SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: June 01, 2020

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):Ohio State University

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On June 1, 2020, police reportedly pepper sprayed three student reporters at The Ohio State University (OSU) during a series of nationwide protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd.

On May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, police killed George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by kneeling on his neck for almost nine minutes. In a video recording of the killing, which was quickly circulated over social media and news channels, Floyd can be heard repeatedly saying “I can’t breath.” The killing sparked protests that quickly spread across the US and around the world over police brutality against Black people and systemic racism. While most protests have been nonviolent, a few were marked by looting and vandalism, often by individuals not associated with the protests. Police have used violent force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, and detentions against protesters, including during non-violent demonstrations. Several cities also ordered temporary curfews. 

Since the start of the protest movement, OSU students have actively participated in protests in Columbus, Ohio. On June 1, Mayor Andrew J. Ginther ordered an indefinite curfew throughout Columbus from 10 pm to 6 am. Members of the media are exempt from the curfew. Student journalists for OSU’s The Lantern covered the June 1 protest, in which protesters marched from the Ohio Statehouse to OSU’s campus. At around 10:25 pm, police reportedly confronted the protesters and began to push through the crowd and use pepper spray, dispersing the protesters. Police then approached the student journalists, who held press passes and identified themselves as members of the news media and therefore exempt from the curfew. Police reportedly threatened the student journalists with arrest, pushed one of them, and pepper sprayed three more. 

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of violent force against students in an apparent effort to restrict the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the United States of America is a party. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from restricting the right to freedom of expression, so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, violent force intended to restrict peaceful expressive activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.