Interview with Haley Koch: Charges Dismissed in Trial of Anti-Racist Activist
Fight Back! interviewed UNC Chapel Hill activist Haley Koch about her trial on Monday, September 15, in which all charges relating to her arrest for the protest of Tom Tancredo were dropped. Koch took part in a large protest of students who shut down the racist, anti-immigrant speaker at UNC's campus last April.
Fight Back: Please give us a little background about the trial. What where you charged with?
Haley Koch: I was charged with “disturbing the peace at an educational institution,” a subsection of the disorderly conduct statute. I was arrested nine days following the protest of the white supremacist hate group Youth for Western Civilization (YWC) and the racist, xenophobic Tom Tancredo. Although more than 250 students and community members expressed their outrage and disapproval at his presence, I was the only person arrested. I was handcuffed outside my class, in front of my classmates and professor, and walked across campus before being patted down, searched, and then taken to the police station. This followed the disgraceful behavior of the University and its police forces in their apology to Tom Tancredo and their harassment of student activists.
Fight Back: Despite months of pressure from the UNC administration and right-wing forces, the judge dismissed the charges against you and other protesters. How do you feel about this? Do you feel vindicated?
Haley Koch: I believe the dismissal sent a strong message to the University community that protest (even loud, visible protest) is legal and should not be repressed and policed in the way it was. I should hope that they would think harder about arresting protesters in the future. I also hope that students take note that we can and will have our voices heard.
Fight Back: What was the role of community support in this victory? What would you like to say to your supporters?
Haley Koch: The community support was overwhelming and crucial to the continued struggle. At a time when the University, local media and campus liberals were all speaking out against the protesters, organizational and individual letters and petitions in solidarity renewed our energy and helped us to feel less isolated and alone. The repression at the time was intense, meant to fragment, demoralize, and silence us. It might have worked were it not for the amazing support we received from across the country and around the world. At a time when I was receiving hate mail and being threatened on white supremacist and white nationalist websites, it was incredibly encouraging to know that there were many people out there dedicated to the same struggles, people who are willing to support each other in whatever ways they can and who live their lives committed to fighting these oppressive forces.
I would like to express my deepest gratitude for the love and support we received. It is essential that we come together in times of repression to show our collective strength and to continue to build power and feed our political efforts. I cannot emphasize enough how important the community support was and continues to be.
Fight Back: YWC's previous faculty advisor Chris Clemens stepped down over the summer, and was nearly disbanded from campus as a result. But now they have a new faculty sponsor and have announced events for the fall. Will the organizing continue against the YWC?
Haley Koch: The organizing against YWC will continue. Chris Clemens' decision to step down as advisor of YWC revealed the fact that sometimes protest and “controversy” are necessary to create social change.
YWC is planning to bring Bay Buchanan later this year. There will be protests. I still have hopes that the advisor and the president will come to realize that they are enabling a white supremacist hate group and will choose to step down. But, if they desire a fight, they should know that we have the strength and resources for it.
We will continue to organize against fascism, racism, and hate speech. These oppressions must not be allowed on our campus or in our communities.
Fight Back: The struggle against YWC has also put forward to other demands about a police review board and a hate speech policy at UNC, can you briefly let us know what is going on with that?
Haley Koch: The Protesters Defense Committee (PDC) is having conversations with Student Government about creating a police review board, and we will continue to fight for this. The next step will be mobilizing broader student and faculty support. We now have recorded testimony by police officer Lieutenant Twiddy saying that he shoved me to the ground that I believe will help in this struggle.
Several of us are meeting with Chancellor Thorp in the coming weeks to discuss the University's acceptance of hate and to explore ways to make the campus community a place safe for all students.
We will also be thinking creatively about ways to advance the struggle against institutionalized racism across the campus and our town.