Julian Heicklen, Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at Penn State University (and a member of DRCNet), staged the second in what he claims will be a series of acts of civil disobedience last Thursday by lighting up a joint at the campus gates. Although he had never smoked marijuana prior to two weeks ago, he sees the issue involved as basic. "It's about the rights of individuals in a free society to make personal decisions without fear of violent reprisal by the state" he said. During the protest, which was sponsored by both the Centre City Libertarian Party, of which Heicklen is a member, and Smart on Crime, of which he is the founder, Professor Heicklen reclined in a lawn chair and lit up a joint in front of hundreds of supporters. Within a relatively short time, however, Heicklen was accosted by a man who was clearly unhappy with the demonstration.
"This man approached me, flashed a wallet, and said 'I want to speak with you'" Heicklen told The Week Online. "I turned away from him, at which point, without saying another word, he forcefully grabbed my wrist and took the marijuana cigarette out of my hand." That man turned out to be Ron Schrevler, chief of the campus police. "He didn't properly identify himself, he didn't place me under arrest, he didn't even cite me. What he did was attack me, and steal my property. Being a police officer doesn't entitle anyone to simply deal with issues however one sees fit. It was totally improper."
Professor Heicklen isn't taking the incident lying down. "I've filed a criminal complaint with the DA claiming assault and theft, and also a complaint with the University President. I want him prosecuted, and I want him fired."
Professor Heicklen is not new to activism. He was an organizer during the civil rights movement, and, as mentioned above, he is the founder of the organization Smart on Crime. "It's not a drug policy organization, it's a citizens' lobby. We focus on prison issues. First, too much tax money is being spent to lock up large numbers of people who simply don't belong behind bars. The drug war is obviously an enormous catalyst for that. Our second issue is the conditions in the Pennsylvania state prison system. The problems there are simply outrageous. Murders, beatings, death by medical neglect, serious food contamination -- we're talking urine and feces here." Heicklen is also the faculty coordinator for PSU's Amnesty International chapter.
As to his ongoing civil disobedience, Heicklen says, "The school would just as soon ignore it. It doesn't have anything to do with my work at the University. But last week the press was out in force, and we had about 400 students there, all told. If I get arrested and jailed, so be it. That's the nature of civil disobedience. The school will only act against me if they are forced into it by the state legislature. But I'm officially retired, I don't get paid, the only things they can do is take away my office or my parking spot. It would be cowardly of them, but it's possible that the legislature would decide to threaten their funding if they don't act."
"Legislators in this country cannot even address this issue rationally, I decided that someone had to take the lead and stir things up. I'm truly amazed at the support I've received, and the attention. This week, I'm inviting others to join me. The point is, if one person does something like this, he's a nut, if 50 people do it, it is a 'problem,' but once a thousand people are standing up, you've got a movement, and, if that movement is correct in its goals, it becomes impossible to stop them. I am standing up for the rights of individual adults to make basic decisions about their own lives. I have a great deal of faith that those who believe in such freedom have right on their side."
Prof. Heicklen asks that letters be sent to District Attorney Ray Gricar ("polite letters please, he's a good man" says Heicklen). Point out that is his responsibility to ensure that civil rights are respected and due process is followed by law enforcement. Send to DA Ray Gricar, County Courthouse, Bellefonte, PA, 16823. (Please send copies to DRCNet, 2000 P St., NW, Suite 615, Washington, DC 20036. We'll share them with Prof. Heicklen.)
(You can visit Professor Heicklen's web page, and send him e-mail, at http://www.personal.psu.edu/jph13/. DRCNet is not advocating for nor against this type of civil disobedience, but shares Prof. Heicklen's views regarding the injustice of U.S. marijuana laws.)