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News :: Human Rights : Organizing
MIT Admits it Has No Policy, But Forcibly Enforces It Anyway
16 Jun 2004
Modified: 11:26:38 PM
Non-profit, but nevertheless, a corporation, the MIT administration sets into PR spin mode after squelching the dissemination of informational leaflets by four student group members on the public sidewalk outside of the June 4th Commencement site. All four, including students, were threatened with arrest. One Alumna was arrested. This is a follow up from a previous IMC article.
The officers who trampled on the rights of an MIT alumna, Aimee Smith PhD '02 and a graduate student, Suzanne Nguyen, at commencement have declined comments to the press. Deputy Chief Driscoll, MIT Police Officer Joe D'Amelio, and MBTA Police Officer Orlando who served as MIT police detail for commencement all refused to speak to the press. Nevertheless, various administrators and Police Chief DiFava make claims as if they themselves were witness to the incident. Below are outlined the most blatant falsehoods and inconsistencies raised by these 2nd-hand accounts.

According to the Tech and another source, Chief DiFava claims that Ofc. Driscoll had suggested that Smith and Nguyen move their leafletting activities to 77 Mass Ave. Not only do Smith and Nguyen report that they were given no alternative location from which to flyer other than off of the MIT campus, the other pair of leafletters, Pollock and Gibson, report that they were first told to leave the sidewalk on Memorial Drive or face arrest. They were then told to leave the sidewalk area on Mass Ave where vendors engaging in commercial exchange were apparently allowed, but members of a student group engaging in the exchange of ideas were not. They were then even told that they were not permitted to distribute leaflets on the steps of 77 Mass Ave. The officer pursuing them to 77 Mass Ave actually attempted to confiscate their leaflets! Where exactly is this elusive free speech zone on commencement day? Wherever it is, none of the leafletters were ever told about it.

DiFava, again from second-hand accounts, is quoted in the pro-corporate student newspaper, the Tech, as saying "It all came down to the locations where they were leafletting.... It was all about [Smith's] actions."

So which is it? Smith and Nguyen say their behavior was exactly the same. They stepped around 30 meters away from the area where people were entering Killian court after the first time police approached them, even though they were neither disrupting the flow of traffic into Killian Court nor disturbing the guests on that beautiful morning. Witnesses confirm this. (See for example this letter to Pres. Vest.) When Smith and Nguyen were asked to leave again, they both attempted to negotiate for their first amendment rights on a public sidewalk. The only disruption was that instigated by the police officers. Other officers should have come and ordered these officers to leave the leafletters alone. Arresting the harassing officers, if need be, for attempting to infringe on the leafletters first amendment rights.

The large man who walked into Smith and told her if she didn't leave immediately she would be arrested was Ofc. D'Amelio. He arrested her seconds later without even giving her a chance to decide. Smith explains, "After the arrest, As he dragged me away in shackles (instead of simply telling me where to walk to - it seems his first language is force) only then did I tell him he was a 'Fucking Pig.' He replied to this 'I'll show you what a Fucking Pig I am.' I replied, 'I am sure you will.' Then he shoved me into the back seat of the car. Yet in the police report, causal and effect are reversed and I am accused of yelling to the graduation goers 'you fucking pigs.' I am smart enough to know that such language is not likely to win over the grandmas and aunties in the crowd, and even if I had, it does not warrant arrest. But the most disturbing part is the way the officer simply lied. Is this what he was referring to when he said he would show me what a Fucking Pig he was? That he could make things up and get away with it because he carries a gun and wears a badge? Or was it just that he could get away with silencing and intimidating me and the others by making a false arrest and roughly handling me?" Nguyen and others confirm that Smith was not ranting to the parents nor using colorful language prior to her arrest.

