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Arrested student speaks out following emergency protest

 

Students and faculty members gathered inside Stony Brook University’s Administration Building for an emergency sit-in protest on Wednesday, March 27. Nine students were arrested in a student-led pro-Palestine protest on Tuesday, March 26. MARIAM GUIRGIS/THE STATESMAN

Following the arrests of nine Stony Brook University students in a student-led pro-Palestine protest that took place on Tuesday, March 26, faculty members held an emergency protest the following day on Wednesday, March 27 in the Administration Building where the arrests occurred.   

Students, faculty members and community members who supported the cause gathered and had a sit-in while cops surrounded them inside and outside the building. 

Adam French was one of the nine to be arrested and is one of the board members of Sb4Palestine. He is a sophomore double majoring in mathematics and environmental design, policy and planning. 

French recounted how the events unfolded the day of his arrest, explaining that, “We had a sit-in and we told administrators, police, whoever was there, that we will not leave until our demands were met. Our demands were that we have a meeting with the Stony Brook Board of Trustees to discuss divestment, and we also demand that SUNY divests from the genocide in Palestine, as well.” 

French explained that as soon as they entered the building, administrators issued them an ultimatum to leave within 15 minutes (by 3 p.m.) or be arrested. “We all said immediately, ‘No, we’re going to stay until our demands are met or until we’re arrested,’” he said. “​​We intended to stay there all night. Just to be clear. We were going to either stay there all night until our demands were met, or we were going to be arrested.”

Adam French in tears recounting his arrest during the pro-Palestine protest at the emergency sit-in on Wednesday, March 27. The students arrested were given summons to appear in court.  MARIAM GUIRGIS/THE STATESMAN

However, administrators continued to try to persuade the protestors to leave. “The administrators tried to convince us to leave by telling us that our futures are on the line, that we need to think about our futures, that we need to think 10, 20 years in the future,” French said. “How can we think about our own futures when [Palestinians] don’t have a chance at a future if they survive?” 

French went on to explain what had happened after they were arrested and brought to the University Police Department (UPD) Headquarters. 

“We sat all of us in a room handcuffed for four hours while the police scrambled to try to get all of our information. It was incredibly disorganized [but] eventually, we were let go,” he said.

The nine students were given summons to appear in court on a certain day and the charges that were written on French’s summons are as follows: “congregate in a public place and refuse to comply with a lawful order of the police to disperse.”

Aside from having to appear in court, French also explained that the cops told them that they would be receiving an email from the disciplinary board of the University to discuss the consequences of their protest.

In an email with The Statesman, University Officials explained their thoughts on the arrests that had occurred. 

“While we regret this outcome, it is our responsibility to protect the university from disruption and to hold students accountable for behavior that impacts the safety, security, and operations of the university,” University officials wrote.

The summons that arrested student Adam French received on Tuesday, March 26. PHOTO COURTESY OF ADAM FRENCH

However, Josh Dubnau, a professor in the Department of Anesthesiology and the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, sees the arrests in a different view. He was also one of the faculty members to lead the protest held the day after the arrests. 

Dubnau shared his views saying, “It’s not okay for [the University and police] to declare in the name of safety that they will make our students unsafe by putting them in handcuffs for what was a peaceful protest. All the videos show they were sitting here calmly chanting,” he said. “[The students] were sitting here silently using their presence as a form of protest. I think there needs to be some accountability for who made these decisions.”

Rick Gatteau, Stony Brook’s Vice President for Student Affairs, had sent out an email following the arrests in which he explained that the protesters were disrupting campus activity. University officials agreed with Gatteau’s point in their email to The Statesman

“It became necessary for the university police to arrest nine demonstrators who remained within the Stony Brook University administration building after disrupting university activities in violation of the Code of Student Responsibility and policies associated with the rules of public order,” University officials wrote.

Dubnau disagreed with Gatteau and University officials.

