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No more arrests in Divest UMass protest

Nineteen get probation for trespassing

  • From left, freshman Ashley Casello of Billerica, and juniors Emily Conn of Madison, Wis., Shristi Pant of Norwood and Samaya Abdus-Salaam of Bronx, N.Y., all University of Massachusetts students, join a rally Thursday outside the Whitmore Administration Building calling for fossil fuel divestment. SARAH CROSBY

  • UMass sophomore Mica Reel, a spokeswoman for the UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign, joins a large group of Divest UMass supporters in rallying April 14 outside of the Whitmore Administration Building on campus to demand that UMass officials commit to divest from the top 200 publicly-traded fossil fuel companies. SARAH CROSBY/Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • UMass freshman Muhammad Munir of South Deerfield joins a large group of Divest UMass supporters in rallying April 14 outside of the Whitmore Administration Building on campus to demand that UMass officials commit to divest from the top 200 publicly-traded fossil fuel companies. SARAH CROSBY/Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • UMass freshman Ashley Casello of Billerica, left, UMass junior Emily Conn of Madison, Wis., UMass junior Shristi Pant of Norwood, and UMass junior Samaya Abdus-Salaam of The Bronx, N.Y., join a large group of Divest UMass supporters in rallying April 14 outside of the Whitmore Administration Building on campus to demand that UMass officials commit to divest from the top 200 publicly-traded fossil fuel companies. SARAH CROSBY/Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • UMass sophomore Mica Reel, a spokeswoman for the UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign, left, talks with Tyler Barron, who was among the first 15 students previously arrested, after rallying outside of the Whitmore Administration Building on campus Thursday to demand that UMass officials divest from the top 200 publicly-traded fossil fuel companies. DAN LITTLE—Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • Divest UMass supporters rally outside of the Whitmore Administration Building on campus Thursday to demand that UMass officials divest from the top 200 publicly-traded fossil fuel companies. DAN LITTLE—Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • Divest UMass supporters gather outside of the Whitmore Administration Building on campus Thursday before rallying to demand that UMass officials divest from the top 200 publicly-traded fossil fuel companies. DAN LITTLE—Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • UMass sophamore Brock Parent, 19, center, talks with Lily Cigale, 19, joined with other Divest UMass supporters during a sit-in staged at the Whitmore Administration Building for the fourth day on campus Thursday afternoon. DL—Dan Little

  • University of Massachusetts graduate student Peter Huntington, 24, pets Haven, a service dog in training, during a sit-in staged by Divest UMass supportes at the Whitmore Administration Building for the fourth day on campus Thursday afternoon. DL—Dan Little

  • Divest UMass supporters rally outside of the Whitmore Administration Building on campus Thursday to demand that UMass officials divest from the top 200 publicly-traded fossil fuel companies. From left are UMass students Hayley Benoit, 22, Hannah Youssef, 20, Hannah Heiser, 22, and Devon King, 20. DAN LITTLE—Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • Brennan Tierney, 19, joins Divest UMass supporters in rallying outside of the Whitmore Administration Building on campus Thursday to demand that UMass officials divest from the top 200 publicly-traded fossil fuel companies. DAN LITTLE—Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • UMass freshman Muhammad Munir, of South Deerfield, center, joins a large group of Divest UMass supporters in rallying outside of the Whitmore Administration Building on campus Thursday to demand that UMass officials divest from the top 200 publicly-traded fossil fuel companies. DAN LITTLE—Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • Divest UMass supporters rally outside of the Whitmore Administration Building on campus Thursday to demand that UMass officials divest from the top 200 publicly-traded fossil fuel companies. DAN LITTLE—Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • UMass students Gabrielle Palerm, 20, from left, Michaura Rivera, 21, Stacy Tchouanquem, 21, and Zareb Noel, 19, embrace during a Divest UMass rally outside of the Whitmore Administration Building on campus Thursday to demand that UMass officials divest from the top 200 publicly-traded fossil fuel companies. DAN LITTLE—Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • Divest UMass supporters exit Whitmore Administration Building on campus Thursday before rallying to demand that UMass officials divest from the top 200 publicly-traded fossil fuel companies. DAN LITTLE—Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • MICHAEL MAJCHROWICZ University of Massachusetts protesters plead not guilty in Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belrchertown Thursday after Wednesday night arrests in an ongoing protest of UMass investments in fossil fuel industries. MICHAEL MAJCHROWICZ University of Massachusetts protesters plead not guilty in Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belrchertown Thursday after Wednesday night arrests in an ongoing protest of UMass investments in fossil fuel industries.

Published: 4/14/2016 12:52:52 PM

By MICHAEL MAJCHROWICZ
and STEPHANIE MURRAY

Staff Writers

AMHERST — A protest demanding that the University of Massachusetts abandon its investment in fossil fuel companies continued for a fourth day Thursday, drawing 150 people to a sit-in at the university’s main administrative building that ended with no further arrests.

