Wednesday November 7, 2001
We cannot tolerate scare tactics, intimidation
The Mount Graham protests on Oct. 12, in which 27 people were arrested and charged with Class 5 rioting, were nothing more than a scare tactic. The University Police Department is guilty of using the protesters as an example. They hoped to scare the protesters and anyone else who may wish to utilize their freedom of speech in the future from doing so within their jurisdiction.
The UAPD is guilty of overreacting to what was a worthy protest.
On Oct. 1, approximately 35 people representing American Indian environmental groups entered the Mirror Lab under Arizona Stadium in protest of the university's negligence for wildlife and the religious value on Mount Graham. The protesters moved their activities to the UA Mall, where the majority of them were wrongfully arrested and charged as felons.
They are not felons. Their activities were not riotous as was stated by the Pima County Attorney's office. Lous Spivak, a Pima County deputy attorney, said that his office found that the incident in no way resembled a riot. Granted, the few injuries to mirror laboratory staff that occurred during the entry are troubling - and protesters need to remember their obligation to protest peacefully - but what is more troubling is the police department's decision to scare the protesters with unsupportable felony charges.
The Pima County Attorney's office's decision to drop the felony charges proves that the police had no right to threaten the protesters in the first place. And it seems the only reason they did so was to create a precedent for any future protests on campus. Consider this: Would you protest if you ran the risk of being charged with a felony? That's exactly the question the police want running through our heads.
The police must remember their duty is, simply, to protect the rights of every citizen. One of the rights they are bound to protect is our right to freedom of speech. By overreacting to the Mount Graham protests, they have not only stripped the protesters of their rights, but deterred others that may wish to express their opinions.
The county attorney's office, after throwing UAPD's charges back in its face, recommended that UAPD officials charge the protesters with interfering in the peaceful conduct of an educational institution - a misdemeanor. That decision is yet to be made and is the decision of the UAPD.
The UAPD must realize their unique situation as the law enforcement department on a college campus. The UA, like every other university in the world, is a place where ideas are shared freely, where students are protected to voice their opinions and - if need be - protest wrongs and blow the whistle on unjust activities. The protesters had every right to enter the Mirror Lab peacefully, and the police should drop all charges.
Since the Sept. 11 terror attacks, police departments across the country have been on edge and in some cases have overreacted. This is one such case. In this case, they went one step further to attempt to discourage future protesters by charging these protesters as severely as possible. This campus cannot tolerate intimidation. In the coming months, some may feel the need to protest as our military activities in Afghanistan stretch into the winter, and they should not be deterred by fear of the police activity.