Support the "Rutgers 3" and the Right to Peaceful Protest
Three Rutgers students who took part in an anti-Iraq War protest along Route 18 on March 27, 2008 are now being charged with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor offense that could get them a $500 fine, 30 days in jail, and a record of an "offense" they would need to expunge. Interestingly, these students were not issued any summonses on the day of the incident; instead, two weeks later, three students out of several hundred who took part in the march received notice that charges were being filed against them.
The seemingly random selection of three out of several hundred students is deliberately intended to intimidate all potential participants in future demonstrations, to show that even in a crowd, no individual protestor can "hide" from potential--and wrongful--criminal prosecution.
Over the last seven years, civil rights in this country have too often become a casualty of the war on terror, with US citizens, often those who publicly express views dissenting from those of the people in power, being targeted by various provisions in the Patriot Act and by domestic spying. Make no mistake: criminalizing dissent is a far greater threat to our democracy than Osama Bin Laden or Al Qaeda ever will be. These terrorists seek to destroy our democracy from without. We hand them a tremendous victory if we do their work by destroying it from within.
Here in New Jersey, all too often over the last several years, politicians have abused police departments and law enforcement for their own political purposes. One glaring example is the repeated police intimidation of the Halper family in Piscataway, a direct result of their refusal to sell their farm of 84 years and opposition to it being taken by eminent domain. Also in Piscataway, several years ago, a man who made no threats of violence whatsoever was expelled from a council meeting by the mayor's order and unlawfully taken to a mental hospital, where he was held against his will. That sounds like the kind of thing that happened in the former Soviet Union, something that should be anathema in this land of the free.
Tomorrow, Tuesday, July 15, activists plan to attend the Highland Park Council meeting at 7 PM in Borough Hall in support of these three students, Suzan Sanal, Erik Straub, and Arwa Ibrahim. I urge anyone concerned with maintaining our right of peaceful protest, in this state and in this country, to attend this meeting, not just on their behalf, but on behalf of the rights of all of us to peaceful protest.
Thomas Jefferson was right on when he said, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."