Campus police arrested three Ann Arbor residents accused of disturbing a lecture on Iran at the Michigan League on Thursday night.
The protesters have accused campus police of using excessive force in removing them, while event organizers say the protesters were violating free expression by preventing a lecturer from speaking.
The lecture was sponsored by the student organization American Movement for Israel. Raymond Tanter, a professor emeritus of political science who now teaches at Georgetown University, said he was interrupted repeatedly during his lecture.
The protesters were chanting things like “Hands off Iran” and “Tanter is a pig,” Tanter said.
Tanter said he was not advocating that the United States use military force against Iran, but did say that it may be one option. The protesters were not affiliated with a campus organization.
A 47-year-old woman was arrested for disturbing a public meeting and resisting and obstructing an officer, campus police said. Two men were arrested on charges of resisting and obstructing an officer and interfering with an arrest.
Witnesses identified the men as Blaine Coleman and Henry Herksovitz, two pro-Palestinian activists who often protest on and around campus.
When asked to comment on his arrest, Coleman responded by asking The Michigan Daily to advocate for divestment from Israel and decried what he considered “campus Zionists using their police to brutalize us on campus.”
Herksovitz did not respond to attempts to contact him yesterday.
Tanter said that although he mentioned Israel, his lecture focused on diplomacy problems in Iran.
Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Diane Brown said Michigan League staff made the first call to DPS because protesters were blocking the building’s entrances well before the event was scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m.
Organizers had not expected a protest and did not request police presence prior to the lecture, said American Movement for Israel Chair Josh Berman.
With about 150 people in attendance inside the Vandenberg Room, Berman said the protesters began to heckle him before he introduced Tanter.
Tanter said that in an attempt to abate the protesters, he began taking questions from the audience, alternating inquiries from the protesters with other audience members.
Tanter said the interruptions prevented him from continuing with his planned lecture and using the PowerPoint slides he had prepared.
“I was bending over backwards in order to accommodate the protesters,” Tanter said. “The accommodations I made only resulted in greater hostility.”
The University’s Standard Practice Guide for Freedom of Speech and Artistic Expression provides rules for balancing protesters’ freedom of speech with that of speakers at events. The document says a person may be removed from an event for “undue interference.”
Heckling is accepted under the guidelines, but the interruptions cannot block the speaker’s communication with the crowd.
In situations where an event is disrupted by a crowd member, the University has a formal warning procedure, with three escalating warnings that should be read before police escort a protester from an event.
Brown said it is not mandatory that the statement be read before someone is asked to leave an event, but that it has become an accepted procedure at the University.
Berman said he and other organizers read the three warnings.
Campus police officers then stepped in to remove the woman. The woman resisted by going limp, Brown said.
This forced the police to physically remove the woman from the scene, she said.
Berman said the woman was allowed to stay for more than an hour before police asked her to leave.
LSA senior Stuart Wagner, who was in the crowd, said he saw Coleman try to prevent the officers from removing the woman from the room. He also said that an officer put his arms around Coleman from behind, at which point Coleman fell to the ground.
“It was a circus,” Wagner said.
Catherine Wikinson, an Ann Arbor resident who said she came to support friends who were protesting, said Coleman was unconscious.
Brown said this could have been part of Coleman’s strategy.
“Portraying unconsciousness is part of a protest strategy and up to a medical physician to decide,” she said.
Coleman refused to comment on whether or not he was unconscious.
An ambulance was called to the scene and took Coleman, 49, to the University Hospital’s emergency room to treat a cut on his forehead.
The other two protesters were taken from the League to the DPS station for processing, Brown said. Coleman was taken to the station following his treatment.
The three were released pending prosecutors’ authorization of charges late Thursday night or early Friday morning, Brown said.
DPS is investigating the incident. Brown said the results of the investigation will be taken to the county prosecutor, who will issue any warrants.
Wilkinson alleged that the police used excessive force when removing the protesters from the scene. Brown said police were patient and used only necessary force.
A 45-second clip posted Friday on YouTube.com, titled “Police Brutality at University of Michigan,” shows Wilkinson telling an officer that Coleman can’t breath. The video does not clearly show the officer or Coleman.
Brown said standard police protocol is to use one level of force above the resistance. Because the protesters used passive resistance techniques, DPS used “open-handed techniques” to physically remove the woman. Open-handed techniques could include applying pressure to pressure points, but do not include the use of any weapons or chemical agents, like mace, she said.
“(The allegations are) just not true – the police were so gentle that they couldn’t get her up,” Tanter said.
Tanter has e-mailed members of the University’s Board of Regents about Prof. Kathryn Babayan’s alleged involvement in the protest.
Babayan is an assistant professor of Iranian history and culture in the Department of Near Eastern Studies. Tanter said that while Babayan has a right to participate in the discussions, she also has an obligation as a faculty member to not assist groups that interfere with free speech.
Tanter suggested the regents and the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, which addresses faculty issues at the University, consider the issue of a faculty member’s role in disruptive demonstrations during academic events.
Babayan did not return calls asking for comment yesterday.