“I think it’s appalling and I think [Gatteau’s] email really was dishonest because he tried to paint the protesters as if they were disruptive in some ongoing activity,” Dubnau said. “The University activity that was happening was that protest, and [Gatteau] violated the code of code of conduct by ending it, by arresting these students. So if anyone was disrupting University activities, it was Rick Gatteau and the other administrators who decided to let the UPD disrupt a peaceful student action.”

A protester at the emergency protest also agreed, sharing her thoughts in the speech she gave saying, “Our students know the faces of the campus police better than their own leaders. Where is Maurie McInnis? Is she in the building? Where is Rick Gatteau who sent that disgusting email?”

Lucas Rallis, a sophomore majoring in political science, also felt that the email sent out by Gatteau did not stand with the students. 

“I just found VP Gatteau’s response to be absolutely abhorrent, extremely disappointing and just the arrests by UPD were unimaginable,” he said. “So, I really feel like we have to come out here and really take a stand and fight what we’ve been fighting for and make sure we’re standing against this oppression of student speech.”

During his speech in the protest, Zubair Kabir, a sophomore who was the first to be arrested out of the nine students, felt that what happened showed what the United States stands for. 

Zubair Kabir confronting Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives and Operations Hedieh Yazdanseta for her involvement with his arrest at the emergency protest on Wednesday, March 27. Kabir was the first of the nine students to be arrested. MARIAM GUIRGIS/THE STATESMAN

“This is the current state of our country. The constitution, the first amendment that goes out the window as soon as you challenge the establishment and the status quo,” he said. “I get arrested one day the next day my money goes to this university just so I can get a degree. What does my degree stand for if you stand for genocide?”

Kabir also noted what a protest is supposed to be, saying, “If you’re not disrupting, if you’re not challenging, you’re not making them uncomfortable; it’s not a protest, it’s a parade.”

During Kabir’s speech, he confronted Hedieh Yazdanseta, Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives and Operations, who was standing with the cops surrounding where the sit-in was taking place, for her involvement with his arrest. 

Kabir brought Yazdanseta to tears with his words and anger after shouting at her. 

“You put your head down while the police handcuffed me and escorted me to their car. You’ve been sitting with me in Zoom calls planning ‘protests’ and you put your head down,” he yelled across the room. “You knew me — how dare you? Don’t you feel guilty? You let your own student get arrested,” he said in a louder voice. “You know what she told us, ‘You don’t want to do this. Think about your future.’ Think about the 13,000 dead Palestinian children. How dare you? You’re an adult, I am 19 years old; why am I the one standing here?”

That was not the only confrontation that occurred. Tia Marar, a Palestinian sophomore, confronted Riccardo McClendon, Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students, who was one of the faculty members also standing behind her surrounding the sit-in along with the cops.

Sophomore Tia Marar confronting Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Ric McClendon at the emergency protest in the Administration Building on Wednesday, March 27. Marar expressed her feelings that Stony Brook University’s faculty were silencing students voices. MARIAM GUIRGIS/THE STATESMAN

With tears in her eyes, Marar told McClendon, “I took your class. I took your restorative justice class where you taught me to speak up. Why are you standing there with power over me trying to silence my voice [when] you taught me to speak up?”

Marar then went on to share her views on the cops’ actions around campus during these kinds of protests. 

“I watched cops smile and laugh like this is a f****** joke. This is no joke; my brothers and sisters are dying in your hands. Their blood is on your hands,” she said.

French explained that since what had happened, Sb4Palestine has updated their list of demands by adding that the arrested students’ charges are dropped and their records with the University are wiped clean.

With everything that happened, French still remains steadfast in his stance along with the eight other students he got arrested with. 

“In protesting in getting arrested, we knew exactly what we were doing going into it we knew that we were willing to put our bodies our records on the line for the sake of garnering support for this cause, for the sake of bringing attention and rallying support against the genocide in Palestine and so our message from all of this is for people to join us,” he said.

Additional reporting done by Sky Crabtree.

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Mariam Guirgis
Mariam Guirgis, Assistant News Editor
Mariam is an Assistant News Editor at The Statesman. She is a second-year journalism minoring in political science. When she's not editing news articles, she is deeply involved with her Church community, planning events and hanging out with friends.
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