Arrests spark discourse: students meet to plan protest
By Adrienne Burch and Madison Roberts
Despite reports that a UAPD officer removed signs from Palmer Hall advertising a meeting of the Alabama Chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy Monday afternoon, about 35 people gathered that night in the Ferguson Center to discuss plans for a student rally in retaliation to the Feb. 19 arrest of 61 UA students on drug charges.
Joe Hoffsommer, the president of SSDP, said the group does not condone or condemn marijuana use. They just want to amend the zero-tolerance policy on drugs.
“We were an inactive group, but after the recent drug raids, we want to become active again,” Hoffsommer said. “We think there should be some steps taken, and we don’t agree with the proceedings of the law enforcement. We understand they were doing their job, but our main stance is that we don’t think substance abuse, especially in the case of cannabis, is a criminal issue, it’s more of a health care issue.”
Matt Larkin, vice president of SSDP, proposed a solution to what punishment he believes would be fair.
“Instead of arresting drug users, cops should take away whatever substance it was and refer them to a rehab center,” Larkin said. “It should be more of a rehabilitation, compassionate stance than a criminal stance.”
One idea that was proposed at the meeting was getting a petition of students who were for changing the policy and working with the administration about equalizing the penalties for alcohol and drugs.
“We don’t want to sound like a bunch of hippies who want to sit around and smoke dope,” Hoffsommer said. “That’s not what we are. We don’t want to give law enforcement any ammo against us.”
SSDP is currently in the process of getting a permit so they can legally protest or rally on campus, and they have a Facebook page to promote the movement.
Several witnesses saw UAPD officers taking down signs advertising Monday’s meeting of the Alabama Chapter for Sensible Drug Policy.
Frank Thagard, 2010 UA alumnus, said he was in the basement of Palmer Hall, which houses the Mallet Assembly, on Sunday evening when an officer approached him and his friends about the flier.
“At first I thought he was going to tell us to stop playing music because we were being too loud or something, but as he came closer I saw he had in his hand a flier,” Thagard said.
He said he noticed the flier said something about a meeting about the drug busts that happened recently.
“He told us that he’d been going around from dorm to dorm pulling them down and asked us if we knew who put them up,” Thagard said. “We didn’t and told him we didn’t.”
Thagard was not the only person who witnessed UAPD officers taking down the fliers.
Eric Jesse, a sophomore, said he was standing outside of a dorm on Sunday night when a he saw an officer leaving Paty and approaching his building.
“He proceeded to walk into the building,” Jesse said. “I then looked through the window and saw he had removed one of the posters about the meeting regarding last week’s arrests.”
Jesse said after the officer left the building, he started to head off into the direction of the next dorm.
“I assume he proceeded to do the same,” Jesse said
Henry Perkins, a senior majoring in anthropology, said he also witnessed signs being torn down.
“I don’t want my home to be invaded by police, ever,” Perkins said. “I have protested before; I will protest again.”
Anna Waters and Will Tucker contributed to this report.
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