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Stony Brook University Senate demands dropping charges against arrested protestors, probe into police response

Pro-Palestinian protesters forming a human chain on Staller Steps while chanting at the encampment on Wednesday, May 1. The University’s senate voted for Stony Brook University to drop charges against the 29 individuals arrested during a protest on campus. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

Stony Brook University’s Senate voted on Monday to demand that Stony Brook University drop charges against the 29 individuals arrested during a pro-Palestine protest on campus on Thursday, May 2.

The University Senate also voted to begin an investigation into how Enterprise Risk Management (ERM), a campus police operation created by Stony Brook President Maurie McInnis, has handled recent student protests. In addition, the Senate passed a resolution that will have the body perform a no-confidence vote next week in McInnis’s ability to “perform the ongoing duties of her office in a wise and humane manner.”

McInnis also attended the heated meeting and spent nearly two hours defending the decision made by the University administration to arrest demonstrators as well as the existence of ERM.

“We did not want to arrest anyone,” she claimed.

McInnis also stated that the administration did the best it could in a difficult situation and was attempting to diffuse the situation before demonstrators were arrested. She said that the administration had felt pressure to clear the Staller Steps since other student groups had reserved use of the area before the end of the school year.

On the morning of May 2, multiple Jewish student organizations gathered to hold an event at the Staller Steps called “Big Jewish Block Party” which had been planned since September.

“This is a university that needs to serve all of its students and the speech of one group does not have the right to cancel the speech of another group,” McInnis said.

Despite McInnis’s claims, members of the University Senate and those attending the meeting voiced displeasure with the fact that demonstrators were arrested.

R. Anna Hayward, an associate professor in the School of Social Welfare, recounted her side of events, starting with the demonstration on March 26 that led to nine demonstrators being arrested.

She first refuted the University’s claims that student protests were loud and disruptive in the Administration Building and that no faculty members were present on March 26. She clarified that although student protests were initially loud upon their arrival in the Administration Building, the group had quieted down five minutes later and peacefully sat.

Dr. April Castillo, an assistant professor in the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, continued on with a recall of what happened that day.

“The only behaviors that I saw on March 26, 2024 that threatened the safety of security and operations of the University as per the [campus-wide] email sent were the threats posed by the administration, the stance of [the University Police Department] and the arrests,” Castillo said.

Liz Montegary, chair of the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality studies department then read a letter to the governing body written by an anonymous nontenured professor who attended the pro-Palestine encampment on April 30. The anonymous professor wrote that the pro-Palestine encampment was peaceful and they felt safe on the Staller Steps.

“I was there when the situation escalated,” the letter read. “Police were grabbing tents and pulling on students who locked arms — that was the escalation. Police with a knife destroying chanting students’ property was the escalation. A policeman, a grown man, mocking the students exercising their right to free speech was the escalation.”

The letter concluded, “I’m happy I chose Stony Brook. These students have shown me that if the University leadership cannot deliver on its commitment to promoting equality, civility, caring and respect, the students will, and I thank these students for giving me hope.”

Robert Chase, an associate professor of history at Stony Brook and an expert in policing, voiced displeasure with how law enforcement officers at the scene handled the situation, saying the response was unwarranted.

Chase then gave his own personal definition of what ERM consisted of, saying that “ERM is a new post-COVID apparatus that has a number of policing, intelligence-gathering and surveillance powers. It is arranged as an incorporated hybrid-corporate state military-like structure with far-reaching and unseen powers.”

The Committee of Sponsoring Organizations defines ERM as “a process, effected by an entity’s board of directors, management and other personnel, applied in strategy-setting and across the enterprise, designed to identify potential events that may affect the entity, and manage risk to be within its risk appetite, to provide reasonable assurance regarding the achievement of entity objectives.’”

“Even as a scholar in police force, I was simply stunned at the number of [armed] police descending upon perhaps two dozen unarmed and peaceful young students,” Chase said.

Daniel Weymouth, a professor in the Department of Music, said at the meeting what he experienced the night of the 29 arrests at the meeting. As he watched the encampment from the balcony of the Music Building around midnight, police officers entered the area and shouted, “You better run.”

“I would characterize the police in this case acting like thugs,” Weymouth said. “They could have said calmly, ‘You have to leave.’”

Shobana Shankar, a professor in the Department of History, asked several questions to McInnis, Vice President for ERM and Chief Security Officer Lawrence Zacarese and Vice President for Student Affairs Rick Gatteau.

She first asked how the University concluded that the Pro-Palestine encampment would interfere with the Big Jewish Block Party.

McInnis responded by stating that the University had hoped for the protesters to have cleared the Staller Steps before having no other choice but to arrest them.

“It was a choice meant to be both respectful of the students and thinking about the event the following day,” McInnis said.

In McInnis’ last remarks to the University Senate and to the audience, she explained that she created ERM because of what she had experienced at her time as Executive Vice President and Provost of the University of Texas at Austin.

During her tenure, a student wielding a knife attacked four other students, killing one of them. She claimed that not having an ERM system in place prevented the administration from obtaining accurate information about the attack and communicating it to the campus community.

Richard Larson, a professor in the Department of Linguistics and University Senate President, introduced three resolutions to the Senate.

The first resolution was for the University Senate to call upon the University to drop all charges against those arrested on March 26 and May 2 and to grant amnesty to them. The second resolution was to form an independent committee established by the governing body to investigate ERM and to develop a way for the University Senate to oversee ERM’s activities. The majority of the University Senate voted to approve both of these resolutions.

The University Senate then tabled, in a slight majority, a third resolution to have the University Senate hold a no-confidence vote on McInnis’ capacity to lead the University as President next week. The meeting will be closed to the public.

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About the Contributor
Sky Crabtree
Sky Crabtree, Assistant News Editor
Sky Crabtree is an Assistant News Editor for The Statesman and a sophomore studying journalism and political science. He joined the paper in the spring of 2023 as a news reporter and was promoted at the end of the same semester. Outside of The Statesman, he works as a news intern for WSHU Public Radio and hosts "The Political Corner," a segment on the Stony Brook Media Group's news show.
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Comments (4)

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  • N

    NickMay 10, 2024 at 1:13 pm

    Props to Sky and Viyang for this solid reporting. There is no justification for the way these protesters were treated, and it’s inspiring to see how student government and faculty are standing up for them.

    Also, despite how some commenters here may feel, there is NOTHING more American than exercising your 1st amendment rights and standing up to injustice!

    Reply
  • L

    Lauren ChiaramonteMay 9, 2024 at 6:41 pm

    If you live in America, you should support America🇺🇸

    Reply
  • L

    Lauren MurphyMay 9, 2024 at 6:23 pm

    I honestly think that half of these protesters don’t even know what they are protesting about and need to pick up a history book-professors included

    Reply
    • N

      NickMay 10, 2024 at 1:00 pm

      Yes Lauren, I’m sure you’re much more knowledgeable than the history professors quoted here who have dedicated years of their lives to these exact subjects. Thank you for your nuanced contribution to this complicated issue!

      Reply