'Rutgers 3' granted time to build legal team
The court hearing for the "Rutgers Three" has been postponed as the students, charged with disorderly conduct for protesting on Route 18 during the 2nd Annual Rutgers Walkout, prepare for their fight to have all charges against them dropped.
Suzan Sanal, Erik Straub and Arwa Ibrahim received summons for walking on the state highway on March 27 with nearly 300 students to protest the Iraq War.
Sanal, the president of Rutgers Against the War and a Douglass College junior, said she and the others who received summons requested to postpone the hearing so they would have time to get their legal team together.
"We need the support of the Rutgers community and the outside community ... to help us dismiss these charges," Sanal said. "Twelve organizations organized it, hundreds of students participated, but yet three students are being singled out."
If convicted, the students could face a fine of up to $500 and serve up to 30 days in prison.
Sgt. Richard Rowe of the New Brunswick Police Department said the summons were issued to the participants who they thought were responsible for the protest moving onto Route 18.
The department investigated the situation and found probable cause to issue the summons to the individuals, Rowe said.
The summons, he said, were in lieu of arrest.
"There was not political motivation of any sort," Rowe said. "The summonses were issued based on the given facts. You had protesters walking in the opposing way on a state highway."
He said the investigation found the actions of those who received the summons caused a hazardous condition to occur, not only for the students but also for the motorists on the highway.
"We did our best, and we did a good job," Rowe said. "No one got hurt. The conditions that were created by them on the highway, it put people in danger."
Straub, a Rutgers College junior, said he thinks the real danger is the one the war poses to all involved.
"We have better things to do as activists than to get involved in a costly and prolonged court battle," Straub said. "The only reckless endangerment going on is being perpetrated by the war planners in the White House."
He said they are planning to plead not guilty.
Ibrahim, a Rutgers College senior, said she was surprised she had received a summons because though she was present, she is not affiliated with any of the organizations that hosted the event.
"My sister spoke at the event, but I wasn't part of the event or organizing it," Ibrahim said. "I was very surprised ... I am concerned, but I am also confident that the charges will be dismissed."
Straub said though he is part of Tent State University/Students for a Democratic Society, he did not have a particular role in organizing the Walk Out. He said he works with the Street Team, a separate campaign in Tent State.
"I'm not so worried about the consequences because people have been so helpful, and I'm also not going to let this get in the way of the work we do," Straub said.
Some members of the organizations who participated in the Walk Out said they think it was unfair to single out the three students who received summons.
"It was actually all of our decision," said Tent State member Adriel Bernal, a Rutgers College junior. "They should have given summons to everyone."
Brielle Nalence, a member of Undergraduate Women's and Gender Studies Association, said the protest was organized through weekly meetings in which two members of each of the 12 participating groups attended.
Sanal said the Rutgers Walk Out Coalition made all of the decisions about the event by voting.
"I think that it's unfortunate that three students are being held responsible for the actions of hundreds of students, and I think it is going to hurt relations between students and the police in the future," said Nalence, a Douglass College junior.
Nalence said she thinks the Walk Out was a success despite the summons because it opened up dialogue about the war.
People with opposing viewpoints were able to express their opinions, she said.
"We're not going to be terrorized out of our right to free speech," said Amy Braunstein, a Tent State member. "I think it's kind of b-s-. The protest itself was really peaceful."
Livingston college sophomore Esmerelda Amaya said she thinks it was their right to protest, but it could have been done in a different way.
"I think that's a little crazy because traffic on Route 18 is already crazy," Amaya said. "I think they have the right to do it but they could do it in the City."
Livingston College junior Urian Smith said he thinks walking out onto the highway was inconsiderate, especially toward the motorists who may need to get to work.
"What if someone had an emergency?" Smith said.
The University also supports the students' right to peacefully assemble or march as a way to express political beliefs, University spokesman E.J. Miranda wrote in an email.
"However, the University does not condone behavior associated with a protest that violates the law or that places students or others at risk," Miranda said. "New Brunswick police officials made it clear that protesters would not be permitted onto Route 18. They were rightfully concerned that pedestrians entering onto this highway would be in danger."
City spokesman Bill Bray said the fact the students received summons for walking on Route 18 is not a reflection of the city officials' political views or position on the War.
"The city itself doesn't have a position," Bray said. "I personally count the days till [George W. Bush's] presidency is no more."
Bray said he, Mayor Jim Cahill and several members of the City Council are against the War and do not support the president's policies.
"There are very few supporters of George Bush or his administration in city hall," Bray said.