Charges dropped against US students for pro-Palestine parody school paper

Charges dropped against US students for pro-Palestine parody school paper
Two students at Northwestern University faced misdemeanour charges for a pro-Palestine parody of their school paper.
3 min read
09 February, 2024
Students across America have been protesting against their universities’ stance on the current war on Gaza, including pro-Palestinian students suing Harvard for failing to protect them from harassment [Getty/file photo]

Prosecutors on Wednesday dropped a criminal case against two Northwestern University students who created a parody version of the school’s student newspaper attacking Northwestern’s stance on the war on Gaza.

Northwestern Daily, a parody of the campus Daily Northwestern, included a front-page article accusing the university's administration of being complicit in the genocide of Palestinians, including fake quotes from school officials, accusations of Israeli war crimes, and a fake ad for Birthright Israel.

Police brought the misdemeanor charges against students after the company behind the university's paper, Students Publishing Company (SPC), announced that it had "engaged law enforcement to investigate and find those responsible".

The two students, both Black, were charged on Tuesday, reportedly under a statute written to prevent the Ku Klux Klan from distributing recruitment materials in newspapers, according to The Intercept. They could have faced up to a year in prison and a $2,500 fine.

The threats led to anger from other Northwestern students, faculty, and alumni, with more than 70 student organisations promising to boycott the Daily Northwestern until the charges were dropped.

More than 5,000 people signed a petition calling for the case to be dropped and alleged the cases represent the "targeted over-policing of Black students".

"I am relieved that Northwestern dropped charges against two students who made a work of art, free speech, and parody in support of the people of Gaza," Sarah Schulman, Ralla Klepak Professor of English at Northwestern University, told The New Arab.

"Campuses around the country are having inconsistent responses to the rise of a student/faculty/staff movement against US funding for this war.

Schulman said moves against pro-Palestine student movements worldwide have posed a threat to academic freedom and resulted in over reactions.

"We are seeing too many incidents of students, staff, and faculty in solidarity with Palestine being expelled, fired, stigmatised, having their organisations banned," she added.

"This punitive impulse was wrong, and I am glad that so many people - on campus and from the larger community - objected and produced this outcome."

The SPC later announced that it would actively seek the charges against the students to be dropped, and prosecutors agreed to close the case.

The SPC board, led by Chicago-area attorney John Byrne, released a statement announcing that the group would hire attorneys to help prosecutors drop the charges.

"We didn’t understand how these complaints started a process that we could no longer control – and something we never intended," Byrne said.

He also argued that he did not understand that a police complaint would lead to charges.

"We hope to heal the hurt and repair the relationships that have been damaged and frayed by our unintentional foray into the criminal justice system," he said.

Students across the US have protested against their universities and government's stance on the war on Gaza.

This includes pro-Palestine students suing Harvard for failing to protect them from harassment.