Nearly a month after campus police arrested a George Mason University student for protesting, the school has recommended that the charges against him be dropped.
On Thursday, Sept. 29, junior Tariq Khan, 27, staged an impromptu protest in the George W. Johnson Student Center, next to a table set up by recruiters from the U.S. Marine Corps. Khan, a Sterling native and veteran of the U.S. Air Force, said he is opposed to military recruiting techniques. He stood next to the table with a handmade sign bearing the words "Recruiters Lie, Don’t Be Deceived."
A Johnson Center employee asked Khan if he had his student identification with him, which he did not, and told him he had to leave. When Khan refused, the employee called campus police, who arrested him for trespassing and took him to the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center. Khan was released on his own recognizance the same day, but was charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
"Since [the incident] lots of people have been pressuring the school to drop the charges," said Khan. He said school officials told him they would not press charges Thursday, Oct. 20, three weeks to the day after his arrest.
If the Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney follows George Mason's recommendation, Khan will no longer face a court date on Nov. 14.
The school's recommendation came after an investigation of the incident, said university spokesperson Dan Walsch.
"We made that decision based on information we gleaned from talking with as many witnesses as possible, and collecting information," said Walsch. "The matter is not worth going to court." The investigation did not turn up any evidence of bias toward Khan on the part of university, he said.
"We're hopeful that the prosecutor will follow the university's recommendations that the charges be dropped," said Rebecca Glenberg of the American Civil Liberties Union, who will represent Khan in the court case.
THE ARREST provoked an immediate reaction from George Mason students and faculty. Students staged a rally for Khan on Monday, Oct. 3, while "Concerned Students for Civil Liberties on Campus," a student group, materialized seemingly overnight. At a teach-in Wednesday, Oct. 5, faculty members spoke out on free speech, and over 100 professors signed a petition requesting, among other things, a close review of the way George Mason employees and campus officers handled the incident.
Jacob Fawcett, codirector of student group GMU Students for Peace, started a petition to drop the charges against Khan. He posted the petition on his Web site and collected 500 signatures, he said.
"The response we received was pretty substantial, from my experience," said Fawcett. "It was all unsolicited, [the petition] was up on the Web site so people could sign if they wanted." He turned the petition in to the office of George Mason's president, Alan Merten, and the next day the university announced its recommendation.
Fawcett credits the university's decision at least partly because of faculty's and students' diligence in keeping the incident in the public eye. The student newspaper, The Broadside, carried the story on the front page for weeks after the incident, said Fawcett.
"There was a substantial contingent of people out there that cared about the situation," he said. "They didn't let the university sweep it under the rug."
Khan said he appreciates the support from students and faculty, but is disappointed on the university's stance regarding bias, he said. He said he sees students handing out fliers in the Johnson Center all the time.
According to Khan, while he was at the police station following his arrest, one of the police officers told him: "You people are the most violent people in the world." Khan is of Pakistani descent.
"Things are still not settled," said Walsch. The school has investigated the incident itself, but is still reviewing what happened following Khan's arrest. But the school found "no evidence of any bias" on the part of university officials in terms of Khan's race, sex or ethnicity, he said.
"I'm glad the university administration is recommending the charges be dropped, but the police still think everything is OK and don’t see anything wrong with any of it," said Khan. "It's not over for me until the police realize they did something wrong."
GMU is continuing to review its policies regarding free speech, said Walsch.
"We'll have to wait and see if George Mason University actually follows through on clarifying its policies and making more protections of students' free speech rights," said Glenberg. "Hopefully they will."