Evanston Mayor sends letter to NU president in response to Saturday student protest

Evanston Mayor sends letter to NU president in response to Saturday student protest
The Weber Arch at Northwestern University, where student protesters have have held 22 consecutive days of demonstrations urging the university to divest from police. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

By Bennett Baker
Medill Reports

Evanston Mayor Stephen Hagerty penned an open letter Sunday to Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro in response to student protests downtown on Saturday night.

In the statement, Hagerty alleges increased protestor aggression and asks the university to foot the overtime bill for the city’s law enforcement officers.

The mayor also asserted that while he supports the public’s right to peacefully protest, the city will “continue to arrest anyone who is seen harming or threatening harm to police officers, as well as damaging or defacing public property.” Protesters say that police began surrounding the crowd before shoving them back forcefully using pepper spray.

In a statement to Medill Reports, Northwestern University spokesperson Jon Yates reaffirmed the university’s support of the right to protest, but stated that those who violate university policies or state or federal laws would be held accountable.

The Oct. 31 protest at Sheridan Road and Clark Street marked the 20th consecutive day of student demonstrations demanding Northwestern University to divest from law enforcement, as outlined in a June 3 letter addressed to university administration and signed by over 300 student groups and over 8,000 individuals.

The protesters gathered at the John Evans Alumni Center and marched toward the Rebecca Crown Center before turning south on Orrington Avenue, where the police response began to escalate, one student protester said.

“The police were in full riot gear with their canines and threatening to use chemical weapons,” the protester said. “I was behind a row of umbrellas with my back turned because I didn’t have goggles but I saw that people had been pepper sprayed.”

A press release posted by the city of Evanston on Sunday after publication of the mayor’s letter alleges that the protesters prompted the police response by “throwing rocks and bricks at police officers, lighting fireworks in the direction of officers, pointing lasers at police officers’ eyes, and using umbrellas to cover individuals graffitiing streets, stop signs, and electric boxes, and damaging property.”

During the demonstration, protesters tweeted that officers used tear gas on the crowds, including photos that seemed to show clouds of smoke. The city’s press release claimed that while pepper spray was used, no tear gas was deployed and that the smoke in the photos came from fireworks used by protesters.

An article published by The Daily Northwestern on Sunday noted that one protester was taken to the hospital after being hit by pepper spray, while several others were treated by medics on scene.

During the approximately 150-person protest, one officer was transported to the hospital for an eye injury from a firework and a female Northwestern student was arrested for hitting a police officer, according to the press release. The student has since been released.

Northwestern leadership meets with the mayor of Evanston and the city manager regularly, “and we anticipate that our upcoming meetings will discuss the protest and a range of topics that impact both Northwestern and Evanston,” Yates said.

As of the time of publication, Northwestern University President Schapiro has yet to respond publicly to the mayor’s correspondence.

Hagerty declined to comment further.

Bennett Baker covers Northwestern student protests at Medill. You can follow him on Twitter at @BennettBaker7.