Circus Protestors Protest Police Behavior

By Broadside Asst. News Editor Rebecca Fulton
Photo by Broadside Asst. Photography Editor Laura Foltz

Many protesters who demonstrated outside of the Patriot Center in opposition to the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus have sent out a plea for help after they felt that they were mistreated by police.

Some of the protesters, including junior Brianne Lanigan, Mason alumnus Nick Zinzer and junior Christine Kauffman, are claiming that the police failed to protect them and that they were followed and videotaped while leaving George Mason University to return to their vehicles. Some are claiming they were further followed by police in uniform in unmarked cars after leaving the premises.

“As a result of the constant police harassment and repression that those who attended the circus demonstrations were subjected to, I did not feel protected by the police while I was protesting,” Lanigan said in an e-mail to Broadside. “On the contrary, the behavior of police was intimidating. It was very unsettling when the police followed us back to our cars after the protests, writing down our license plate numbers and taking our pictures, and even more upsetting when they attempted to follow us back to our homes in unmarked vehicles.

"Police used a number of aggressive intimidation tactics like these against students involved with the protests throughout the time that Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus was on campus, all the while stating to university officials that their interest was to protect us," he continued. "When a police officer in an unmarked car is attempting to follow me home after a protest, I do not feel the least bit protected, I feel like I've been unjustly targeted and that my rights are being violated.”

The GMU Police Department said in a statement to Broadside: “It is the policy of the George Mason University Police Department to ensure that all demonstrations that take place on our campuses are conducted in a safe and orderly manner and that the First Amendment rights of all participants are respected. This was accomplished in the case of the demonstrations concerning animal rights at the circus.”

There have been multiple meetings between Lanigan, Zinzer and Kauffman and members of the faculty and administration.

Some of these members of the administration include:

  • Vice president of University Life Sandy Hubler
  • Associate vice president of University Life Rose
  • Pascarell and vice president of University Relations Christine LaPaille

According to Zinzer, these meetings have thus far consisted of the protesters recounting the interactions they had while protesting and raising their concerns with the university.

“There is much work to do, but we are making progress with our meeting with university officials. They are taking our experiences at the protests very seriously," Lanigan wrote in an e-mail to Broadside.

There was speculation among many of the protesters that the Mason police had a contract with RBB&B. This was confirmed to them by Lieutenant Kevin Barrett, who later retracted his statement.

“I did mention in a meeting that the police are hired by Ringling, however I was incorrect,” Barrett wrote in an e-mail to Broadside.

“We coordinate safety and security for persons attending events at the Patriot Center and the Patriot Center pays us for our time. We have been providing this service to the Center since it opened, and thus, before Ringling ever decided to come to [Mason].”

Barrett said, “This is similar to providing security at dances for student groups, providing traffic control at the Center for Performing Arts, and coordinating the safety of the people attending the 30-plus graduations coming to [Mason] in May and June.”

The protesters feel that there is a bias against them and that the university and its policies are hindering instead of helping them.

“[Mason's] primary purpose is to serve as an educational institution,” LaPaille said in an e-mail to Broadside.
“However, the university has demonstrated an institutional desire to allow our campus spaces and facilities to be open to other activities, free speech among them. As such, we will make reasonable accommodations for these other activities to take place in facilities and spaces on our campus—as long as they do not interfere with our primary purpose—education, and as long as we can ensure the safety of all participants,” he said.

Mason is currently working on a “use of University space” policy, which will be the closest thing resembling a free speech policy at Mason.

“[Mason] is in the process of completing policies related to ‘use of university space’ — a group is working on a draft which we hope will be completed and ready for discussion shortly,” Hubler wrote in an e-mail to Broadside. “A draft was completed last year but needs revisions — thus a new group is working on that.”

As of now, Mason has the university’s organizing principle, which states: “Open discourse and assembly have a hallowed place in the American democratic system. At Mason, campus policies and procedures regarding the use of space and facilities are predicated on these values.

“At the same time, university policies and procedures proceed on the assumption that space and facilities are intended primarily for the use of Mason’s students, faculty and staff to advance the core functions of the institution: education/instruction, research and community service.

“Facilities and spaces may be used in other ways provided the activities or events do not interfere with the core function of the institution, prevent or interrupt the core use of the space or facility, or endanger or present a safety hazard to others.

Use of the facilities and campus space will be managed in accordance with this principle.”

Many would like to see policies at Mason protect freedom of speech more.

“It needs to be as protective of [speech] as possible,” said English Associate Professor David Kuebrich. “Two, it needs to be very clearly articulated. And three, it needs to be easily accessible to all members of the campus community and visitors so that one shouldn’t have to look at ten different web sites to try and figure out what is the policy governing free speech. It would be totally appropriate for it to be published at central places in the library, in the Johnson Center, in the student unions, etc.”

“Guarantee protections, in writing, First Amendment rights. [Mason’s] so-called Free Speech policy should [be] written in such a manner that it includes guarantees for protection of freedom of speech, assembly, and expression. Make bias be toward free speech and not its restriction,” Zinzer wrote in an e-mail to Broadside.

For now LaPaille suggests that “if protesters obey the law, there will be no actions that distract from the messages they are trying to communicate through a peaceful protest. This would be a more effective strategy.”

“Animal rights protesters seek to express themselves under the guarantees articulated in the First Amendment,” Zinzer said. “Animal Rights protesters have been peaceful throughout the demonstrations. We sought to obey every law and when there was a lack of clarity, we sought the advice of the Mason Police Department, who then mislead us regarding the law.”

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