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The Relief — and Privilege — of Annulment

By Timothy R. O'Meara
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

Last Monday, a Connecticut Superior Court annulled all charges against the ten Harvard students and alumni who partook in the pro-divestment protest at the Harvard-Yale football game in November. The decision, delivered by Judge Phillip Scarpellino, erases any legal record of the arrest, enabling all protesters charged to truthfully claim they have never been arrested under Connecticut law.

We reaffirm our support of the protesters themselves, including those who were not ultimately arrested. By storming the field they demonstrated a steadfast commitment to pursuing change through direct action, and their passion and boldness are laudable. With the dangers and consequences of climate change increasingly apparent, we continue to support the divest movement and its participants.

The Court’s decision, however, also embodies an undeniable degree of legal privilege. We can’t help but feel that the high-profile nature of the case favoured such an outcome. Not every college protest attracts reactions from leading national politicians, and we remain at least open to the possibility that an association with two prestigious institutions weighed in the protesters’ favor. Consequently, the legal non-ramifications of the arrested protesters’ actions must be viewed in the context of that insulation.

This, of course, does not mean that the Court’s decision is not worth celebrating, at least out of sympathy for those it benefits. It also does not imply that the demonstrators’ actions are somehow less commendable. Acknowledging privilege does not necessitate discounting the efforts of those who benefit from it. It merely amounts to being aware of the structural factors at play that make certain actions more permissible in some groups than in others.

It’s also worth noting that not everyone who enjoyed the privilege those arrested had chose to deploy it to serve such a worthwhile end. Accordingly, we commend those who participated in the protest for using their advantaged position to pursue divestment, and for running to the field in the name of change. Even if their particular social and demographic context ensured a lenient, slap-on-the-wrist outcome, their actions remain admirable and we hope they do not flag in their efforts to make our community a more just and equitable place.

Indeed, acknowledging that most members of our student body are well positioned to partake in somewhat shielded activism is, if anything, a reason to encourage them to do so. As we have argued in the past, protests are crucial, empowering, and bring visibility to a broad variety of perspectives. They reflect a refusal to remain silent when institutions — particularly our institution — act in ways we judge to be wrong or harmful.

The events of Harvard-Yale exemplify that Harvard students enjoy a privileged position to make our voices heard, a national media that amplifies our efforts, and a judicial system merciful to our actions. We hope Harvard students will continue to use this privilege to work towards enacting important change.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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