Pomona College professor arrested at pro-Palestinian ‘die-in’ protest

Claremont Colleges students participated in a “die-in” protest on November 29, lying down in front of Bridges Auditorium to symbolize the more than 7,000 Palestinian children who have been killed thus far in the Israeli-Hamas war in Gaza. Pomona College professor Arón Macal Montenegro was arrested for trespassing during the demonstration. Photo/courtesy of Samson Zhang

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

A Pomona College professor’s November 29 arrest while participating in a “die-in” protest on the Pomona campus has triggered a wave of concern from colleagues, activists, and administration, ultimately leading to the withdrawal of charges.

Some 175 Claremont Colleges students laid down in front of Bridges Auditorium last Wednesday to symbolize the more than 7,000 Palestinian children who have been killed thus far in the ongoing Israeli-Hamas war in Gaza. The protest was part of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.

“Wednesday’s die-in is the latest in a series of student demonstrations with demands for Pomona College to divest its $2.8 billion endowment from weapons manufacturers, call for a ceasefire, and institute explicit protections for vulnerable students,” according to a statement from the campus group Pomona Divest Apartheid.

The Claremont Colleges’ The Student Life newspaper did not name the professor in its reporting, but Claremont Police Department Lieutenant Robert Ewing told the Courier the professor is Arón Macal Montenegro, a lecturer in Chicana/o and Latina/o studies at Pomona College. The Student Life reported the faculty member was arrested Wednesday while “demonstrating in solidarity with Palestinians in front of Smiley Hall, playing music from a speaker.”

Following criticism and calls for investigations into the arrest, Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr sent a December 2 email to faculty confirming charges against Montenegro would be withdrawn.

“Along with many of you, I have been grappling with serious concerns about the arrest of a colleague,” Starr wrote in the email. “I have been engaged with counsel and The Claremont Colleges Services since we learned of the incident Thursday, and we have communicated our clear position that no trespass occurred and that all charges related to the situation should be dropped.

“I am pleased to report that law enforcement took this communication seriously, and that the formal process of withdrawal of the charges already has been initiated; this will be completed over the coming week.”

The Student Life news editor Jenna McMurtry and managing editor Mariana Duran and reporter Reia Li wrote the professor had brought students to the protest as a learning experience and then moved a short distance away from Bridges Auditorium while continuing to participate in the protest.

“At the time of arrest the professor was wearing an anti-apartheid T-shirt and playing music on a speaker in solidarity with Palestine,” according to Pomona Divest Apartheid.

Photojournalist Samson Zhang, with student run digital news portal Undercurrents, captured images from just after the arrest. The campus publication also published photos of the arrest on its Instagram page.

Claremont Police officers Gabrielle Agular, right, and L. Asti confer with Claremont College campus safety officers shortly after Pomona College professor Arón Macal Montenegro was arrested during a November 29 protest on campus. Photo/courtesy of Samson Zhang

“The incident began with the individual playing loud music,” read a statement from Laura Muna-Landa, assistant vice president for communications and community relations with The Claremont Colleges Services. “Despite multiple requests from Campus Safety, the individual refused to lower the music volume and did not comply with the campus policy that requires individuals to identify themselves as members of The Claremont Colleges community.”

Lieutenant Ewing said campus safety was called to Sixth Street at N. College Way because of a person playing loud music. Officers then questioned Montenegro who allegedly refused to lower the volume of the music, Ewing said, adding Montenegro also allegedly refused to provide identification or present a faculty ID card.

According to Ewing, Montenegro also refused to leave the area, at which point campus safety officers said they wished to initiate a private person’s arrest. Once in CPD custody, a search revealed Montenegro’s driver’s license and a Pomona College ID card, which identified them as a Pomona professor.

Montenegro was taken to the Claremont Police station, booked, and later released with a citation to appear at Pomona Superior Court.

A report from the Claremont Colleges Campus Safety Department places the time of the incident at 1:19 p.m. November 29 and cites the charge as 415 PC (2), disturbing the peace, which reads “Any person who maliciously and willfully disturbs another person by loud and unreasonable noise.” According to Ewing, Montenegro was in fact charged with misdemeanor trespassing, not disturbing the peace.

Montenegro’s arrest shocked many of their colleagues and Pomona students.

The Intercollegiate Department of Chicanx-Latinx Studies, of which Montenegro is a member, expressed outrage that a member of their faculty could be arrested during a peaceful protest. The department is calling for a full investigation of the incident including the rationale for calling the police, and issued the following statement:

“The decision by the Administration to call the police was unwarranted. And the charge of ‘trespassing’ even after our colleague was identified as faculty is not only baseless it is a threatening blow to academic freedom and free and open dialogue. It is disappointing to see an incident of racial profiling happening on our campus and against members of our department. It is also unsettling that our rights as an academic community to protest were infringed upon by police.”

“It’s a troubling message that’s sent when police are called to a peaceful protest and then arrest any member of the community — faculty, staff or student — who is being equally peaceful in line with that protest,” Pomona professor Tomás Summers Sandoval told The Student Life.

“Pomona College learned of the incident after it occurred. We were not consulted or notified before police were called,” wrote Pomona College Senior Director of Communications Patricia Vest in an email. “We should have been consulted, and we are working with colleagues at the consortium to ensure proper communications going forward.”

Pomona College Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College, Y. Melanie Wu sent an email to Pomona faculty on Thursday acknowledging “a few faculty members” had contacted her asking for more information about the arrest. On Friday Wu sent a follow-up email stating Pomona’s senior administrator on call should have been consulted before “contacting police in a nonviolent, nonemergency situation.”

“President Starr has reached out to the leadership of the other colleges and the consortium to address our procedures,” Wu wrote in the email. The Claremont College Services “has acknowledged that Pomona leadership should have been contacted before calling police in this instance, and they plan to address this issue.”

Starr’s December 2 email to faculty confirmed charges against Montenegro would be withdrawn.

Starr also stated that the college has been in contact with campus safety leadership to ensure there is a clear understanding of process when campus officers are considering calling law enforcement.

“I appreciate the receptivity of Campus Safety’s leadership, and I am confident this will result in preservation of our mission and values while continuing to ensure a safe environment,” Starr wrote in the email. “There will be many conversations and further work in the coming weeks.”


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