On May 7, 2011, Georgia State University held the annual spring commencement ceremony at the Georgia Dome. The Georgia Dome and Georgia State website announced the following items prohibited: outside food, beverages, balloons and noisemakers. (http://www.gsu.edu/commencement/24141.html) Banners were not prohibited! Many attendees, who were not affiliated with GSPHE, brought and displayed banners. GSPHE brought four banners stating, “We Need Hope 2 Graduate,” “No Student Is Illegal,” “Refuse the Ban,” and “Celebrate Education.” During President Becker’s Welcome Speech, we dropped these banners from the balcony at different locations. Within a few minutes, security came and asked us to either take down the signs or leave. We complied with their request. However, as we were leaving four of us were pulled by a cop and a security guard. Our licenses were demanded and taken away. The cop would not answer us when we asked if we were being detained; instead more cops showed up, and they made countless threats against us and forced us to go downstairs to their station where harassment and threats continued.
They said we were violating their rules by bringing in banners–though clearly that was not the case. One of the members was pulled outside and questioned to give up names of others who were involved, when this was planned, and what group was responsible. Whenever we asked if the other member was all right, they said to mind our own business and only “worry about yourselves.” They searched our bags and threatened to take our phones if we used them. We had to give our social security numbers out loud and one of the members even asked if she could write it down instead of yelling it out. She was told over and over again to give out her social so that everyone could hear. One officer kept saying that two members should go to jail. The police officers continued to assume we were law students and one cop even said that he would write to the State Bar so we can never take the bar exam and become lawyers in Georgia. None of us are law students but the extent of his threats brings to light the kind of coercive tactics used by the police to scare and intimidate people. It was obvious that if we challenged the legality of what they were doing, they would send us to jail.
After they took our social security numbers, our addresses, our photographs, and our license numbers, we were told that we are banned from the Dome, World Congress Center, and Centennial Olympic Park. After asking several times to let us have our banners, they finally gave them to us and we left.
Why is it that we brought in banners–political banners–which are permitted items, while others brought banners which were not political, and our banners caused four of our members to be detained in a room full of cops? A banner is a banner is a banner. This action displays how power is structured in our society. Our rights are our rights only if those in power want those rights to be ours. We don’t understand why they requested us to leave when others with banners were not approached at all. We do not understand why we were detained after we agreed to leave the Dome. We do not understand why they had the right to not only detain some of our members, but also use excessive intimidation and make threatening statements. They did not even tell us why we were being detained at first, and then they lied saying we broke a rule about bringing banners which was NOT written anywhere.
GSPHE dropped banners for our members who were supposed to graduate–but couldn’t because they couldn’t afford school this semester–and for our undocumented friends and allies who will not only be banned from attending school next fall 2011, but who also will be targeted by the new racist law HB 87. GSPHE continue fighting for quality education for all. We are fighting for us, for all those that fought for us and all those that will keep the fight going. Onwards students, the struggle continues!