Faculty defends student rights

The Faculty Senate recently asked the Portland City Council in a letter to stop treating political activists as terrorists and accused the city of unfair profiling.

A senate resolution asks the city to amend certain civic policies that, in the aftermath of Sept. 11, have endangered First Amendment rights, which Americans have seen revised with the inception of legislation such as the Patriot Act.

Mary King, an associate professor and chair of the economics department at Portland State University, feeling the need to confront the issue of unconstitutional conditions being placed on citizens’ rights to partake in activism and protestation against governmental decisions, presented a resolution to the Faculty Senate.

Scott Burns, professor of geology and former chair of the Faculty Senate, agrees with King that many students run the risk of being “profiled” by government officials that target activists who display disapproval of U.S. anti-terrorism measures.

“The faculty want students to feel free to express themselves, to be active,” Burns said. “Some people out there in the government are viewing activism as terrorism, and that’s not right.”

King was prompted to take action after learning that a couple of former Portland State students were arrested recently for arson, but were charged with terrorism by the Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force and are each facing up to 80 years in prison, for the burning of a forestry vehicle, a term much longer than arson sentences call for.

King said their burning of a $50,000 truck did not justify such a heavy sentence, as it was an unwise act of vandalism but not a vicious act of terrorism as federal agents claim.

“I can’t stand the idea that officials would make career moves at the expense of these young men’s [the arsonists] lives,” King said. “The fact that they were also prohibited to talk with ‘activists’ raised some concerns as to what control the government was trying to have.”

Portland State students Jacob Sherman, 20, and Jeremy Rosenbloom, 25, will be tried Dec. 3 along with Angela Cesario, 23. A fourth defendant, Michael Scarpitti, better known as Tre Arrow, is still at large. The judge presiding over the case is James A. Redden.

In an article published in the Oregonian Nov. 7, Redden is quoted as saying, “The term ‘terrorist’ is not to be used in reference to this case or the defendants. And the use of that term may mean the imposition of sanctions.”

The Faculty Senate received King’s resolution Nov. 4 and voted 46-9 in favor of sending it to the City Council. No reply has been received from the council, which is responsible for governing Portland Police Chief Mark Kroeker and the Portland Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force.

King accused Kroeker of being unfairly cooperative in carrying out investigations for federal agents that are based more on suspicion than probable cause.

Portland has seen its share of public protests in the past 12 months, a few of which that have resulted in claims of bouts of excessive police force and arrests of citizens who had committed no more of a crime than merely being present.

It is this crackdown on activists that has King and other senate members worried that students at Portland State will be unnecessarily hesitant to voice their opinions and take part in movements that they believe in because of unfair repercussions imposed by legal departments.

“Political dissent and activism are the right of students, but public officials are going in the opposite direction,” King said.

Describing the nature of this resolution, Burns stated that “it has been a long time since the Faculty Senate has come up with a grass-roots thing like this and it feels good to get active.”

The resolution states: “There has been a disturbing trend since Sep. 11 of law enforcement officials making statements that imply that political dissent is suspect or unpatriotic.” It added: “Federal and local law officials have used inflammatory terms such as ‘terrorism’ which could serve to prejudice judge, jury and public.”

The Faculty Senate agreed: “Statements of officials which explicitly question the legitimacy of political dissent or link activism to terrorism have a predictably chilling effect on the willingness of Portland State University students, faculty and staff to exercise their democratic and constitutional rights.”

King hopes the City Council will revise Portland police procedures as well as Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force involvement in civic activities.

Nick Lovell contributed to this story