Fridays sees most arrests since 1970s
By Annabelle Boyd
and Reuven M. Lerner
Twenty-three MIT students and three others were arrested on Friday during a peaceful demonstration against MIT's opposition to South African divestment. This was the largest multiple arrest of MIT students since the early 1970s.
All arrested students were charged with trespassing, most were also charged with disturbing the peace, and one was charged with assaulting a police officer. They were arraigned on Monday, and each had to pay a commissioner's fee of $25.
According to arrested protester Kenneth S. Chestnut Jr. '92, the protesters were offered a deal: if they would each pay a court fee of $200 or serve 50 hours of community service, the charges would be dropped. Four international students took the deal, but the other 22 protesters refused. They are planning to file a class-action suit against MIT for police brutality and harassment.
The Coalition Against Apartheid, which sponsored the rally, held the protest to coincide with the April 6 meeting of the Executive Committee of the MIT Corporation. The CAA hoped to demonstrate to the Corporation the renewed student commitment to ending MIT's investments in companies doing business in South Africa. Students have been protesting MIT's South Africa-related stock holdings since 1976.
Currently, MIT has $84 million, five percent of its portfolio, invested in the stock of 13 companies that have employees in South Africa, according to President Paul E. Gray '54.
Students build shanty
The rally opened at noon in Lobby 7 and moved outside to a lawn adjacent to the Stratton Student Center at 1 pm. Student protesters built a wooden shanty to signal their support for the African National Congress. Students also displayed the tri-colored flag of the ANC.
Throughout the afternoon, administrative and academic officials and faculty discussed the presence of the shanty, referred to as "the unauthorized structure," with the protesters. At 4:40 pm, Senior Vice President William R. Dickson '54 formally asked the protesters to dismantle the shanty.
The protest culminated at 5:05 pm, less than four hours after the shanty was constructed, when Dickson informed the students that they would be arrested if they did not remove the shanty within five minutes.
Several protesters surrounding the outside of the shanty joined arms, and several other protesters standing inside the shanty started chanting: "This is not South Africa!"
Arrests result in injuries
At 5:10 pm, Campus Police Chief Anne P. Glavin gave the order for the arrests.
With members of the Cambridge Police standing by, the Campus Police began arresting the students, first those on the outside of the shanty, then, once Physical Plant workers opened the shanty, those students inside the structure. Physical Plant then dismantled the shanty and carted the pieces away. One worker was injured when a board from the roof fell on his head.
Those arrested were taken in Cambridge Police wagons to the Cambridge station. The arrest process and the demolition, took 20 minutes.
There were numerous injuries as a result of the arrests. One student was taken to Cambridge Hospital with a shoulder injury. Two students received neck injuries. Others complained of bruises and scratches. Several Campus Police officers reported sprains and pulled muscles. One officer sustained a knee injury and is now on crutches.
Another officer was kicked in the chest, and charged protester Jennifer Y. C. Huang '90 with assault and battery on a police officer with a shod foot. According to Huang, the officer assaulted her first, and if she did kick the officer, it was not intentional.
"She [the officer] stuck two fingers down the waist of my jeans and pulled me up that way. They put me face down and handcuffed me. But the [police] wagon was full when they were putting me in, so they shoved me in head first on the floor of the wagon with my feet sticking out. That's when it happened. It's hard to keep track of where your feet are when you're being stuffed head first in a wagon."
Glavin said the Campus Police have no intentions of dropping the charge against Huang.
There was similar violence between the CAA and the Campus Police on March 2 in another CAA-sponsored rally. Student protesters tried to take over an elevator in the Sloan building, in an effort to gain admittance to the MIT Corporation meeting. No arrests were made, but the protesters were dragged from the elevator by the Campus Police. According to Glavin, one female officer is still out with a shoulder injury she received in that protest and may require surgery.
Gray's policy to arrest
In an interview yesterday, Gray said, "I was not surprised by the shanty on Friday . . . these forms of demonstration are what I would call attractive nuisances. They tend to [attract] people who have different views to congregate around the structure. The longer they stay there, the harder they are to remove."
"The judge in Tent City told MIT [that we] appeared to have sanctioned that demonstration by letting it stay so long." Tent City was a month-long protest in the fall of 1987 involving a group of homeless people who camped out on a section of the MIT-owned Simplex site to protest the Institute's University Park development.
According to Gray, the decision to arrest the student protesters was "made in the abstract" quite a while ago. "We were not going to have shanties standing on the campus. I made that decision based on our experiences both in 1986 when there were two shanties on the Kresge Oval, and two-and-a-half years ago with Tent City."
"In 1986, we granted protesters permission to have the shanty up for one week. They stayed up for another additional week before MIT took action. In this case [Friday's demonstration] the protesters did not request permission, and it would not have been granted had they tried," he said.
In assessing his responsibility for the arrests, Gray said, "there's hardly anything I do around here that's solely my responsibility . . . I talked with the Academic Council about this two months ago when it was clear to me where the demonstrations were heading. I do not mean to imply that the AC concurred in this -- and I did not ask them to -- but I came to my own conclusion."
Gray admitted to being "slightly disappointed" by Friday's demonstration. "The shanties were the vehicle of four years ago, and it shows a certain lack of imagination that they were put back up again."