October 13, 2005
Tariq Khan is a junior at George Mason University in Virginia. An Air Force veteran at 27, he has strong views about the Iraq War and about military recruitment on campus.
He went to the trouble of making up his own anti-recruitment pamphlet, which he entitled “Three Good Reasons Not to Join the Military.” Those reasons, he says, are: first, you have to submit to authoritarianism; second, you have to commit human rights violations; and third, you have to risk your own life for leaders you might not respect or trust.
For the last two semesters, Khan says he has kept these pamphlets with him on campus because he’s never sure when the recruiters will be there.
And so on September 29, when he saw the Marine recruiters had set up a table in the Johnson Center on campus, Khan decided to stand nearby.
“I got out an 8 ½ by 11 piece of paper, which I had written on: ‘Recruiters Lie. Don’t Be Deceived.’ And I taped it to my chest,” Khan says. “I was standing about four feet from the Marine recruiting table.
I wasn’t blocking access or anything.”
Khan says that someone from the Johnson Center staff came up to him and told him he couldn’t be there.
“He kept telling me that I had to have a permit to table,” Khan says.
“But I told him I wasn’t tabling. I don’t need a permit just to stand there.”
“Do you want me to call the police?”
“Call whoever you want but I’m not leaving.”
Then Khan says a student came by, took a pamphlet, ripped it up, threw it in his face, and left. The student returned with another person, who said he was in the Marines and was just back from Iraq.
Khan says he asked him, “How many people did you kill?”
According to Khan, the Marine said: “Not enough. I want to go back and kill more.”
They started to hassle Khan, calling him “a pussy and a coward,” he recalls. “The guy who said he was in the Marines rips the sign off my chest. I said, ‘Thanks for defending my freedom of speech.’ So I took out another piece of paper and started to make a new sign.”
Soon a campus police officer, Theodore Reynolds, showed up, Khan says.
“He told me the same thing: that I’m not allowed to be there unless I have a permit. I told him I don’t need a permit to stand here.”
When Khan wouldn’t leave, Officer Reynolds threw him down and handcuffed him. Khan says that some of the students nearby were egging the police officer on, yelling, “Kick his ass! Kick his ass!”
Khan says he kept saying, “I’m nonviolent. I’ve committed no crime.”
Reynolds and another police officer dragged Khan out to the police and took him to the George Mason University police station, he says. There, they found out his name. (Khan is a Pakistani-American, who was born in the United States.)
“All of a sudden, they started talking about 9/11,” he says. “They said, ‘You people are the most violent people in the world. There’s no telling what you’ll do.’ ”
The officers then took him to the Fairfax Adult Detention Center. According to Khan, Reynolds said: “If you run your mouth off again or even look at an officer the wrong way, they’ll hang you up by your feet.”
Khan was charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct, and after about an hour let him go, he says.
He has a court date of November 14. He could face up to two years in jail and a $5,000 fine.
The ACLU of Virginia is defending Khan.
“The kind of political speech in which Tariq was engaged goes to the core of the First Amendment,” says Rebecca Glenberg, legal director of the ACLU of Virginia. “We find it quite alarming that a student could be arrested on his own public university campus for expressing a political position. The very purpose of a university is to encourage open debate and the free exchange of ideas.”
Daniel Walsch, director of media relations at George Mason University, says, “We’re strong, strong proponents of free speech.” Walsch says the university is conducting two internal investigations.
“It’s possible that the charges could be dropped,” Walsch says.
The arrest of Khan has created a stir on campus. On October 3, there was a protest to support him, and campus police were videotaping the demonstrators, according to The Washington Post. On October 5, there was a teach-in. And 129 faculty members signed a letter calling for a review of the police conduct, as well as the school’s policy on free speech, the Post said. A petition signed by 443 students, faculty, staff, alumni, and members of the community urges the university to “drop all charges.” It also calls upon the “campus police to account for and destroy the videotaped surveillance which took place” at the October 3 protest.
Officer Reynolds did not return three phone calls for comment. Campus Police Chief Michael Lynch did not return two calls.
Khan “was told to turn around and put his hands behind his back,” Chief Lynch told insidehighered.com. “Had he done that, it would have been something similar to Cindy Sheehan or other peaceful protesters making a statement and getting arrested.”
Lynch also told The Washington Post: “We’re looking into it, all the details and allegations, and will use all of that information and determine whether or not there are things we could do differently or better.”
George Ginovksy, assistant chief of police, acknowledged to the Post that the department videotapes protests. “We do it to document what happens at an event in case something goes wrong,” he said. “We’re not saving it in an intelligence file or handing it over to the FBI or anything.”
The ACLU drew attention to the possibility that Khan was mistreated because of his ethnicity.
“As a Pakistani-American protesting the military, Mr. Khan may have been an easy target for harassment and arrest,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis in a press release. “But the First Amendment is supposed to protect all expression, regardless of the speaker’s political viewpoint or ethnicity.”
Khan says he’s considering suing.