The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 57.0°F | Mostly Cloudy

Gray to allow shanties in apartheid protests

By Niraj S. Desai

President Paul E. Gray '54 on Tuesday agreed in principle to allow the Coalition Against Apartheid to erect a pro-divestment shanty provided the CAA removes it the same day.

The promise came during a two-and-a-half hour meeting between Gray and 14 coalition members arranged to ease campus tensions following 32 arrests at CAA rallies on Friday and Monday.

"I agreed that a portable shanty would be acceptable, one that would be taken away at the end of the day," Gray said in press release from the MIT News Office.

The coalition's attempt on Monday to bring a lightweight, portable shanty onto a lawn adjacent to the Student Center was thwarted by Campus Police officers, who dismantled the structure and hauled it off in individual sections.

On Friday, the coalition built a heavy, wooden shanty on the Student Center lawn. After four hours of discussions between the CAA and administrators, the Campus Police and Physical Plant workers moved in to arrest the protesters and destroy the shack.

Gray said he wanted to talk with others at MIT and elsewhere before deciding on whether to allow a long-term shanty.

CAA member Ronald W. Francis G said he did not know if the coalition would try to erect another shanty in future.

The CAA has attempted to build a shanty to symbolize its solidarity with South African blacks and to protest MIT's investments in companies doing business in South Africa.

Tense situation seen

The Tuesday morning meeting was arranged the previous night when coalition members contacted Gray about discussing the situation, which had become progressively bitter during the two days of protest. Associate Provost Samuel J. Keyser, Faculty Chair Henry D. Jacoby, and Associate Dean for Student Affairs James R. Tewhey also attended the meeting.

Gray said the central concern was the increasing level of conflict and the risk of people getting hurt. "The goal of all of us present was to reduce the level of confrontation," he said.

CAA members told Gray that his administration had reacted violently to peaceful demonstrations and that the police had used unnecessary force.

According to Francis, Gray agreed that actions taken by the Metropolitan District Commission Police at the Monday rally after it had moved to the president's house were "dumb," but he declined to fault the behavior of the Campus Police near the Student Center.

"Basically [Gray] said he wanted to get all the information" before passing judgment on the Campus Police actions, Francis said. He added that the students were disappointed by this response. "We were looking to get him to take swift action on particular officers that we thought lost control at the demonstrations."

According to the News Office release, Gray did agree to order "a little emotional and physical distance" between the Campus Police and demonstrators, but blamed CAA tactics in part for creating an atmosphere of confrontation.

He singled out for criticism a pro-divestment demonstration during the March 2 meeting of the MIT Corporation. Student demonstrators infringed on the right of others to move freely at that rally, Gray claimed. Students have a right to express and argue their views and to demonstrate, but there are limits to those rights, he said.

CAA members pressed Gray at the Tuesday meeting to act on three specific complaints: undercover police attendance at CAA meetings, harassment of photographers at demonstrations, and the tearing down of flyers by police. Gray said he did not know the validity of the allegations, but agreed that, if true, the actions were inappropriate.

The students also asked Gray to set up a Campus Police review board composed of students, faculty and administrators. Gray responded that there was already a procedure for dealing with complaints against police officers, but CAA members believed the procedure was inappropriate. Getting "the police to police themselves . . . [is] an invalid way of making the police accountable," Francis said.

Gray will be meeting again this morning with students to discuss the underlying issues of South Africa and MIT's investment policy.

Arrests recounted

After meeting with Gray, the CAA continued its campaign to force MIT to divest its holdings in South Africa-related companies. The coalition held a Tuesday afternoon rally attended by about 150 on the Student Center lawn.

The rally focused not only on the arrests but on the general issue of divestment and the right of students to protest. There was no visible police presence at the rally.

Three of those arrested, Kenneth S. Chestnut Jr. '92, Steven B. Chanin G, and Cynthia R. Evanko '92, gave accounts of their arrests. Chestnut and Chanin claimed the police had been particularly rough in arresting them, and appealed for witnesses to come forward to testify on their behalf.

But Chanin told the crowd that it should not place most of the blame on the shoulders of the police. "The police, a lot of them, weren't happy about what they had to do," he said.

Rather, the administration should be held accountable for arresting its own students, Chanin said. "We have to do something to prevent the administration from thinking it can use violence to [intimidate us]."

Evanko rejected the idea that the students brought arrest upon themselves by refusing to obey police orders. "I am not going to give up my freedom of speech just because Paul Gray does not want to hear us," she said.

King, Johnson back students

Adjunct Professor of Urban Studies Melvin H. King, a well-known political activist, offered those arrested during the protests a "real heart-felt thank you."

The administration reacted as it did because the campus pro-divestment movement "is a very real reminder of their corrupt policy and their betrayal of the people of South Africa," King said.

He called on other members of the faculty to intervene on the students' behalf. It is important that faculty come forward and say that building a shanty, involving oneself in political protest, is part of the educational process, he said.

"What is education if not [spreading] peace and justice to all parts of this planet?" King asked.

Professor of Political Science Willard R. Johnson, who has long been active in favor of divestment and disinvestment, also spoke at Tuesday's rally.

He said that "MIT is very thick-headed. . . . We've learned very little over the years institutionally." MIT "won't get it, but there is a wider world" that will, he added.

"Part of the value of [demonstrating and protesting] is to capture the attention of the wider world," as well as MIT's, Johnson said.

He encouraged the demonstrators to continue their activities, saying, "The victory is not lost if this institution doesn't do the right thing."

Arrests total 32

Twenty-six students were arrested on Friday after they refused to move a shanty they had built on the lawn between the Student Center and Massachusetts Avenue. All were charged with trespass after notice and disturbing the peace. One was also charged with assault and battery on a police officer.

The 26 were arraigned on Monday morning. According to Campus Police Chief Anne P. Glavin, five students pleaded not guilty in Middlesex County Court but admitted to sufficient facts to warrant the judge to continue their cases without finding until July 27, when they will tell the court whether they wish to pay $200 court costs or work 50 hours of supervised community service. The cases of the 21 others, who simply pleaded not guilty, were continued until April 30, with a trial anticipated in June, according to Glavin.

Three students -- including one arrested on Friday -- were arrested by Campus Police on Monday near the Student Center after the foiled attempt to bring a portable shanty onto the lawn. They each were charged with assault and battery on a police officer.

After the Monday demonstration moved to the president's house, Metropolitan District Commission Police arrested an MIT lecturer, a Tech photographer, and a non-MIT person. All were charged with disorderly conduct. The lecturer and the non-MIT person were also accused of assault and battery, while the lecturer and the photographer were charged also with failure to obey a police officer.

Gray said at the Tuesday meeting that he would not act to have the charges against arrested students dismissed.