Nearly three months after U.S. Bank announced its withdrawal from the university campus, 12 protesters have been ordered to court for an arraignment on Friday at 8:30 a.m.
The 11 students and one professor face up to 11 years in prison on the charges of the obstruction of movement in a public place and conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor by Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig.
While protesters were allegedly blocking the entrance to the bank, several citations were issued that notified them of California Penal Code Section 647C, for public passage obstruction. No arrests were made during that time.
If convicted, the protesters, dubbed the “Davis Dozen” or the “Banker’s Dozen,” could pay up to $1 million in damages. The bank cited the university responsible for terminating the agreement, while stating they were “constructively evicted” in the termination letter to school officials.
According to a press release from the Occupy UC Davis Antirepression Crew, supporters argue that the University targeted the group of demonstrators in an attempt to limit its liability to U.S. Bank.
UC Davis spokesperson Barry Shiller said that the prosecutions are only directed toward alleged crimes despite claims that it was due to the University’s liability to the bank.
“This subjected the participants to possible penalties both criminal and student judicial and the protests did not stop until the bank closed its doors on Feb. 28 … The last thing that the Chancellor wants is to see anybody saddled with a bill for restitution,” Shiller said.
The Yolo County District Attorney was involved when several complaints were made from students to University administration about accessing the bank, according to Shiller.
“The District Attorney did make the decision after studying the information that 12 of the people merited having these misdemeanor complaints filed against them,” he said. “It wasn’t just difficult – it was not just a matter of stepping over somebody who was sitting there peacefully – they reported that they were being physically obstructed from being able to enter by people who were literally blocking their access.”
Some students involved in the pepper spraying incident last November are also among the Davis Dozen. Occupiers are claiming that while pepper sprayed occupiers were not charged for events in fall, this prosecution is an attempt to punish protesters.
“… This less publicized prosecution seems to be an attempt to punish the dissenting students, perhaps in retaliation for their pending ACLU [the American Civil Liberties Union] lawsuit against the University,” the press release stated.
A Facebook event page has been created to assist students in finding carpools to Yolo County Superior Court, where the arraignment is to take place. Ninety-one people have confirmed their attendance, as of Wednesday.
On Monday, student protesters held a demonstration on the Quad in support of the Davis Dozen. More than 40 protesters were present.
UC Berkeley student protesters also received similar letters four months after demonstrations last November, when police officers engaged in violence to remove students for protesting the state of public education. Supporters are claiming that retroactively prosecuting students is a tactic the administration is employing to avoid negative media attention.
“We might not think of this as violence, because there aren’t broken bones or pepper spray or guns – it’s not as explicit – but sending someone to jail, holding them for a day, let alone 11 years, is violence,” said Andrew Higgins, representative of the UC graduate student union and history graduate student, in the press release.
Supporters of the Davis Dozen are urging members of the public to contact the Yolo County District Attorney and to attend the arraignment to demonstrate opposition toward the prosecution.
Both the UC Davis Faculty Association and UAW 2865, the union representing UC Davis graduate students, have passed resolutions in support of the Davis Dozen, Higgins said.
“No one is happy about these cases having been filed,” Shiller said. “That is the reason the campus was so patient about trying to convince the protesters to move just a foot to either side and just let people though. That alone would have turned these into expressive constitutionally-protected protests.”
More details can be found at davisdozen.org.
MUNA SADEK can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.