In the Statement article, “Free Speech in the Ivory Tower,” the author states “According to University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald, the University has a high bar for when to intervene in protests, and has not done so in recent memory.” This is untrue. On Nov. 30, 2006, the University violently intervened in a protest of a speech at the Michigan League by Raymond Tanter, a proponent of regime change in Iran. The University brought in Ann Arbor Police Department to assist. Officers injured three people. One person required transport to the University of Michigan Emergency Department with a head injury after being thrown to the floor and nearly asphyxiated. As with many high-profile cases, such as that of Eric Garner, the protester would call out, “I can’t breathe,” before becoming unconscious. Had I, as a physician on the scene, not spoken up to persuade the University officers to stop, the protester could have been yet another victim of fatal positional asphyxiation by cops. Emergency medical technicians were summoned and administered inappropriate and punitive measures, causing me again to speak up to get them to stop. This provoked a violent assault by an Ann Arbor Police Department cop, reminiscent of a recent attack on a nurse for trying to protect a patient. Cops arrested three protesters that night and went on to bring criminal charges against five. Although four agreed to plea bargains, this writer struggled to prove her innocence and after a six-day trial was acquitted. The city of Ann Arbor eventually settled my first and fourth amendment case against the AAPD officer who assaulted me. Fitzgerald’s above statement misleads readers to believe that the University would never violate the constitutional right to free expression. The violent attack on political protesters on Nov. 30, 2006, and its aftermath prove otherwise.
Catherine Wilkerson is an alum of the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health with a master’s in public health in the class of 1992.