On the Jan. 26 Student Government Association (SGA) meeting, Georgia State police detained student Asma Elhuni, after she stood up and spoke on the Turner Field sale despite the university president’s denial for audience questions.
Georgia State University President Mark Becker made a special appearance in tonight’s SGA meeting during which he attempted to cover all the current university activities and address questions that the student body has brought to his attention during the past semester.
Becker briefed the senators on Georgia State’s spring commencement in Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion, promising students the commencement team will dress it up in blue and white and make it “as Georgia State as possible”. The president also spoke on the recent Turner Field sale and the plans to renovate the stadium as soon as possible to ensure it is ready for the next football season.
When the floor was opened up to questions, Elhuni, who has long protested in favor of a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) with the Turner Field neighboring communities, stood up and asked the president whether he’ll take a question from her. Once Becker denied all questions from non-senators, she continued talking and was detained by university police.
El-Huni was escorted out of the meeting, and eventually was issued a Criminal Trespass Warning by Georgia State police for allegedly being “disruptive during a GSU meeting”, according to the police report.
According to a police statement released to The Signal, GSUPD has spoken with the group before the SGA meeting and “asked them to be respectful”.
“The latest disruption by this group of individuals was at the Central Atlanta Progress (CAP) meeting this morning on campus. Several people associated with this group were escorted out for disrupting the meeting. The remaining continued to ask CAP questions related to the Turner Field aquisition by GSU, an issue totally unrelated to the CAP Town Hall Meeting. Tonight, GSUPD allowed these demonstrators to enter the meeting and sit down. During the meeting and as Dr. Becker began the question and answer portion of the meeting, a female stood and asked if he was answering all questions. When Dr. Becker replied he was there to answer the SGA members’ questions, she became disruptive and refused to stop speaking and interrupting the meeting. This female was disruptive at several prior events and was escorted out by GSUPD so the business of the SGA could continue,” according to the police statement.
GSUPD Chief Joseph Spillane said the purpose behind barring Elhuni from campus is to ensure the protester wasn’t a threat to the Georgia State students and community, and that it’s only a security measure until the university administration decides how to address her actions.
“My first priority is keeping the students and faculty of Georgia State safe,” he said. “I support peaceful protests, they’re necessary for a healthy government.” But, Spillane said, the officers did not have a choice but to enforce the measure since Elhuni was being disruptive.
This is the second time Elhuni has been banned from university premises, after protesting on the same causes during Georgia State’s December commencement. That ban was lifted a day later, after she met with university police.
A non-Georgia State student was also arrested and according to Elhuni, taken back to Fulton County jail.
According to the GSUPD statement, “One male in particular obstructed officers in their duties dealing with the female by continuing to involve himself in her situation. When asked to provide Identification so GSUPD could issue a Criminal Trespass warning, the male refused and was arrested for simple obstruction. The female was a GSU student and will face an administrative investigation.”
Patricio Rojas, a CBA advocate alongside El-Huni, said the previous ban, along with this one were a “scare tactic”, “an empty and obvious scare tactic, and they dropped it because they understood there was no way of enforcing a two-year ban on their own students, on their own campus”.
“They threatened to give them the same ban, and that’s actually one of the questions we wanted to ask him [Becker],” Rojas said. ” Why are you telling the police to threaten your own students and ban them from their own campus for simply asking a question?”
Fortune Onwuzuruike, SGA president, said there’s multiple reasons why he can’t take a stance on El-Huni’s actions. The way she asked her question, he said, did not go according to SGA procedures.
“Usually I point at you, or the person speaking points at you, but (…) she just stood up and asked a question,” he said. “Every student that asked a question today, not one student did that today. No one through the entire night, we had several questions over the entire night, but nobody stood up and said ‘can I ask a question’.”
He said he ensured with members of the group that the meeting would remain calm, and didn’t think an arrest would take place.
“I had a whole plan about how I was going to do this [the meeting], [that was] we’re going to ask our questions peacefully, and get a peaceful response,” he said.
But according to Onwuzuruike, that wasn’t the only reason he was confused by Elhuni’s actions. He said that after USAS had their sit-down with Becker in early November, Onzuruike asked both parties for an update, to get a better understanding of the conclusion of the meeting.
“Becker has given me an update on the university’s [side], but to this day, I have not received an update from this group. The fact of the matter is, President Becker and them have met with their attorneys, and I told them, give me an update. The protesters never gave me an update,” he said. “You ask me where SGA stands, I don’t know, until I get the update.”
Onwuzuruike also explained that in an email he sent to Becker prior to the meeting, he didn’t clarify the meeting would be open, and only asked that SGA Senators, not audience members have the opportunity to ask questions.
Last updated Friday, Jan. 27, 1:50 a.m. to include GSUPD statement.
Wesley Dunkirk contributed to this article.