Three weeks after a George Mason undergraduate was arrested in a campus confrontation over military recruiters, the university has issued a statement calling for charges against him to be dropped.
The incident, which prompted an emotional teach-in on free speech, occurred in late September as Tariq Khan, 27, a U.S. Air Force veteran, was standing by the recruiters' table holding fliers and wearing signs, including one on his chest that said, "Recruiters Lie, Don't be Deceived."
Khan said he was yelled at by two bystanders, one of whom identified himself as a Marine and ripped the sign off his chest. After campus police asked for identification, which Khan didn't have, he was arrested, turned over to Fairfax County police and charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct. He was released on his own recognizance, and a court date was scheduled for Nov. 14.
The university released its statement after interviewing students and campus police.
Khan has maintained that he broke no campus rules because he was giving fliers only to people who asked for them and not distributing indiscriminately, which would have required a permit.
Daniel Walsch, a university spokesman, said yesterday that whether Khan violated any rules hadn't been resolved but that the matter should be handled internally by the university rather than through the courts. The university is reviewing policies on leafleting, demonstrations and other free speech-related activities, he said.
Khan, a Pakistani American who grew up in Sterling, said yesterday that he disagreed with a finding by the university that there was no evidence of bias in the incident.
Khan said that while he didn't believe the initial arrest had to do with his ethnicity, campus police later made racist remarks to him about Middle Easterners. One officer, he said, commented, "You people are the most violent people in the world" after he learned Khan's name.
Khan did not report this initially to university officials because of concern that they might "use it against me" in the investigation, he said. After the statement was released yesterday, he said he brought up the comments in conversation with a university administrator.
Campus police yesterday said no one was available for comment.
At the teach-in two weeks ago, professors compared the incident to antiwar protests in the 1960s. Victoria Rader, a sociology professor and an adviser to Khan, said she had heard of similar incidents taking place recently at other campuses.
Rebecca Glenberg, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, which has taken on Khan's case, said she hoped the charges would be dropped.
The case has been referred to the office of Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr., but someone who answered the phone there said he doubted that Horan had looked at it yet.
Glenberg said the incident was particularly disturbing because it had taken place on a university campus. "A university should encourage the expression of diverse ideas and free and open debate," she said, adding that she was encouraged by the university's announcement.
"The statement makes me cautiously optimistic that GMU recognizes that this incident should not have occurred and that they will take steps to ensure that such incidents do not occur in the future. The proof will be in the pudding."