PHOENIX – Two students at the University of Arizona will be charged with misdemeanors after a video showing them protesting a Customs and Border Protection event on campus went viral, UA President Robert Robbins announced Friday.
The potential charges stem from a Border Patrol presentation to a student club, the Criminal Justice Association, on campus on March 19.
Video of the incident showed two Border Patrol agents in a classroom giving a presentation, with people outside the door recording themand calling them “Murder Patrol,” “murderers” and “an extension of the KKK.”
After the agents leave the classroom, a group followed them until they left campus, chanting “Murder Patrol,” video footage on social media shows.
Conservative media and commentators shared the video on social media and blogs as an example of free-speech issues on college campuses.
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In the letter sent to students posted online, Robbins said the protest represented a “dramatic departure from our expectations of respectful behavior and support for free speech on this campus.”
UA police determined Friday that they “will be charging” two students involved in the incident with “interference with the peaceful conduct of an educational institution,” which is a misdemeanor. A Class 1 misdemeanor could result in up to six months of jail time.
Charges have not been filed yet, UA Police Chief Brian Seastone said in an email. The names of the two students have not been released.
Robbins wrote that UA police will continue to investigate the matter for potential “additional criminal violations.” The Dean of Students’ office also is reviewing the incident to determine if the student code of conduct was violated.
Separately, Robbins said the university would conduct a “probe into actions involving UA employees.” It’s unclear what role employees played in the situation.
Robbins also has directed staff members to examine university policies “to ensure we are working effectively to help prevent similar incidents in the future” while still maintaining First Amendment rights.
‘Protest is protected … but disruption is not’
“At the core of these inquiries is the University of Arizona’s commitment to free speech,” he wrote. “The student club and the CBP officers invited by the students should have been able to hold their meeting without disruption. Student protest is protected by our support for free speech, but disruption is not.”
In the days after the March 19 incident, Robbins wrote a statement affirming the university’s commitment to free speech.
Top officers from the Associated Students of the University of Arizona, the school’s student government organization, wrote a letter dated March 21 that said unannounced visits to campus by the Border Patrol were “unacceptable.”
The letter pointed to an arrest by the Border Patrol a few miles from campus the same day as the UA presentation, saying the concerns of undocumented and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students were valid.
Students should be notified in advance of Border Patrol visits to campus, the letter said. And there should be an understanding that the “mere presence” of the Border Patrol on campus can negatively affect DACA and undocumented communities, it stated.
On Monday, DACA recipients who attend UA also released a letter saying they face “discomfort and fear” when they see Customs and Border Protection.
“As DACA recipients at the university, the presence of CBP on campus has a traumatic impact on our overall well being and impedes us from fully engaging with our academics. In a space where all students are given the right to pursue an education, their presence was and will always be an infringement on that right,” the letter states.