Seven students arrested at Students Against Peabody protest
Seven Students Against Peabody protesters have been released after being arrested at the group’s final planned protest Friday morning.
The students were arrested and charged with trespassing and disturbing the peace after attempting to cross a police line blocking entrance to the Knight Center, where the quarterly Washington University board of trustees meeting was taking place.
The students, who were attempting to hand-deliver a letter to Peabody Energy CEO Greg Boyce asking him to resign from the University’s board of trustees, were arrested by WUPD upon reaching the line. They have received summons to appear in St. Louis County court on June 2. Jill Friedman, vice chancellor for public affairs, confirmed that the students’ cases will be handled by the county and the University will have no further judicial involvement with them.
Around 75 protesters had gathered outside the Knight Center, chanting in protest of the University’s involvement with Peabody Energy. About an hour after the protest began, the group of seven students attempted to cross the police line, at which point they were taken inside the building, handcuffed and transferred via the Campus Circulator to the Washington University Police Department for booking.
“[A] group of participants attempted to gain access to a building where the Washington University Board of Trustees was meeting,” Washington University administration said in a statement. “They had been informed in advance that doing so was a violation of the acceptable terms of the event and that they would be arrested if they did so. They were reminded of these terms on site.”
Junior Breanna Swenson, who was at the protest but was not one of the students arrested, said the students attempted to cross the police line because their initial efforts had not garnered the response from the University that they had hoped for.
“We wanted to see if waiting or putting a little bit more pressure on the police would allow a few of us to go in to deliver the letter to Boyce,” Swenson said. “We didn’t want there to be any arrests if we were able to get what we wanted. But after over an hour of chanting, we realized that they were not going to take any action and we needed to step up.”
Junior Brendan Ziebarth, one of the students arrested, said he was surprised by the amount of police force outside the Knight Center.
“The thing that’s most shocking to me is the amount of police force they called out to be here today. We had WUPD, who was holding the line to keep students from entering the building, then the St. Louis County police, then some riot police with riot gear,” Ziebarth said.
Ziebarth added that he was not surprised by the University’s actions, however.
“We were prepared for this; we ran some scenarios to prepare in case this happened. Honestly I’m just surprised that the University was so quick to resort to arrest,” he said. “I’m disappointed that they would rather arrest students than have a dialogue and allow us to talk to Greg Boyce and present the letter and have a say in the board of trustees.”
Freshman Elayna Levin, another one of the students arrested, noted that the arresting officers seemed to be unprepared for the process of booking.
“It was very obvious to us that they weren’t prepared to deal with it. It took them a long time to get organized and a long time to figure out paperwork. The process of booking us one by one took forever,” Levin said.
“Honestly, I’m proud of the fact that I was able to speak up for what I believe is right and participate in an action that I wholeheartedly believe in,” Levin added. “As a freshman, I think it’s important for the University to recognize that they can’t keep waiting out students; this is not something that just seniors are participating in.”
Rob Wild, vice chancellor for students, was present at the WUPD station to take down the names of the arrested students but noted that he and many Washington University administrators were displeased that the arrests took place.
“The University and myself are interested in students saying things that they feel are important to them, and this morning was unfortunate, and none of us like to see our students get arrested,” Wild said. “I think what the students have shared has certainly been heard by the administration at the University. I can tell you it’s been talked about at the board meeting. I think this is a really difficult issue for all universities to grapple with…Students feel strongly about companies that the board represent; this is a tough one. I wish I could tell you that I see an easy solution.”
The seven students arrested were seniors Trevor Leuzinger, Georgia McCandlish and Christa Peterson; juniors Julia Ho, Caitlin Lee and Brendan Ziebarth; and freshman Elayna Levin.
With additional reporting by Derek Shyr.
Editor’s note: Trevor Leuzinger is a staff writer for Student Life. He did not contribute to this report.
UPDATED 1:40 p.m.: Added information from Washington University’s statement.
UPDATED 2:05 p.m.: Added information about WUPD’s ongoing investigation.
UPDATED: 6:45 p.m.: Added information after the arrested students’ release.