Last week, a number of student activists were arrested during demonstrations.
Being arrested, to some students, means a blemish on an otherwise clean record. Some student activists, however, are equating it to fuel for the campaigns they’ve been championing for months.
“It makes us stronger, more determined and more confident in the end of win,” Walter Smolarek, a freshman education major, said.
Smolarek, along with 52 other members of Occupy Philadelphia, 12 of which he estimated to be Temple students, were arrested during the early morning eviction of the protest from Dilworth Plaza on Wednesday, Nov. 30.
Jen King, a senior English and psychology major arrested at the protest, said she was unsure of whether or not the incident will remain on her record permanently.
Despite the arrest, King said she will continue her efforts with the movement and believes members of Occupy may start to become more heavily involved with community groups.
Brianne Murphy, a senior visual anthropology major, and Smolarek said that the Occupy protesters were blocked by bicycle police on their way back to Dilworth Plaza, forced to split onto each side of the street. While those on one side of the street were released, they said, the other protesters were “arbitrarily” detained.
“If there is a crime being committed by a group of people, I would imagine that all of those people committing that crime would be equally as accountable,” Murphy said.
Legal advisers from Occupy Philadelphia will be counseling arrestees on what to say in court, activists have said.
Since press time, Diane Akerman of the Occupy Philadelphia legal collective has said her team does not in any way advise activists what to say in court. The team, which met with the student activists yesterday, after their interviews with The Temple News, helps activists through jail support, arrest support and connecting them with pro-bono lawyers, she said.
But Murphy’s arrest hindered her from being present at a planned on-campus action, which also resulted in student arrests.
Temple Community Against Mountaintop Removal, a group Murphy has helped lead, held a protest through Main Campus, beginning at noon on Wednesday.
Hours after the Occupy arrests, three students–Daniel Teichman, Diane Isser and Ethan Jury–were arrested while staging a sit-in at the PNC Bank branch on Liacouras Walk.
Since October, the group has been challenging the Board of Trustees to cut off ties with PNC Bank, which they say is the top financier of mountaintop removal coal mining–a process many believe to be hazardous to the environment and to the health of communities near the processed mountains.
The sit-in was in response to the anti-mountaintop removal group’s denied request to have members present at the board’s Investments Committee private meeting that day. The committee was expected to discuss the group’s proposal.
Occupy Philadelphia members supported the anti-mountaintop removal group during its initial demonstration at the Board of Trustees Oct. 11 meeting.
While members of the group protested outside the Liacouras Walk branch of the bank, the three students sat-in by refusing to leave and linking their arms together on the floor.
“Once we sat down and started yelling, it was one of the most [powerful] experiences I’ve ever had,” Isser said.
Those arrested during the PNC protest were transported to the Ninth district police station, but Isser would later be transferred to the police department roundhouse, where Occupy activists were also brought. All three of them experienced a 20-hour detainment that Jury described as “atrocious.”
Jury said his night in prison was “dirty, cold and long.”
He and Teichman shared a cell with cockroaches, and were only given cheese sandwiches to eat at a scheduled mealtime, he said.
“It was interesting that it was as dehumanizing as it was,” Teichman said. “Once you got in there, you weren’t treated as a person anymore. You’re treated as a thing.”
On Friday, Dec. 2, arrestees and fellow activists gathered at the Bell Tower to discuss their campaigns. Passerby students listened to the group’s discussions, sometimes engaging in debate with the students.
Teichman said he felt relief after being released and that his experience only solidified his beliefs.
“For me, it made my resolve stronger, it made me feel more right about what I was doing,” Teichman said.
Smolarek said his “unjust” arrest motivates him to continue to protest “an unjust set of power relations.”
Likewise, Murphy said the PNC arrests highlighted a lacking student voice in the university’s decision-making Board of Trustees.
“The fact that [arrests were] chosen over a conversation is very telling of the present situation we are in,” Murphy said. “And that the voices we have as students are not as loud as we think they should be, which in mind means that we need to make those voices louder.”
Angelo Fichera and Payne Schroeder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Updated on 12/6 at 1:15 p.m.]