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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The Charges Mecha Students Are Facing, Explained

Seven U students who protested a YAF event are being charged with misdemeanors — here are the charges they’re facing and what they mean.
A+police+officer+asks+a+demonstrator+to+leave+at+the+Young+Americans+for+Freedom+at+the+University+of+Utah%E2%80%99s+watch+party+in+J.+Willard+Marriott+Library+in+Salt+Lake+City+on+Wednesday%2C+Nov.+01%2C+2023.+%28Photo+by+Xiangyao+%E2%80%9CAxe%E2%80%9D+Tang+%7C+The+Daily+Utah+Chronicle%29
Xiangyao Tang
A police officer asks a demonstrator to leave at the Young Americans for Freedom at the University of Utah’s watch party in J. Willard Marriott Library in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 01, 2023. (Photo by Xiangyao “Axe” Tang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

 

On Nov. 1, The Young Americans for Freedom student organization held a watch party for “Damaged,” a film critical of the medical transitioning of minors who identify as transgender. Members of Mecha, a self-described anti-imperialist, anti-colonial socialist student organization, organized a protest of this event.

Approximately 50 students attended this protest, where students chanted and disrupted the showing of the film for around 20 minutes. 

On Nov. 9, Mecha was notified that they were having their sponsorship from the Center for Equity and Student Belonging withdrawn as punishment for protesting. 

By Dec. 4, police had showed up at the homes of Mecha members and announced that they would now be facing charges for disrupting YAF’s event

Rebecca Walsh, director of communications for the University of Utah, provided information on the charges filed. 

The citations were given to eight protestors, with ages ranging from 19 to 23 years old. Seven of the eight protestors were enrolled at the U. One of the protestors had no affiliation with the university. 

This was later updated to only seven citations against protestors instead of the earlier eight. All seven protestors charged were university students.

Initially, four charges were filed against the protestors. These charges include “interference with a peace officer,” “disrupting the operation of a school,” “disorderly conduct” and “wearing masks with intent to commit a crime,” according to the university.

The first charge, interference with a peace officer, comes from Utah Code 76-8-305 and is a class B misdemeanor. 

If a citizen is “refusing to follow instructions from a police officer” or even engaging in conduct that “interferes with the arrest of a person other than you,” according to Intermountain Legal, they can face this charge.

The results of this can be “fines, jail time and a criminal record.”

The second charge, disrupting the operation of a school, is part of Utah Code 76-9-105. This charge is also a class B misdemeanor. 

This charge can occur when a person remains on school property after being asked to leave with the purpose of “encouraging or creating an unreasonable and substantial disruption or risk of disruption of a class, activity, program, or other function of a public or private school.” 

The school event in this case was the YAF club meeting.

A U statement described how law enforcement will get involved when there is an instance of an individual or group “creating a significant infringement and disruption of an event or gathering.”

“The exercise of free speech violates university policies by disrupting the institution’s educational mission, including interrupting … student services functions,” said the statement.

The third charge of disorderly conduct is also a class B misdemeanor and is part of Utah Code 76-9-102

Disorderly conduct is a fairly common charge, and there is a wide range of actions that can lead to being charged. Typically, this occurs “when the offender commits some action in a public place that is disturbing other people,” according to Overson & Bugden Law Firm

An offender can face these charges if they refuse a police officer’s demand to vacate a public area, or if they intentionally cause a public disturbance.

The fourth charge of wearing masks with intent to commit a crime would have been a class C misdemeanor under Salt Lake City Code, but this charge was later dropped. 

“The charges stem from the individual’s behavior at the watch party,” said the U’s statement. “After approximately 15 minutes of protesters chanting, police attempted to clear the room to allow the watch party to continue. As they did, several protesters inside and outside the room locked arms to block officers’ movements and access to the door.”

Chief Safety Officer Keith Squires corroborated this statement. He said that the protest had students who “shouted down the scheduled event, locked arms, touched officers and blocked their movements to the exits of the conference room.”

It was at this point, Squires said, when the protest became a public safety risk.

The university also noted that “the investigation is ongoing” and will continue to be updated as the footage is reviewed and interviews are conducted. 

Squires said that “the role of University Police is to preserve public safety on campus, and ensure that every student, faculty and staff member is able to lawfully exercise their right to free speech.”

He added that this also includes not infringing on another’s right to free speech or infringing on officers’ ability to maintain public safety.

The university’s Department of Public Safety added that “University Police are neutral as to the viewpoints expressed on our campus,” making note that the charges are unrelated to the perspectives Mecha or YAF express.

The criminal charges will be handled by law enforcement, but the Office of the Dean of Students will manage any academic discipline and accountability.

 

[email protected]

@CarolineChrony

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About the Contributors
Caroline Krum
Caroline Krum, Investigative Writer
Caroline was born and raised in California and moved to Salt Lake City to pursue a degree in English education. She enjoys reading classic literature (especially Russian literature) and spends her weekends outdoors. Caroline fills her free time with plein air painting, attending museums, playing with her cat, watching vintage films, hiking, or playing the sims. She hopes to attend Grad school next fall to start working on her master's and doctorate.
Xiangyao Tang
Xiangyao Tang, Photo Director
Axe is a photographer and the photo director of the Daily Utah Chronicle. He is from China and is a senior majoring in computer science and minoring in digital photography. Axe joined the Chronicle in August of 2021. In addition to his position at the Chrony, he is also a photo intern for University of Utah Athletics. When he's not writing code, you will find him rock climbing, camping, skiing or hiking with his camera.

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