Each of the 20 Brown students arrested on Nov. 8 following the sit-in at University Hall face a trespassing charge, according to University Deputy Director for News and Editorial Development Amanda McGregor. The students have an expected court date of Nov. 28, The Herald previously reported.
Attorneys for the city of Providence will likely try to prove that the students “remained upon land owned by Brown University after having been forbidden to do so by a duly authorized agent of the university,” wrote Andrew Horwitz, associate dean for experiential education at Roger Williams University School of Law, in an email to The Herald.
According to University Spokesperson Brian Clark, the University issued multiple trespassing warnings, The Herald previously reported. The presence of the students at University Hall posed a “security concern,” Clark wrote.
BrownU Jews for Ceasefire Now organized the sit-in, which was in solidarity with the walk-out organized by Brown Students for Justice in Palestine and the Brown University Palestine Solidarity Caucus that afternoon, The Herald previously reported.
Representatives from Jews for Ceasefire Now confirmed that they have retained a lawyer but declined to comment on any legal proceedings.
Under Rhode Island state law, individuals who “willfully trespass … shall be punished by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars …or imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or both.”
In cases of civil disobedience, Horwitz said, defendants usually have few or no defenses given the intentions of protestors. “The entire point … was to make a point by violating the law in order to get publicity and in order to bring attention to the cause and the belief connected to the cause.”
The organizers of the sit-in demanded that President Christina Paxson P’19 P’MD’20 publicly support divesting the University’s endowment from “companies that enable war crimes in Gaza” as well as calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, The Herald previously reported.
Over 190 faculty members signed on to a letter that was sent to Paxson Thursday and published in The Herald Monday. They called upon the University “to insist that all legal charges against the students be dropped immediately.” They additionally called for the students to be exempt from disciplinary action within Brown and to spark a “campus-wide conversation that engages seriously with the students’ demands.”
According to Horwitz, the students would likely face one of two scenarios in court. First, the charge might be dismissed “based on the accused doing something to show some kind of remorse or to accept some kind of responsibility for violating the law,” Horwitz said, such as engaging in community service or writing a letter of apology.
Otherwise, the students may be offered a filing. After the accused accepts criminal responsibility, the charge is put on file for a certain period of time and if, after that time, the accused does not engage in any other criminal activity, the case is dismissed. “The case then gets removed from your criminal history like it never happened,” Horwitz explained.
“Those realistically are the likely outcomes,” he said.
Separate from criminal charges, the students might also face disciplinary actions at the University.
“Brown has detailed procedures in place to investigate alleged violations of the Code of Student Conduct, resolve them and implement appropriate disciplinary outcomes in instances when students are found responsible,” McGregor wrote. “All students who are engaged in a conduct process are offered a range of support resources.”
McGregor did not address whether the 20 students were going through internal disciplinary processes.
Horwitz speculated that Brown may “be satisfied by the fact that (the students) were removed by the police and that they are facing whatever consequences they need to face in the criminal justice system.”
“As protests and rallies continue related to the war, we continue to advise students of their rights and responsibilities as they make their own choices related to activism,” McGregor added.
Julia Vaz is a Metro editor covering the environment and crime and justice beats. She is a sophomore from Brazil studying Political Science and Literary Arts.