A multiracial group gathered in protest at American University on Monday (October 28) following an incident involving a Black female student being dragged out of her university-owned apartment by police.
Gianna Wheeler was suspended late last month after being accused of allegedly assaulting another student, which protesters called a false claim, reports the student newspaper The Eagle.
The AU Police Department was sent by the university to Wheeler’s dorm to perform a wellness check, according to the Action Network.
A video posted to Twitter on September 27 showed university police, D.C. Fire and EMS carrying Wheeler from her residence at the Frequency Apartments. She appeared to be wrapped in a blanket and was barefoot.
The video was posted by a friend of Wheeler’s named Aminta Zea, who wanted to bring urgent attention to the matter. It quickly went viral with nearly 30,000 views.
“URGENT: @AmericanU has allowed for their clientele and DC PD to violently attack and remove a young Black student from her home without proper evidence,” she tweeted. “When is it EVER ok for a young woman to be attacked by MULTIPLE cops. AU doesn’t care about its Black students. #HandsOffGiana
“Currently need legal advice ASAP: my friend has been detained and I can’t get in contact with her,” Zea added. “University police have denied telling me if she is in custody or not. What are legal proceedings to find out if someone is detained? Law twitter, please help me out.”
The Eagle reported the “HANDS OFF GIANNA” protest was organized in response to the incident by AU students, Black Lives Matter D.C. activists and The Future Is Feminist members.
“When a black student is under attack, what do we do? Rise up! FIGHT back! Live @AmericanU #HandsoffGiana,” Black Lives Matter D.C. tweeted, with video from the protest.
“What should have been the university’s earnest concern about the mental and emotional well-being of the student, was weaponized and used to permanently traumatize Gianna,” the Action Network said in a statement on their website.
They also stated Wheeler was removed “against her will” after seven police officers went into her room.
“One police officer also took the time to mock and threaten that Gianna was going to be on suspension from the school,” the statement included. “Recently we have seen how the egregious misapplication of force, and the police state mentality can lead to state sanctioned murder, as in the case of Atatiana Jefferson.
“Black and brown students have the right to feel safe in their dorms; supported by their schools through their mental health issues, and not have those issues used as justification of violation of their other rights,” they added.
Approximately 120 gathered to draw attention to Wheeler’s conduct hearing, which was scheduled to take place in Constitution Hall Monday (October 28) afternoon at 1 p.m., The Eagle reported.
According to Shelly Pevchin, the protest organizer, Wheeler said her suspension would be lifted by the Dean of Students on Tuesday (October 29), The Eagle reported.
Sources told Fox 5 the detainment never resulted in any criminal charges and was solely a student code of conduct issue.
The hearing ended with a not guilty finding and the student’s month-long suspension overturned, according to sources with knowledge of the hearing, Fox 5 reports.
Still, their fight for justice will continue.
“It’s not the end, but it’s truly the beginning because AU students -- particularly women of color and Black people on this campus -- have been discriminated against,” Chyna Brodie, another organizer and a freshman in the School of Public Affairs, told The Eagle.
“It was super important that we stood up for Gianna today only because one, that could have been any one of us or any student at AU, and two, Black students are being tired of being mistreated at AU,” Michelle Emenonye, a junior at AU, told Fox 5.
Past incidents on campus include bananas hanging from nooses and a white student using the N-word on social media, according to Fox 5.
During the protest, which took place on campus between Constitution Hall and the MGC building, university police denied demonstrators access to the Hall by blocking the entry.
So protesters gathered in front of the MGC building holding hands and blocking the stairs to prevent people access to the building’s main doors. Protest organizers encouraged the white demonstrators to move toward the front, The Eagle reports.
“White students need to stand up front to protect our Black brothers and sisters,” Pevchin said, according to The Eagle. “Understand that cops will not touch white students.”
Protesters also had a list of demands in seeking justice for Wheeler, which included allowing her to retake any classes she needs free of charge, paying for any of her therapy costs and firing officers that were involved in the incident, Pevchin told The Eagle.
Additionally, they’ve demanded the university release statements outlining mistakes were made and what will be done to prevent this in the future, The Eagle reports.
In a statement to Fox 5 in September, American University officials said, “As a University we are focused on the safety and welfare of all our students. Our emergency response to members of the AU community is a collaborative effort between AUPD, the Office of Campus Life, the AU Counseling Center, and others to ensure a comprehensive effort that de-escalates a situation, prioritizes safety and provides the support required.”
According to The Eagle, an AU spokesperson named Alexander gave a statement stating the safety and welfare of students is a top priority, but she was unable to specifically confirm details of Wheeler’s case.
“We’re probably going to be doing actions in the next couple of weeks that are more disruptive,” Pevchin said, adding that there was minimal disruption on Monday (October 28) ahead of Wheeler’s hearing “because we didn’t want it to affect the decision.”
(Photo: Leah Puttkammer/Getty Images)