Thursday, March 01, 2007

Che Guevara Would Understand

I have not blogged about the case of Olivia Guevara the Penn State graduate student and anti-sweatshop activist ( You can find background on the activities of the anti-sweatshop group here and here.) who was charged by University Police with vandalism following a protest in September of 2006 which involved chalking Old Main and other buildings on campus. The University claimed that Guevara by chalking a door on Old Main had caused $400 in damages to it.

In addition to the lodging of criminal charges, she was also referred to the University Judicial affairs office, which found her guilty of violating the University's code of conduct. The office fined her $450. The offense will be listed on her student record for seven years.

The University's spin on the Judicial affairs finding came from none other than Penn State flack Bill Mahon.

[He]said the chalking is not the problem, but the scratches and damage to the doors.

"She can dress this up however she wants, but it was a real simple case of vandalism. It doesn't get much simpler than that," Mahon said.

Mahon said someone must pay for the damages.

"It wasn't just a matter of getting out some soap and water and cleaning it up," Mahon said. "We can have the entire student body pay for the damages, or we can have the person identified on a videotape pay."

However, Guevara believes that the University is trying to intimidate other would-be protester and trying to leverage her into identifying the other members of her group involved in the chalking. In fact, she says that she was offered a plea of sorts if she would identify the other members of her group that engaged in the chalking.

District Judge Johnathan Grine heard the vandalism case against her during the first week of February. He found her not guilty. This week forty-eight Penn State faculty members signed a letter to Graham in support of Guevara's sweatshop cause and they asked Spanier to overturn the Judicial Affairs decision against Guevara. Here is their opening salvo.

We write as faculty members concerned about the issue of sweatshop labor. In light of the urgent nature of this issue, we propose a discussion among students, administrators, and faculty to ensure that Penn State's apparel is not made under sweatshop conditions. As a first step, we ask that the university meet with the PSU chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) to discuss PSU's involvement in the Designated Supplier Program (DSP). We also request that, in the interest of moving forward on this issue, not further damaging the public image of PSU and avoiding greater division, you drop all charges and fines levied against Olivia Guevara, a student involved in anti-sweatshop activism.

Graham penned a response. Here is his take on Guevara.

Let me first address the Judicial Affairs matter. The Office of Judicial Affairs record indicates that the student in question was identified from the security cameras in front of Old Main. She admitted in her Judicial Affairs hearing to scrawling on the doors of the building. Although she was silent on her guilt in a subsequent public legal hearing, this has no bearing on the University's internal findings, which found her responsible on more than adequate evidence. The damage was more than $400. This is a simple case of vandalism, and any attempt to portray it in any other light is inappropriate and disingenuous. I am deeply disappointed that faculty for whom I have great respect would accuse us of punishing a student for her beliefs. I would abhor such an action. I deeply regret that you are unaware that we stand on higher principles.

Let's look at the facts from the public record.

University police had cited Guevara in connection with messages chalked on Old Main and the chemistry, life sciences, Willard and Thomas buildings.

The messages, urging Penn State to adopt a more aggressive stance against sweatshop labor, appeared Sept. 27.

A citation against Guevara, signed by campus Officer Roxanne Snider, accused the graduate student of writing the messages and causing $408.96 in damage to the buildings.

Campus security cameras recorded a number of people at Old Main at the time of the incident. Snider showed a recording to Grine, Guevara and defense attorney Andrew Shubin on Monday.

Grine said he saw no evidence that would implicate Guevara in the chalking that happened away from Old Main.

And even at Old Main, Grine indicated, the evidence showed only that Guevara apparently wrote on an exterior pillar.

[Guevara's lawyer Andrew] Shubin argued that behavior alone could not amount to criminal mischief. The definition of "criminal mischief" includes intentional damage.

"The purpose of using sidewalk chalk is not to cause damage to person or property," Shubin told Grine. "My 7-year-old could come in and testify to that fact."


...[Snider] soon argued that the chalking "endangered" a door at Old Main.

"There's no evidence about the door," Shubin shot back.

What about the pillar she was videotaped chalking?

...Snider... said she did not have pictures of the column in question because a janitorial service was washing away the chalk by the time she arrived at Old Main.

The evidence against Guevara was air thin. Was this the evidence which Spanier asserted was more than adequate for Judicial Affairs to find her guilty? If so that is a damning indictment of Judicial Affairs. Did Judicial Affairs find her guilty only on the basis of an alleged confession-a confession she denies making? Or is there more evidence of her wrong doing? But if there were more evidence presented at the Judicial Affairs hearing we can be sure that it would have been presented at her trial. Hence it is more than likely that Spanier is blowing smoke here. All they had was the alleged confession, but Spanier want to give the impression that there was more.

But it gets worse than than a simple lack of evidence that she was responsible for damaging the door. There isn't even any evidence that the door was damaged.

Court and Judicial Affairs documents obtained by the Centre Daily Times do not mention specific damage to those doors.Snider said Monday that the chalking in September had included messages on the doors.
Think about that. Not only is there no evidence that she chalked the doors, there is no record of the specific damages done to the doors. Further Snider doesn't even claim there were any damgages to the doors. She only claims that messages were chalked on the doors. Again, let me repeat, there was no evidence that in the record of "scratches and damage" to the doors to which Mahon referred. To be fair Spanier finesses the point in his letter; he only refers to "scrawling on the doors." But if all she did was chalk the doors, then how does that translate into vandalism?

On the basis of these facts Spanier mounts his high horse and in his best daddy tone writes,

I am deeply disappointed that faculty for whom I have great respect would accuse us of punishing a student for her beliefs. I would abhor such an action. I deeply regret that you are unaware that we stand on higher principles.

And one of those principle appears to be the principle of the big lie.

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