Prosecution of UC Davis protesters sparks anger, occupation
By Darrell Smith
Published: Friday, Apr. 6, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Friday, Apr. 6, 2012 – 8:32 am
Several dozen UC Davis students are protesting the upcoming court date of the “Bankers’ Dozen,” the 12 students linked to demonstrations in January and February that shuttered an on-campus U.S. Bank branch.
About 400 students rallied Thursday afternoon at the university’s Memorial Union to speak out against allegations of conspiracy and blocking access filed against the dozen in late March by Yolo County prosecutors. The event was peaceful and no incidents were reported.
Students and supporters then marched across campus to Mrak Hall, chanting “Drop all charges,” occupying stairwells and the building’s lobby. Some students quickly set up tents and tarps planning to bed down for the night.
“We don’t know what might be planned,” university spokesman Barry Shiller said. “But, we’ll be patient, monitor the situation this evening and plan that the building will be open for business when people return in the morning.”
However, Claudia Morain, a campus spokesperson, said this morning that the students had been cleared out by 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
The dozen protesters cited in March face an April 27 court date in Yolo Superior Court connected to blocking the entrance to the on-campus bank branch.
The conspiracy allegation carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail. Each of the 20 access allegations filed carries a maximum six-month jail term.
Minnesota-based U.S. Bank closed its University Union branch Feb. 28, potentially severing an agreement with UC Davis that gave the campus its first bank branch.
Bank officials later cited Occupy protests and the university’s refusal to disperse demonstrators as reason for the closure.
Following strongly worded exchanges last month, UC Davis and U.S. Bank continue to work to repair their rift over the bank’s decision.
Shiller this week described the university’s talks with the lender as “cordial conversations.”
“We’d love the relationship to be salvaged,” Shiller said, adding that UC Davis students would lose out if the bank branch remained closed.
But students say the protests center on the bank’s presence on campus, its relationship with the university and what they see as the continuing privatization of the university.
Many students declined to identify themselves Thursday, afraid that university authorities would retaliate. But some carried placards that read “Fighting privatization is not a crime.”
Others, including history graduate student Andrew Higgins, said the university is using county prosecutors as cover to appease U.S. Bank, avoid a repeat of the public relations firestorm that erupted after last year’s pepper-spraying of UC Davis students by campus police, and to quash free speech.
“This administration is relying upon the state to deal with the protests. Because of the bad PR, they feel they can’t address that,” Higgins said.
UC Davis’ Shiller denied the assertions, saying the Thursday rally was “a great demonstration of protected, expressive free speech. Had the bank protest been similar, we’d have no issues here.”
The dozen, he said, “are accused of well beyond that.”
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