Monday, April 16, 2012

Emory students face charges for congregating where students congregate

Posted By on Mon, Apr 16, 2012 at 2:50 PM

Last week, the DeKalb County solicitors office decided it would continue to pursue charges against students who were arrested for "occupying" Emory's quad last year to protest labor issues. Seven students — four of them Emory Grad students, the rest of them students at other local universities — were arraigned on April 12 for criminal trespassing. If they're convicted, they could face fines and up to a year in prison.

The students involved are calling the action "excessive." Grad student Laura Emiko Soltis said, "Emory crossed the bounds of community, not us, when they decided to use the police and criminal prosecution on charges of Quad policy violations, which seems extremely excessive."

Here's what happened ...

On April 25, 2011, seven students were arrested on the grounds of the Emory Quadrangle and charged with criminal trespassing.

Approximately thirty students had set up and occupied tents on the Quadrangle for six days in an effort to engage in community-wide dialogues about Emory's contract labor policies and the mistreatment of cafeteria workers by the University's food service provider, Sodexo.

Upon giving students five minutes to vacate the premises, Emory Police arrested seven students and transferred them to the DeKalb county jail. Nearly one year later, Emory has yet to seek dismissal of the charges, and the DeKalb county Solicitor is moving forward with the prosecution. If convicted, the students could face up to one year in prison.

Roger Sikes of Emory Students and Workers in Solidarity told CL today he believes he and the other students were arrested not for violating quad policies, but for their message. "If Emory goes forward with this," he said, "they're setting an precedent against free speech and being willing to put peaceful students in jail."

He also believes Emory officials have attempted to intimidate them by sending media relations representatives to take photos and audio recordings of subsequent rallies and press conferences.

In a statement sent out last year, Emory's administration said it was simply upholding a "long-standing university policy [prohibiting] unauthorized use" of the quad.

The students have pleaded not guilty to the charges. According to Sikes, the Emory Seven will find out in early June whether they're case will go before a jury.

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