Charges dropped against student protesting military recruiters

VIRGINIA — Prosecutors dropped charges Monday against a George Mason University student who was arrested by campus police for protesting military recruiters in September.

Tariq Khan said that although he was glad the trespassing and disorderly conduct charges were dropped, he still has a “big problem” with the university.

“They still have a long way to go because the university administration and the police still won’t admit any wrongdoing,” said Khan, a junior sociology major. “This isn’t just about me, it’s about free speech overall.”

Khan said he was protesting Marine recruiters at a student center on campus at lunch last month when campus police told him he had to leave the area because he did not have a permit.

After he failed to present the officer with identification because he said he did not have it on him, the officer arrested him and took him to Fairfax County police department, where he was booked on the charges.

Khan said campus police allowed students to physically assault him during his arrest. He said one of the arresting officers pointed a can of pepper spray at his face while he was being handcuffed.

University officials have concluded that the police did not do anything wrong after conducting two internal investigations of the incident, said university spokesman Daniel Walsch.

Walsch said some students could face disciplinary action for their part in the incident, but he could not comment on any specifics, citing privacy laws.

Khan, who was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia in court Monday, said he is considering legal action against the university.

“He never should have been charged in the first place,” said Rebecca Glenberg, legal director of the Virginia ACLU. “We are looking forward to see what GMU does to revise its policies to ensure students’ free speech rights are protected.”

Walsch said a committee of faculty, staff and students has been created to review policies relating to free speech on campus. He said he did not have a timetable on when the committee would present results to administrators.

While Khan waits for the results, he said he is in the process of starting a student group to advocate political justice.

Although Khan said military recruiters have not returned to campus since his arrest — a sign his original protest was successful — he now has a new cause to champion: the right to speak freely on campus.

“I don’t want this to ever happen again to any student,” he said. The campus police “need to acknowledge that what they did was wrong. They need to make some changes.”

by Evan Mayor, SPLC staff writer