Stand With The Eleven

Through the course of history, protests have always proven to be an essential element in preserving the democracy that we hold on to so dearly. Protests are a form of expressing dissent to certain events and policies. Most importantly, the act of protesting is protected through our First Amendment right of freedom of speech, and to be punished for peacefully exercising this right is completely unreasonable. Despite this, the district attorney of Orange County recently subpoenaed six UC Irvine students and compelled them to testify before a grand jury regarding an event that took place about a year ago.

On Feb. 8, 2010, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, was invited to the UCI campus by the political science department and the school of law to speak about U.S.-Israel relations. Eleven students spoke out during the event to peacefully protest and demonstrate their disappointment at the university for hosting an individual who is the official representative of a state that, according to the United Nations, is responsible for more war crimes than all other countries in the world combined. During the event, all 11 students were arrested for protesting. The university administration has since subjected these students to extensive administrative proceedings and possible sanctions.

Despite the university’s disciplinary proceedings, the DA of Orange County decided to summon a grand jury to investigate the potential of criminal charges — possibly felony charges — on the Irvine 11. The criminal charges being placed on these students are not only extreme, but they are completely unprecedented.

Whether one agrees with the manner of the protest or not, it is imperative to take a closer look at the actions of these students. The students exercised their right to protest peacefully by simply standing up, making statements and walking out before police approached them. Now, the question that arises is not about the way the students protested, but about the unprecedented nature of the consequences that are being brought forth by the county. Charging these students would simply be a waste of time and resources. In fact, Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UCI School of Law and a leading legal scholar, stated in an interview on KPCC radio that prosecuting the students is completely unnecessary.

Placing such charges on these students would have a chilling effect on student activism on college campuses. By taking such measures, the DA would be sending a clear message to students all around Calif., as well as the United States, that they are not allowed to openly express their opinions and stand up for their beliefs in the form of protesting. It is imperative that students understand the seriousness that such a measure could bring about in the future of campus activism.

As students of conscience, we must stand in solidarity with the Irvine 11, who are being punished for simply exercising their right to speak out at their university, a place that holds a cherished tradition of being an open marketplace for challenging different ideas. It is time for us, as students, to demand that our traditions of speech and protest be maintained and to call for an end to selective punishment through the possibility of criminal charges.

Mehwish Shakeel is a third-year international studies major and can be reached at mshakeel@uci.edu.