In a predictably callous and entirely characteristic act of arrogance, ignorance, and unlawfulness, the University of California at Santa Cruz’s administration has once again taken it upon itself to persecute student journalists.
Here’s what you should know: in November, hundreds of students, staff, and faculty protested rising educational fees, pink slips, and limited class offerings. After rallying on campus, approximately 70 students — not including a handful of reporters — occupied Kerr Hall for 66 hours. Hundreds of students were in the vicinity of Kerr Hall during the three days. Outside Kerr Hall, the presence of 80 students, staff and faculty members made it clear that the occupiers had support. Of the 70 people present when police entered Kerr Hall, only 45 were identified and summoned for testimony by the administration.
Of those 45 who were summoned, 36 were billed $944 in order to cover the $34,992.02 in damages.
A grand total of one university official made the decision to issue the resolution.
Of the 36 students who received the restitution, one was a journalist and one was a negotiator. The journalist, from UCSC newspaper The Project, was one of three reporters present during the occupation, and did not participate in the protest.
One representative from City on a Hill Press and one from TWANAS were also present, neither of whom received a summons nor a restitution letter.
Without trial, without thought, and certainly without justice, several students received identical sanctions stating — not alleging — that they were responsible for the damages Kerr Hall sustained during the occupation.
Not only did these ludicrous accusations allege that each student participated equally and without variance (an unlikely scenario), they were issued as randomly as a poker hand. Odds are in the dealer’s favor.
Sanctioning a reporter who had donned a press pass is unethical.
Let’s be clear about this. Being a reporter does not give an individual free reign to participate in any illegal acts without risk of prosecution. In the interest of keeping people informed and fostering freedom of speech and the media, being a reporter should guarantee the right to observe and write about an event, so long as doing so does not involve participation.
Reporters who are acting as journalists and wield press passes deserve asylum so long as they refrain from supporting the activists through any means of a physical, verbal or emotional contribution.
UCSC has seen fit to sanction one such reporter, despite the fact that he, by all witnesses’ accounts, was never an active participant.
The Project journalist Kenji Tomari received the same sanction as several other active participants. Tomari is expected to pay the $944 dollars in restitution.
Whether or not the university can find (yet another) loophole through which to make these random acts of persecution justifiable, it is in no way ethical to punish a student reporter for doing their job.
If UCSC’s administrators are determined to ensure the mistrust and resentment of every student on this campus, they are well on their way. By continuing to refuse to make any attempts at transparency, democracy or mediation, UCSC is setting itself up for criticism and unrest.
Any act that causes student reporters to fear relaying university news to their peers, professors, mentors, family, and so on for fear of legal retribution is wrong.
In addition to violating students’ First Amendment rights by prosecuting a reporter, UCSC is censoring the media through intimidation and contradicting its own mission: Let there be light.
City on a Hill Press stands in solidarity with Kenji Tomari and other student media organizations. We will not stay silent while our peers and colleagues are suppressed for woring to enlighten the university community.