Jennifer Jacobs, The Des Moines Register
VPC Police officers outside Donald Trump’s rally Monday evening at Valdosta State
About 30 Black students were escorted out of a Donald Trump rally in Valdosta, Georgia. Hear some of the students tearfully describe what happened.
VALDOSTA, GA. — There are different accounts of who made the decision to eject approximately 30 Black students who say they were standing silently at the top of the bleachers at Donald Trump’s rally here Monday evening.
Late Monday night, a Trump spokeswoman denied that the incident at Valdosta State University’s campus was initiated “at the request of the candidate” or the presidential campaign. A spokesman for the Secret Service contradicted the students’ statements that federal agents led them out of the building, saying Trump staff and local law enforcement officials were in charge of handling protesters.However, Valdosta Police Chief Brian Childress tried to clear up the confusion Tuesday morning, telling USA TODAY that he personally went to speak to the Trump campaign staff and the local law enforcement officers helping with security to confirm who ordered the students out, and to ask why.
“These folks were told to leave the PE complex by the Trump detail,” Childress said.
The police chief said he thinks the Trump staff made the right call — and it wasn’t a racial issue.
Trump had rented the venue, so “he had the right to tell folks he didn’t want to be there, that they had to leave. I’m not campaigning for anyone. That’s not what I do. But in this case, I support them,” Childress said.
The sight of the students, who were visibly upset, being asked to leave the grounds created a stir at a university that was a whites-only campus until 1963.
The young people said they had planned to sit in silent protest, but were escorted out by security officials before the presidential candidate began speaking. The incident was recorded on video by several attendees.
“We didn’t plan to do anything,” said a tearful Tahjila Davis, a 19-year-old mass media major, who was in the group of Valdosta State University students, many of whom were wearing all black, that was removed. “They said, ‘This is Trump’s property; it’s a private event.’ But I paid my tuition to be here.”
Brooke Gladney, a 22-year-old marketing and business management major, said: “The only reason we were given was that Mr. Trump did not want us there.”
After this story was published Monday evening, Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in an email: “There is no truth to this whatsoever.” She said “the campaign had no knowledge of this incident.”
Trump has been regularly heckled by protesters at his campaign rallies, but tensions have increased after he came under fire on Sunday for not immediately condemning support from a prominent white supremacist.
Earlier Monday, some black students at another Trump campaign rally, on the campus of Radford University in Virginia, were led out by security officers after they began chanting: “No more hate! No more hate! Let’s be equal, let’s be great!”
Trump’s two campus rallies took place just one day before high-stakes Super Tuesday, when 11 states hold GOP contests, including a collection of southern states. Trump is poised to lock down enough delegates to give him a sizable — and possibly insurmountable — lead over his GOP rivals.
Robert Hobak, a spokesman for the Secret Service, said agents were reportedly in the area where the Valdosta students were standing inside the venue, but they would have been simply monitoring. Escorting protesters out of rallies is “not our function,” he said. It’s up to the host committee, campaign staff and local law enforcement to handle, he said.
“This happens sometimes that people will confuse us with other law enforcement,” Hobak said Tuesday morning.
Several other Valdosta students scattered in smaller groups throughout the audience inside the rally said before Trump’s speech that they intended to sit in silent protest, without causing any disruption. They followed through on that. Only one person, who was white, was ejected for protesting during Trump’s remarks.
Among the group of 30 to 40 asked to leave, at least one was white, and several of them committed violations that could have led to their arrest if police hadn’t shown restraint, Childress said.
“What I resent is now some of these folks are going around saying it was a black issue. That’s total nonsense,” he said. “I personally asked why were these folks told to leave and the reason was: they were being disruptive. The Trump staff said they were using profanity. The F-bomb is one word that was used. You can’t be in there using profanity. That violates Georgia law.”
Some of the students could have been arrested for disorderly conduct or for criminal trespass for arguing with the Trump detail when they were asked to leave, Childress said.
Once the students were outside, a combination of local law enforcement officials, including Valdosta police, took over, he said.
Some of the young people who’d been ejected “tried to jump back in line and cut in front of folks who were waiting – and that was a very long line – and that made some of the folks in line upset. At that point, we were told they needed to leave the complex,” the police chief said.
There were roughly 7,000 spectators inside the venue and about 3,000 more outside, he said.
“We didn’t have a single arrest. I think that shows great restraint,” Childress said.