Solidarity with a UT immigrant rights organizer
University of Texas graduate student Eric Nava-Perez, an organizer with the Sanctuary UT movement, member of the International Socialist Organization and contributor to SocialistWorker.org, was arrested and charged with assault with injury on September 1, during a "Walk-Out and Protest Against SB 4 and White Supremacy" in Austin, Texas. The University of Texas at Austin almost immediately issued interim sanctions against Nava-Perez, and as of now is upholding those sanctions, which include a ban from campus for the remainder of the fall semester.
On September 21, Sanctuary UT activists drafted the statement and petition below that calls on the university to lift this sanction. Instead, they argue that the most pressing threats facing students, faculty and staff are the passage of anti-immigrant laws like SB 4 and the repeal of DACA; the atmosphere of sharpened racism many students feel in the wake of the white supremacist attacks in Charlottesville; and the aggressive police presence on campus during protests like the one on September 1.
Sanctuary UT welcomes support from students, faculty, and staff from across the country, and the International Socialist Organization stands firmly in solidarity.
ON SEPTEMBER 1, Eric Nava-Perez, a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, was arrested and charged with assault resulting in injury during a protest against anti-immigrant racism and legislation.
During the protest, Nava-Perez felt harassed by police, and was verbally and physically harassed by right-wing bystanders and passerby. Several others present have also expressed feeling intimidated and confused by the unwarranted police presence at the protest, and have confirmed witnessing or experiencing incidences of harassment and racism. Some of this harassment, according to those present, came from reporters, some of whom did not clearly identify themselves as press, or were considered to be overly aggressive in questioning people.
All these factors contributed to an atmosphere where Nava-Perez, feeling his safety and the safety of his family and other protesters was at risk, acted based on information he had in a way that can reasonably understood as intending to be self-defense.
For reasons unclear, prior to the start of the planned Walk-Out and Rally Against SB 4 and White Supremacy on September 1, the University of Texas Police Department (UTPD) arrived on the West Mall where the rally was to begin in an unnecessary display of force, and from the beginning, there appeared to be one UTPD officer for every protest participant present. UTPD officers stated their intention was to keep protesters safe, although event organizers did not request a police presence nor did they feel this show of force made anyone "safer." UTPD accused those who questioned their stated concern with safety as being "confrontational." UTPD officers early on also asked who the event organizers were, pointing at Nava-Perez, making him feel targeted and harassed by officers before the rally and march even began.
Several incidences of verbal and physical harassment against protesters occurred, with no intervention from the UTPD, confirming for many protesters their suspicion that officers were not there to keep them safe. Individual passerby shouted things at individuals they understood to be immigrants like "get out of the country." Nava-Perez himself was flipped off, pushed, and had a megaphone he was using to speak shoved in his face. This happened without any provocation from Nava-Perez, and in plain view of UTPD officers. Despite this aggressive and violent act, Nava-Perez did not physically engage with the individual and the situation deescalated. UTPD simply watched, allowing harassment of protesters to go unchecked and contributing to an atmosphere of confusion and miscommunication.
What you can do
After the brutal attack on anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia by a neo-Nazi who drove a vehicle into a crowd injuring dozens of people and murdering Heather Heyer, some protesters were understandably tense when faced with harassment from right-wing bystanders. Several protesters had cell phones shoved in their faces and were repeatedly asked to provide information about participants and speakers. Individuals engaging in this activity included some reporters who did not always clearly and readily identify themselves as press, raising concerns among some of an effort to obtain information on participants in the walk-out by right wing bystanders in order to "dox" them, attack them online, and potentially target them for more threatening actions in the future.
These concerns and others are more than valid in light of the neo-Nazi attack in Charlottesville. They are also valid considering the invasion of the UT campus by white supremacists last February posting fliers attacking Muslims and immigrants, and considering racist fliers found on campus last May containing a grotesque caricature of an African American man holding a knife, with text that read: "Around Blacks, Never Relax." As recent as September 17, it has been reported by activists that nearly a dozen fascists and white supremacists were on campus putting up racist posters.
CONSIDERING THE atmosphere of fear that many students, faculty, and staff of color feel, along with others organizing against racism and injustice on campus, and in light of the harassment of protesters by right-wing bystanders, Nava-Perez several times acted in ways aiming to protect people from unwanted questioning and to keep protesters safe. However, when he heard his partner had, in front of their two-year-old son, been repeatedly asked questions about his identity after declining to provide this information and having a cell phone placed uncomfortably close to her face, Nava-Perez made a reasonable assumption based on information he had that the person posed a threat to himself, his family, and potentially others.
It is now clear that Chase Karacostas did not pose such a threat, and the unintended injury of Karacostas, a Daily Texan reporter and UT undergraduate, is regrettable. Journalism, especially covering political actions, always involves a certain amount of risk, and journalists should be defended, especially from restrictions and violence against the press coming from state and corporate entities. It is encouraging that Karacostas has not let this incident discourage him from pursuing journalism, and that he continues to regularly write and contribute to the Daily Texan.
Nava-Perez never intended to injure anyone and was not aware Karacostas was a journalist, however. Rather, he aimed to protect himself and others in a tense and confusing atmosphere stemming from police intimidation and racist and aggressive provocations from bystanders. Despite having felt harassed by the UTPD and expressing this verbally at the Cesar Chavez statue; despite having been verbally and physically harassed by bystanders; Nava-Perez consistently sought and intended to protect a peaceful protest from police intimidation, verbal and physical harassment verbal and physical, and potentially threatening racists.
The presence and actions of the UTPD and APD on September 1 toward protesters--including the detainment of another protester before Nava-Perez's arrest based on him "matching his description" in a case of racial profiling--in an atmosphere of sharpened racism and racist violence across the country, evidenced by the passing of racial profiling laws like SB 4, the recent decision to rescind protections for DACA recipients, and violence in Charlottesville and elsewhere, suggest serious threats to the learning process on campus exist, but Nava-Perez is not one of them.
We therefore express our support and solidarity with Eric Nava-Perez and call on the University of Texas at Austin to lift the interim sanction and drop any consideration of imposing future sanctions on Nava-Perez that restrict his access to campus and ability to pursue his academic career and employment at the University of Texas at Austin.