- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 14, 2006

Police last night arrested dozens of student demonstrators who had blocked the gates of Gallaudet University’s Northeast campus for three days in protest of the administration’s choice for university president.

The students were uncooperative but peaceful — forming human chains and forcing campus police and Metropolitan Police officers to separate them, lift them and drag them to a waiting fleet of vans.

The crowd jeered and howled as each student was carried off. By late last night, police had arrested about 90 protesters.

Police first said the students would be transferred to the department’s training academy in Southeast and charged with unlawful assembly, which carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $250 fine.

Later, officials said the charge would be incommoding — a lesser infraction for which students could pay a $50 fine and be released or schedule a court appearance.

The arrests were made at a side entrance to the campus on Sixth Street Northeast and began at about 8:50 p.m., almost two hours after police and university officials issued a final warning to the demonstrators to disperse.

“I deeply regret being forced to take this action,” said outgoing school President I. King Jordan. “I realize it may lead to arrests, but the protesters have left me no choice. Gallaudet University has exhausted all means of communication in negotiating with those who have disrupted the university’s educational processes and held the campus hostage to their demands.”

Mr. Jordan issued the final warning at about 7 p.m., after an hour of negotiations between student leaders and incoming President Jane K. Fernandes. Mrs. Fernandes briefly went out among the protesters in front of the main gate of the campus on Florida Avenue Northeast at about 2 p.m. She invited student leaders to meet and discuss their issues, while asking them to reconsider their protest. Neither side budged.

Students opposed to Mrs. Fernandes’ appointment as president first took over Hall Memorial Building last week to demand that she resign. Early Wednesday, the protesters barricaded the six entrances of the campus, which includes a nursery, and elementary, middle and high schools.

Mrs. Fernandes, who was named president in May, will officially replace Mr. Jordan in January.

Shortly before officials issued the warning, police took position around the Sixth Street campus gate. Students had agreed to lift a barricade of the side entrance late Thursday, then reneged. The protests will be allowed to continue at the school’s other gates.

Welders removed one of the gates as police and students watched.

Meloyde Batten-Mickens, executive director of facilities and chief of the school’s department of public safety, asked protesters not to block access to the school’s gates and said the requests were “non-negotiable.” She said those who interfered would be subject to arrests, criminal prosecution and expulsion.

Assistant Chief Gerald Wilson of the Metropolitan Police Department also addressed the students.

“The Metropolitan Police Department has gone to great lengths not to take sides in this issue,” he said, advising the students on what they should expect.

Police issued several formal warnings before making the arrests and told protesters that those who did not resist would not be handcuffed. Handcuffing deaf people has been criticized because doing so takes away their only method of communicating.

Many of the 200 students who had formed the core of the protest group made their way from the front gate of the university to the side gate when it became apparent that the arrests would take place there.

Some shouted “arrest me” as police awaited the arrival of a light truck deployed to illuminate the area and ensure that the students would be able to understand the warnings given by sign-language interpreters.

Some students were defiant.

“I just want to see the best for Gallaudet,” said Justin Jackerson, 19, through a sign-language interpreter. “I want to do this for Gallaudet. I know that I will not be alone.”

Administrators canceled classes for the three days of the protest rather than call in police. Earlier yesterday, university officials said that arrests would be a last resort.

“We have to understand that inside the deaf community and the Gallaudet community [arrests] would be the saddest thing that could happen, and it would take a really, really long time to recover from that,” university spokeswoman Mercy Coogan said.

Earlier yesterday, some students said they were anxious for classes to resume.

“I’m frustrated with the protests,” said Jessica Loughran, 20, an international student in her third semester. “I know it’s good for people to support, but I want my education.”

After the Board of Trustees at Gallaudet, the country’s largest school for the deaf, selected Mrs. Fernandes as its next president in May, protests followed until summer break, including objections from 67 percent of the faculty.

The protesters said there was a lack of diversity among the finalists in the selection process. Mrs. Fernandes, who is deaf, said some people think she is not deaf enough.

Gallaudet students engaged in similar arguments and protests in 1988, until a president-elect resigned and the board hired Mr. Jordan, who became the first deaf president at the 142-year-old university.

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