Home Social Justice Opinion: 30 Day Jail Sentence? That ain’t right

Opinion: 30 Day Jail Sentence? That ain’t right

9 min read

Did Megan Marzec, DJ Amireh, and Kyle Tussing deserve to be arrested for their involvement in the protest of tuition hikes on Jan. 22 in which the three joined many of their fellow students in Athens streets? No, I don’t believe they did.

As for being convicted of fourth-degree misdemeanor charges of persistent disorderly conduct and being sentenced to 30 days in jail (pending personal conduct and with the opportunity for 30 hours of community service instead), it is most definitely a load of baloney. It’s ludicrous. It’s balderdash. It’s all kinds of adjectives worth listing off.

Full disclosure, I have interacted with the arresting officer in the case, Nick Magruder. He attempted to help me in finding stolen items and was nothing but courteous and went out of his way to be helpful, and I do not doubt his character as a whole. However, it sure does seem that he targeted Marzec, as she, Tussing and Amireh are well-known for their campus activism.

There is plenty of reason to believe that chants of “f*ck the police” were what angered Magruder in the first place. I was not part of this particular protest in general, but I have participated before and heard people using the phrase, and I have in fact seen and heard Amireh using the phrase. Does that justify his arrest? No. It’s political speech, even if it is vulgar. But then again, that isn’t what they were legally arrested for. They were arrested for being in the streets and impeding traffic, though according to an article by The Athens News’ Conor Morris,  “…although the two other witnesses in the case, Ron Lucas, Athens deputy service-safety director, and Pyle, who both watched the protest after it got onto Washington Street, said they were not sure if they remembered any vehicles.” The other witness in question was, of course, Magruder.

So where does the onus of the blame fall here? Is it on Officer Magruder for the arrest (the three were served papers about 20 minutes after the protest), or is it on Athens County Municipal Judge William Grim for seemingly making an example out of the three?

And as Judge Grim contended, according to The Athens News’ article, “This is not a freedom-of-speech issue. This is a hindering issue. That’s what this is about — is whether by being on the street you’ve hindered the movement of other people who also have a right to be on the street,” Grim said. “The only verbal evidence that I find relevant on this (trial) is the chant, ‘Whose streets? Our streets.’ That’s not true. It’s not ‘your’ streets. It’s everybody’s streets.”

So if Ron Lucas and Tom Pyle did not remember seeing any vehicles being impeded in the streets, was officer Magruder’s testimony of seeing “at least one vehicle being trapped behind the protesting crowd,” really enough evidence to put away three college students for 30 days (pending the aforementioned alternative options of course)?

Also worth noting from Morris’ article, “Officer Magruder contended in his testimony that Marzec attempted to drown out his calls for the protesters to get off the streets out with a bullhorn; Marzec responded that she used the bullhorn to alert other protesters to Magruder’s presence in an attempt to get them to listen to him.”

Here’s a case of “his word versus mine,” and we know whose will hold up in a court of law.

Couple all this with the fact that no plea deal was offered, and you have a blatant example of local government actors conspiring to make an example out of the protestors. Just weeks ago, charges were (rightfully) dropped against Bobcats for Israel protestors who interrupted a Student Senate meeting. (FYI: this was done after their attorneys filed a motion to dismiss because they did not have their right to a speedy trial observed after initially getting an extension.)

I understand that a fourth degree misdemeanor under Ohio Revised Code holds a sentence of “not more than thirty days,” But what does handing down a sentence of 30 days in jail really accomplish for a group of college students in the later stages of their college careers?

We can fault the prosecutor, judge and officer for their respective role in disregarding the rights of each of these three protesters and then reaching an unjust conviction for this petty crime. Whose rights were violated? No testimony claimed that more than one car was blocked in the street other than Magruder’s. In what sense does the the judicial system have an interest in protecting the rights of a protesting student population as opposed to making sure a few cars can get through a street over a span of several minutes? The former is more important.

Whose streets are they really, Officer Magruder? Whose streets are they really, Judge Grimm? I can empathize with cars being held up from their destinations; I’ve been involved in such protests before. But whose streets are they really? Are they for everyone, and does everyone’s right to political speech actually exist?

Do the rights of maybe a couple cars on the street win out on this day over the rights of those those demonstrating political speech?

Hurt feelings and dislike over political activism can’t justifiably prevail over protest.

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