BOSTON – Little did University of Massachusetts (UMass) professor Tony Van Der Meer know that he would be arrested by the campus police as he attempted to defend a student’s right to free speech.

At a press conference on April 3, just a few hours after his arrest, Van Der Meer said he was shocked at being wrestled to the ground, handcuffed and detained for defending students who were passing out flyers urging people to “organize and observe two minutes of silence for Dr. [Martin Luther] King” at noon the next day, the anniversary of his assasination. The students were being harassed by military recruiters because one of them was wearing a T-shirt saying “Education not enlistment” on the front and “Military recruiters off my campus” on the back.

The recruiters confronted the students arguing that the students had no permit to pass out materials and called the campus police. The students said they had a permit and called Van Der Meer, a professor of Africana Studies at the UMass College of Public and Community Service. The college bills itself as “an inclusive, democratic, and participatory learning community that promotes diversity, equality and social justice.”

According to witnesses, as Van Der Meer argued with the recruiters, telling them that the students had the right to distribute the flyer, one of the recruiters shouted at Van Der Meer, “I hope you get shot in the head like Martin Luther King.” The recruiter turned to the students and said “I hope you all get shot in the head.”

At this point the campus police arrived and got between Van Der Meer and the recruiter while students gathered around and began chanting, “Military recruiters off our campus.” The recruiters then backed away while the police ordered the professor to be silent, pushed him to the floor and arrested him.

When students demanded to know why the campus police arrested Van Der Meer and none of the recruiters, one of the three police officers said he does not arrest military personnel.

Van Der Meer has received messages of support from over 100 students, administrators and members of the faculty. He is slated to go on trial on May 28.

The author can be reached at jacruz@attbi.com

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