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U. of C. Barricade Torn Down, 9 Arrested at Trauma Center Protest

By Sam Cholke | June 3, 2015 5:11pm | Updated on June 4, 2015 11:08am
 A Chicago firefighter cuts through a bike lock that protesters used to barricade themselves in a U. of C. administration building.
A Chicago firefighter cuts through a bike lock that protesters used to barricade themselves in a U. of C. administration building.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

HYDE PARK — Police and firefighters broke through the wall and window of a University of Chicago administration building Wednesday evening after nine protesters barricaded themselves inside, demanding a meeting with the university president to discuss opening a trauma center.

The protest began around 4 p.m. Wednesday, with police and firefighters beginning to force their way in around 6 p.m. They broke through drywall with axes, used crowbars to pry open a window frame, then used a power saw to cut through a bike lock that was keeping doors closed.

University officials said the protesters were blocking access for the disabled and needed to be moved.

All nine protesters were put in handcuffs around 6:30 p.m. and taken away by police to Wentworth District headquarters.

Sam Cholke details what the protesters want:

All nine have been charged with three misdemeanors, mob action, resisting arrest and trespassing, and continute to be held at the Wentworth District, according to Jeremy Manier, a spokesman for the university.

The nine detained were Kelvin Ho, Emilio Comay Del Junco (a U. of C. graduate student), Greg Goodman, Victoria Crider, Caroline Wooten, Veronica Morris Moore, Alex Goldenberg, Jackie Spreadbury and Michal David.

Another 15 protesters were standing outside the Civic Engagement Office building at 5801 S. Ellis Ave., chanting as police pulled on the doors locked with a pipe through the handles, though none of them was detained by police. 

Protesters have promised four days of protests as the university gets ready for Alumni Weekend.

"If you give us anything on this list, we'll come out," Veronica Morris Moore yelled to university police through the barred door.

The protesters' demands include a meeting with university President Robert Zimmer by the end of the week; raising the age limit to 21 for Comer Children's Hospital pediatric trauma center; participating in a U. of C. feasibility study on opening a trauma center; and securing agreement on a trauma center before accepting the Barack Obama Presidential Library.

Chicago firefighters prepare to break an exterior window of a University of Chicago administration building. [DNAinfo/Sam Cholke]

"We're not holding anyone hostage, people can still get out," Moore said.

Kenneth Polonsky, dean of the medical school, was spotted by protesters leaving via the back door of the building. They followed him, asking if he cared about black lives while he was escorted by a university officer across Ellis Avenue.

U. of C. Medicine spokeswoman Lorna Wong said that the university is conducting a feasibility study to determine the medical center's overall clinical capacity, though she did not say whether that process would include community input.

"In the meantime, the medical center has taken formal steps to raise the age limit of its pediatric program to include 16- and 17-year-old children," she said, which will increase the patients served by more than 40 percent.

Alex Goldenberg was among nine protesters handcuffed and taken into police custody Wednesday. [DNAinfo/Sam Cholke]

It's not possible to accommodate the protesters' request to raise the trauma center age limit to 21, Wong said, because patients 18 years and older are considered adults.

Wong added, "As our patient volume continues to grow, we are examining our overall clinical capacity, including what it would take to offer adult trauma care and its potential impact on our hospital and emergency room, which already are over capacity."

Jeremy Manier, a spokesman for the university, said two deans-on-call, staff and faculty who help students negotiate situations with police, were sent in to talk to the protesters.

The protesters declined the offer to talk, Manier said.

He said the protest blocked access to the building for people with a handicap who could not use the stairs and cut off access to the fire alarm panel.

"These actions endangered people who work in the building. The protesters prevented access to the building's fire alarm panel and blocked one of the two main fire exits — the only exit that people with mobility limitations could use," Manier said of why the university chose to remove the protesters.

He said that while the university remains committed to ensuring freedom of expression and the rights of protesters, actions that endanger the safety or violate the laws are unacceptable.

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