Provost Brown claims, "Because alternate space for distributing leaflets was available and identified, I do not believe that the individual's ability to communicate her message was being curtailed." He speaks definitively even though he was not there. Alternate space was not provided as is clear when the accounts of the four leafletters are taken together. [A recent IMC article reinforces the lack of a clear policy on "free speech zones" at MIT: "Bad Communication, Ignorance, and Campus Bureaucracy: A quest for Massachusetts Institute of Technology's leafleting policy" submitted by Jennifer Killham. ]

When members of the Social Justice Cooperative met with President Vest, he was candid about the fact that no clear guidelines about the distribution of materials on MIT campus exists. Smith reports that Dean Randolph told her the afternoon of her arrest, "'You should have stayed on the sidewalk.' When I explained that we had remained on the sidewalk the entire time, he said he would look into it Monday morning. He never got back to me though."

Pres. Vest got back to Smith in a personal letter. In it, he stated that MIT would seek to have the charges dropped. He reiterated the problem of a lack of any consistent guidelines and cited miscommunication as a factor, however he called the arrest "reasonable" to enforce what he even admitted was not a policy.

These events raise some deeply troubling questions. Is the use of the force of the state (officers carrying weapons with the power to arrest and jail) to remove and charge someone a way to settle a disagreement and/or silence dissent? Is this arrest, the threat of arrest towards the three others, and an effort to confiscate materials a sign that our elemental freedoms are at risk on the MIT campus? Was security in any way jeopardized by some words on a piece of paper or the four unarmed women distributing them peacefully?

Pres. Vest is known for being a champion of free speech. Do his statements in this case make those past statements ring hollow? Members of the ACLU have expressed concern, and so should all who value free and open societies, particularly as inquiry is the foundation of knowledge and learning. Academic institutions at the forefront of science and technology that use force to silence dialog will not remain vibrant and pathbreaking for long.

To read more, see:
False Arrest

We encourage you to E-mail, call and/or write to hear from University officials (and cc the MIT Social Justice Cooperative at peace-request AT mit DOT edu):

President Charles Vest
77 Mass Ave, Rm. 3-208
Cambridge MA, 02139

Provost Robert Brown
77 Mass Ave, Rm. 3-208
Cambridge MA, 02139

Chancellor Phillip Clay
77 Mass Ave, Rm 10-200
Cambridge MA, 02139

Special assistant to the president
Kirk Kolenbrander
77 Mass Ave, Rm 10-205
Cambridge MA, 02139

Director of Security and Campus Police
John Di Fava
77 Mass Ave, W31-114
Cambridge MA, 02139

See also:

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Re: MIT Admits it Has No Policy, But Forcibly Enforces It Anyway
29 Jun 2004
I've heard from eye witnesses that Mrs. Smith was indeed within an area that was sealed off for the MIT graduation. It didn't help that she refused and screamed obscenities at the Cambridge police who asked her to move.
Re: MIT Admits it Has No Policy, But Forcibly Enforces It Anyway
01 Jul 2004
Are these eyewitnesses, by chance, campus police? I was present at the arrest and none of the things Anon. is posting here are true.
Re: MIT Admits it Has No Policy, But Forcibly Enforces It Anyway
01 Jul 2004
Also, DiFava, it would be nice if you didn't hide behind the "anonymous" mask and you could actually put your name next to your written statements. You haven't been able to comment to your lies in writing. Could it be perhaps, because you know they're LIES?
Re: MIT Admits it Has No Policy, But Forcibly Enforces It Anyway
05 Jul 2004
I'm just a MIT student. I have no idea who you're talking about. Chill out on the shrill paranoia.

I do find it ironic that Mrs. Smith doesn't seem to care about other people's free speech. She has no problem at all tearing down posters on campus she disagrees with, or turning off people's microphones during Q&A sessions on campus.
Re: MIT Admits it Has No Policy, But Forcibly Enforces It Anyway
07 Jul 2004
Anon, you have no idea who DiFava is? You quoted "eyewitness" accounts that are being propagated by none other than MIT police chief DiFava... so if you don't know who DiFava is, where'd you hear the fabrications you so irresponsibly repeated below?