ILLINOIS — An anti-war organization of high school students and community members are awaiting the resolution of an incident where the group was forced to move off the University of Illinois campus for distributing anti-military literature in November.
The Anti-War Anti-Racism Effort organization was handing out flyers in front of a National Guard stand in a university parking lot during the Illinois High School Association football championship. The flyers included “alternative viewpoints” and information the group said is important for prospective recruits.
AWARE is a community organization that opposes the war in Iraq and seeks to educate others to end racism, according to its Web site.
Shara Esbenshade, a junior at University Laboratory High School and member of AWARE, was present when she said the local Champaign and campus police told the group to move to a public sidewalk even though the organization informed and received permission from the campus police prior to the event.
“For us it was important to be next to the National Guard because that’s part of our statement,” Esbensade said. “The police throughout the incident didn’t know the rules. They later gave us [many] different reasons [for their actions].”
After pursing the incident, AWARE was informed by campus police officer Lt. Roy Acree, who was the original contact for police department, that the group was moved to “protect the demonstrators,” according to Esbenshade.
Acree said this incident is similar to demonstrations that have been taking place at the University of Illinois against their mascot, which some argue is offensive to Native Americans.
“If people choose to protest…we have established certain areas,” Acree said. “That way if there are problems, we can help protect them and their right to free speech.”
Acree added that any group blocking entryways could also be requested to move. Certain buildings on campus, including that of the football stadium, also have restrictions for posting and distribution of materials, according to the university student code.
Esbenshade maintains that AWARE was not blocking any entries, and should not have been moved for distributing handouts because the National Guard, an Illinois High School Association sponsor, and a local restaurant were also handing out literature.
“We weren’t protesting; we were just handing out flyers,” Esbenshade said. “We didn’t feel threatened at all and we weren’t threatening anybody.”
After reviewing the matter, Esbenshade said Acree admitted to her that there had been a communication breakdown, and that the Champaign police were not needed to resolve the issue.
AWARE member Durl Kruse appealed the response to the university in January and it was sent to Chancellor Richard Herman who is currently considering the matter, according to university spokesperson Robin Kaler.
By Erica Hudock, SPLC staff writer