On Feb. 8, 2010, 11 students protested a visit to campus by Michael Oren, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, by repeatedly interrupting a speech that he gave in the Student Center.
It has now been over a year since that event took place. An investigation by the university resulted in the suspension of the Muslim Student Union for a quarter. That suspension has been completed, and the MSU is now able to resume normal activities on campus. In the time since the event, nothing has escalated, and most of us on campus thought we had moved on from the controversy and had put the issue to rest.
Unfortunately, we are now forced to revisit the issue. On Feb. 4, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas filed criminal charges against the 11 students for disturbing a public meeting and engaging in a conspiracy to do so. Should the students be convicted, each could face up to six months in jail.
More than 100 UC Irvine professors and faculty members responded to this news with a petition. In the document, they acknowledged that although disrupting Oren’s speech was wrong, punishment by the university was sufficient for the students’ behavior. The faculty petition urged the DA to “dismiss the criminal charges” against the 11 students. The letter also mentioned that charging the students “sets a dangerous precedent for the use of the criminal law against nonviolent protests on campus.”
Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UCI School of Law, also penned an op-ed in the Orange County Register last week, in which he stated that the charges are “unnecessary and misguided.” He also noted: “It is inexplicable why the scarce resources of the criminal justice system are being used for this, especially since the students already have been punished by the university for their disruptive behavior.”
The New University Editorial Board joins Dean Chemerinsky and many of our other professors in urging the district attorney to drop criminal charges against the 11 students immediately. We have a wide range of opinions on the various details and side issues that have been discussed along with this controversy, but we stand together in agreement that criminal charges against these students would be going too far. The university has punished them sufficiently for their actions and has set the correct precedent for the future. The idea that non-violent protests should result in criminal charges and jail time, while violent acts go unpunished so often in our society and even on our own campus, contradicts what we think our legal system is supposed to be doing for us as a society.
Several of us on the Editorial Board attended the Michael Oren speech last year and witnessed the protests. We have a variety of opinions about whether the protests were justifiable, productive or protected by the First Amendment. But we all agree that charging these students and sending them to jail for what they have done is completely ridiculous. We strongly urge the district attorney to drop the charges made against these students and allow the UCI community to finally move on from this chapter of our history.
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