing citation. She said a police officer interviewed her for approximately five minutes before she was charged with trespassing onto University property after hours.
“Even if none of us went into this with the intention of getting arrested, I think we all became very stubborn towards the end given the fact that we realized this was such a simple, straightforward, easy request to approve on his part,” Perfetti said. “The fact that he (Schlissel) didn’t do it means that there’s something really wrong in the administration.”
Although multiple administrators present at the Administration Building over the course of the night did not respond to The Daily’s request for comment, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald wrote in a 8:59 p.m. statement to The Daily that Schlissel shares the demonstrators’ concerns. He wrote University officials informed the protesters during the day they must leave the building when it closed at 5 p.m., but later extended the departure deadline to 8 p.m.
Fitzgerald also wrote that DPSS provided to demonstrators an outline of the situation and their options at 7:45 p.m., detailing what would happen if they stayed past 8 p.m. He noted additional time checks were provided to demonstrators inside at 7:50 and 7:55 p.m.
According to Fitzgerald, the remaining demonstrators were arrested and escorted from the building at 8 p.m. He said Schlissel recently met with some of the protesters during his regular student office hours and encouraged students to participate in town hall meetings hosted by the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality.
“We appreciate the urgency our students feel regarding climate change,” Fitzgerald wrote. “President Mark Schlissel shares that sense of urgency. President Schlissel has committed the campus to carbon neutrality and has appointed a special commission to explore a pathway to achieving that goal including solutions to climate change that go well beyond the borders of the campus. That critical work is now under way.”
A 9:42 p.m., a press release from Washtenaw County Climate Strike organizers claimed Fitzgerald, Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones and Liz Barry, special counsel to the president, all supported the arrests. The organizers expressed frustration that Schlissel was in contact with other administrators and the Board of Regents about the occupation but not the occupiers.
The press release also confirmed a previously unidentified demonstrator who was arrested and released earlier Friday night as Jeff Gaynor, a member of the Ann Arbor Board of Education. The press release also said another occupier was banned from the entire Ann Arbor campus because of their status as a non-student.
Additionally, the press release confirmed a Black 15-year-old girl, who was one of the first demonstrators to be arrested, was held inside for longer than white demonstrators. Some demonstrators said this was racial profiling, while others questioned if it was because of her age.
“Most of the protestors (who are white) were arrested, processed, and released shortly afterwards,” the press release said. “However, the Black woman was detained for almost an hour and questioned without a parent being present, which is illegal. She was threatened with the fact that being arrested would have a negative impact on her academic record. She was released around 9:30PM. To be clear: we consider this treatment to be racist, and a clear example of how the police continue to uphold white supremacy.”
Overton wrote the minors were held until the guardians arrived and were released into their custody.
Before dispersing for the night, the remaining demonstrators debriefed the day. Demonstrators emphasized the importance of contacting the Board of Regents in addition to Schlissel.
Rackham student Noah Weaverdyck said the demonstration went as well as organizers hoped it would, and they plan to take further action. Ultimately, he considers Friday’s events as a victory for demonstrators.
“This outside pressure is really gonna convince people, especially because we were so well-behaved, so reasonable and so passionate,” Weaverdyck said. “The cracks are beginning to form. We called their bluff, we faced them down and we won.”