Divest UMass, a student group organizing the demonstration, is calling for a commitment from the university system to fully divest from the top 200 leading fossil fuel companies determined by Carbon Tracker.

Protesters left the Whitmore Administration Building peacefully when it closed at 6 p.m. Thursday, despite plans discussed throughout the day for approximately 25 people to remain inside and risk arrest.

Divest UMass spokeswoman Mica Reel said the group decided to fully vacate the building following a statement from the university in response to protesters.

Reel said organizers felt it would not be “in an act of good faith” to have people arrested following the university’s response.

The statement, released by university spokesman Edward Blaguszewski, said UMass President Martin T. Meehan and board of trustees Chairman Victor Woolridge agreed to advocate for divestment and will put the issue on the agenda of the board of trustees meeting June 15. The university’s $770 million endowment is controlled by the University of Massachusetts Foundation.

“Woolridge and Meehan have said divesting direct investments in fossil fuel companies represents ‘a logical next step’ to the action UMass took last year when it divested its direct investments in coal companies,” the statement said.

Although the protesters agreed to leave the building after receiving the statement, they said they were not satisfied by the response. At a rally following the sit-in, Divest UMass organizers vowed they would return to Whitmore at 8:30 a.m. to protest for a fifth day.

“We don’t have to sacrifice ourselves and get arrested to show our power,” Reel said.

Police have arrested 34 protesters since Tuesday in connection with the sit-in. They were charged with trespassing for refusing to leave Whitmore after it closed Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.

Protesters have occupied the hallway leading to the chancellor’s office since Monday.

Five volunteers from Divest UMass drove to the UMass Police Department to post bail for the 19 arrested protesters Wednesday night. The group is using a GoFundMe account to raise bail money for protesters. As of Thursday morning, it had raised $2,446.

“This doesn’t have to happen if (university officials) stand on the right side of history with us,” Divest UMass spokesman Filipe Carvalho said Thursday. “We want to praise officials for wanting to support us, and we firmly believe and are confident that (UMass) will be the first public university to divest from fossil fuels.”

All protesters pleaded not guilty in Eastern Hampshire District Court on Wednesday and Thursday and had their cases continued for four months while they complete community service in lieu of monthly probation costs, according to the Northwestern district attorney’s office.

The cases will be dropped provided each person completes the necessary service hours.

As part of the probation conditions, the protesters who were charged must stay clear Whitmore Hall, according to the district attorney’s office.

Judge’s response

On Thursday in court, Judge Jacklyn Connly addressed the 19 protesters — at least 14 of whom are UMass students — in court.

“You’re aware I don’t have to accept this, right?” she told them. Instead, she added, she could rule that the protesters receive the maximum sentence allowed by law for trespassing, which is 30 days in jail.

“And that can be imposed while you’re all in school, preparing for your finals,” Connly said. “So think about that while you’re doing your community service.”

Tyler Barron, 21, was arrested Tuesday. A senior at UMass studying civic engineering and sustainable living, Barron said he does not worry that the arrest will jeopardize his chances of getting a job.

“I’m not worried about it because I think there is something to be said for standing up for your morals and getting arrested,” Barron said Thursday.

Thursday scene

Thursday afternoon, 150 people occupied Whitmore, lining the hallway to the chancellor’s office. Many sat quietly using laptops while others snacked on doughnuts and other goods donated to the protesters.

The protest has expanded since Monday, including alumni, faculty, community members, and even high school students.

Ellie Smith, 16, of Amherst, and Lucy Lomax, 14, of Northampton participated in the sit-in Thursday and volunteered to be arrested. The two girls, both students at the North Star independent learning program, said they planned to return to the protest Friday.

Lomax said her parents did not challenge her when she said she may be arrested, to her surprise. Both girls hope to bring friends to the protest Friday.

“I think other people our age should be here,” said Smith. “It’s our future.”

Before protesters join the sit-in, they undergo training from Divest UMass volunteers. Protesters signify they have undergone training by drawing black Xs on their hands, and supporters wear pieces of orange felt pinned to their clothing. Protesters who pledge to risk arrest undergo further training to better understand their legal rights and university policy related to picketing and student conduct.

Divest UMass spokesman Carvalho said national networks such as the Divestment Student Network have pledged support to the group as well.

Throughout Thursday, Divest UMass organizers Sarah Jacqz, Kristie Herman and Varshini Prakash were in negotiation with university administrators, including Vice Chancellor Enku Gelaye and Vice Chancellor John Kennedy. According to Reel, the organizers spoke to Meehan by phone.

Because the university’s endowment is managed by a private foundation, Divest UMass cannot prove that the university has money invested in fossil fuel companies. However, Reel said she trusts those investments exist based on conversations with administrators and donations the school receives from Exxon-Mobil.

“We’re going to continue to escalate until we get what we want,” Carvalho said. “And we’re going to demonstrate our power as we’ve done the past three days.”

Michael Majchrowicz can be reached at mmajchrowicz@gazettenet.com.




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