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Multiple arrests made during protests at UB campus

A group of people gather on the grass at the campus of the University at Buffalo.
Amanda Robert | BTPM
Protesters gather at the campus of the University at Buffalo on Wednesday night.

On Wednesday students at the University at Buffalo joined in a wave of encampments and protests across the country calling for divestment from Israel at institutions of higher education. These protests have also led to questions of when police should intervene in college protests and if the First Amendment rights of college-aged journalists are respected during these events. WBFO’s Emyle Watkins called Grant Ashley, the Editor-In-Chief of the UB Spectrum newspaper, on Wednesday night to hear about his experience and the police presence on UB’s campus. Ashley is also a part-time reporter for WBFO. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Emyle Watkins: Hey, Grant, thanks for making the time to update us on what happened at UB tonight.

Grant Ashley: Yeah, no problem, Emily.

Emyle Watkins: First off, how are you doing and how are your reporters holding up?

Grant Ashley: I'm doing all right. I'm a little hungry, but that's about it. I think we're all kind of just like processing what happened, trying to figure out the best way to go about writing about it. At the moment, you know, I think some people are still kind of like shocked about what happened, we were also contemplating like, 'Oh, what do we do if we, like, get arrested?' I was going through our heads at some point.

Emyle Watkins: How soon after protesters gathered, did police arrive on campus? And was it just the campus police, or was it other local municipalities?

Grant Ashley: Other police from different off-campus departments started arriving shortly after the march began. There were Erie County Sheriff's Office deputies there. There was Amherst police, one of the Tonawanda police departments. Was there. I forget if it was city or town. 10 more was there. State police showed up at one point. So it was a pretty large group. They left and then they came back at around 8 pm when they were starting to or on Sunset, when they were starting to tell the protesters like, 'Hey, if you don't leave, we're gonna start arresting you guys.'

Emyle Watkins: So, do we know if UB made the call to send police, and if so, do we know what the objectives of sending the police was?

Grant Ashley: Yes. So UB did call the police both initially and later on, shortly before they started arresting protesters, a university spokesperson told me that was as a precaution and to provide support to the University Police.

Emyle Watkins: In a video your paper posted tonight, a group of what appears to be police officers approaches a reporter, which we now know is you. Here is sound from that part of the video (nat sound) …What happened there?

Grant Ashley: Yeah, so I was actually trying to get away from the protest at that point to get a better vantage point. And then they were walking toward me. And then I tried to, like, kind of get out of their way. And then, you know, he was like, Get out of here. And I was kind of like, I am and then I was like, I'm media. And he said, 'I don't care.' He pushed me.

Emyle Watkins: He physically pushed you?

Grant Ashley: Yes, he did. Yeah, he did. I mean, it wasn't like, you know, pushed me on the ground, but he did push me back. And then at some point, I was on the side of the street with the protesters, and I tried to kind of walk around to the other side where the police were. They called me media guy, and he told me to get back. I did not get that on video, unfortunately, but as far as I know, that was the only physical altercation a spectrum reporter had with a police officer.

Emyle Watkins: What goes through your mind on a night like tonight, do you worry about you and your reporters being respected and having your rights as journalists honored?

Grant Ashley: Yeah, and I was, you know, concerned about that tonight because I'm not looking out just for myself, but I have to look out for, you know, all the other reporters I have in the field. I don't know if this will be the last increment attempt or, you know, protest that goes south during the semester. We've got two and a half weeks left until commencement. So, you know, I don't know what this is going to look like, but, you know, I do worry about our rights being respected moving forward, just because, you know, the police might get more tired, they might have, you know, less you know, quote, unquote, tolerance for people with phone cameras. I'm hopeful that anything else we have to cover. Will, you know, we'll be able to do so safely, but it's not a guarantee.

Emyle Watkins: Well, Grant, thank you so much for your work leading this important reporting, and thank you for taking the time to chat with us.

Grant Ashley: Yeah, of course. Thank you, Emyle.

Emyle Watkins is an investigative journalist covering disability for WBFO.