Ursinus arrest

Two unidentified Collegeville Police Officers handcuff an Ursinus College student at an April 9 protest.

COLLEGEVILLE — One Ursinus College student was handcuffed and arrested by borough police during a protest by members of the Philadelphia-based religious group whose members shouted "hate-filled verbal assaults" outside the campus.

According to a statement posted on the Collegeville Borough website, the incident occurred April 9 on the Main Street sidewalk near the 6th Avenue traffic light, adjacent to the college campus.

"The group, led by Aden Rusfeldt, the leader at Key of David Christian Center, hurled insults at bystanders about women, LGBTQ, Catholics, Muslims and others. Rusfeldt is also associated with a group called Matthew 24 Ministries," according to the statement signed by Mayor Aidsand F. "Ace" Wright-Riggins and the Collegeville Borough Council.

"Before long, counter-protesters from the student body gathered on the Berman Lawn, attempting to 'Defend the Den,' as they have been instructed in literature plastered around dorms, classrooms, and facilities," according to an April 15 article on the incident in The Grizzly, the college's student newspaper.

The Grizzly also reported the same protestors have been to Ursinus before.

As the group has done at other college campuses over the years, "they lined up facing the campus and commenced their harassment, yelling, displaying offensive signs, using bullhorns and generally attempting to entice students to engage them," according to the borough statement.

The borough included links to articles showing Rusfeldt had staged a similar protest at Shippensburg University on April 7 and at Kutztown University in 2020.

In 2018, one student assaulted Rusfeldt as he stood carrying signs on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, according to an article in the UPenn Statesman.

Collegeville Police were dispatched to keep the group and students separated as "60 to 100 people were present, spread out in small groups, according to the Ursinus College Campus Safety Director," the borough statement said.

"A male student instructed by an officer to step away from the area, failed to do so. When directly ordered by the police officer to step aside, the student refused to do so. This led to his arrest, which he resisted," according to the borough statement.

"After the young man was in the police car, it is reported that he kicked the officer in the chest. He was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and aggravated assault of a police officer," according to the borough.

Bystanders told Grizzly writer Marie Skyes, the student, who is reported to be a senior, "had approached the police, two of whom are seen maskless in the video, and asked them to put their masks on."

In an Instagram video of the arrest posted by an Ursinus student, two College Police officers can be seen struggling to handcuff the student, who was cursing at them. As the camera approached, a person wearing what looked like a college ID on a lanyard got between the camera and the arrest.

One police officer looked up, pointed and shouted "back up, get them to back up." He then leaned down to the student and said "I told you to shut up," as the student responded "take me to jail bitch."

According to the borough, both officers "have been fully vaccinated, and because they were in a situation that required clear communication with two groups, one of which was using bullhorns, they needed to be heard clearly."

The Grizzly reported the college issued two statements to the student body on April 12, "condemning the hateful speech by the protesters and stating that the school has been in contact with the Collegeville police chief, the family of the student arrested, the mayor of Collegeville, and other local officials."

In response to a MediaNews Group inquiry Tuesday, Ursinus spokesperson Ed Moore house wrote that "the student is back on campus and we’ve remained in regular contact with his family since the night of the incident. We’ve also met with him personally to check in on his well-being."

The name of the student arrested has not been released and a MediaNews Group request to the borough seeking his name and a police report about his arrest elicited no immediate response Tuesday.

The day after the protest and arrest, the Ursinus Student Government issued a statement saying students are “confused and deeply disturbed by the fact that protesters could gather and spew hateful speech,” The Grizzly reported.

It also reported that the college has "stated that since the sidewalk is private property, the protesters had a legal right to be there."

"Although this is offensive, annoying, and frustrating, it is considered to be protected speech," according to the borough statement.

The Grizzly also reported that Aidsand sent a separate email to students in which he wrote  “Freedom of speech and peaceful assembly is foundationally important to me. Yet, I wish I could ban hate speech.”

On April 12, "Missy Bryant, associate vice president and dean of students, and Mark Schneider, vice president and dean of the college, replied to The Grizzly’s inquiries" about the student government's concerns in a joint statement.

They wrote "whenever we become aware that groups who espouse hate appear on campus, we will issue an alert to the community letting students know to avoid that area,” the paper reported.

Moorehouse further shared with MediaNews Group an April 16 joint statement to the campus community from Wright-Riggins and Ursinus President Brock Blomberg.

"While we encountered a very unfortunate situation last Friday, we are committed to working through this challenge by finding ways to come together even more. After all, it was not only Ursinus students who were affected by the presence of this hate group, but neighbors in the surrounding community expressed their own concerns and fear as well," they wrote.

"We recognize that one student was impacted in a serious and concerning way, and that this too, is a source of tension. But we cannot be divided in this moment or else it leaves us no room to heal and to take measures to plan for the future," according to the statement.

Borough and college leaders met on April 13, according to the statement, and "agreed that education is needed, and we also identified a few key actions that could be of great benefit to our shared community."

Some of the actions outlined include: 

  • Campus Safety and the Collegeville Police Department will come together to discuss collaborative approaches to public safety, contextual sensitivity, and de-escalating tension-filled situations.
  • Identify existing campus and community forums to discuss such issues as speech and policing.
  • Have more college personnel trained in counter-protest tactics present on-site to support students when protesters are in the vicinity of campus.
  • The borough will consider the possibility of a constitutionally-permissible ordinance that could channel public protests in ways that minimize potentially negative interactions.

"Much of our joint effort has been to encourage our shared values and to clearly demonstrate that the protesters’ message of hate has no place in our community," Moorehouse wrote.

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