MN—On Nov. 9, Phyllis Walker was cleared of
any wrongdoing in a HennepinCounty courtroom when the
judge threw out the charges against her. Walker
is president of AFSCME Local 3800, representing 1,600 clerical workers at the University of Minnesota. She had been wrongly charged
with interfering with the arrests of nine University
of Minnesota students who staged a
sit-in on May 4, 2005, against the closing of the university’s GeneralCollege, which admits the bulk of the Black,
Latino, and first-generation immigrant students who get in to the university.
Walker saw a plainclothes cop kick and
pepper-spray two students who were trying to observe the arrests. She then was
interviewed on TV, where she denounced the police brutality she witnessed. This
angered the university administration, which then apparently encouraged HennepinCounty to pursue legal charges against
her, as part of a broader campaign of harassment against Walker and the union.
The legal charges were filed over
a month after the incident occurred, right as union contract negotiations were
about to begin. When negotiations began, one of the university’s first
proposals was to effectively take away Walker’s
ability as president of the union to work half-time at her job and half-time
doing union work. Management’s chief negotiator stated openly in negotiations
that they wanted to take away her union leave because they didn’t like the fact
that she was active in the movement to stop the closing of GeneralCollege.
The union’s negotiating committee successfully blocked this move by management.
to CloseGeneralCollegeSparks Anti-Racist Movement
University of Minnesota president
Robert Bruininks’s proposal to close General College,
which was passed by the Board of Regents in June 2005,
could shut off the largest entry point into the university for
oppressed-nationality and working-class urban students. It will also cause
layoffs. The proposal to close GeneralCollege generated a large anti-racist
student movement to save equal access to education in Minnesota. AFSCME 3800 played an active role
in the movement, seeing the proposal to close GeneralCollege
as a threat to educational access for working-class Minnesotans and a threat to
Last spring, the pro-General
College movement sprouted two mass organizations: the General College Truth
Movement and the Equal Access Coalition, which continue the fight for equal
access to education.
Sit-In and Legal Charges
As last spring semester neared its
end, and after a series of large rallies and events in support of GeneralCollege, some students felt the need to
take dramatic action before the student body left for the summer and before the
Board of Regents vote on the issue, scheduled for June. So dozens of students
did a sit-in in President Bruininks’s office,
demanding that he meet with them to discuss the decision to close GeneralCollege.
Instead of meeting with the
students, Bruininks had them arrested—at on the day of their sit-in.
Hundreds rallied outside Morrill Hall in support of the students, and TV news
cameras waited outside the entrance to Morrill Hall to film the arrests. But to
avoid the cameras, the university administration devised a plan to drag the
arrested students through a maze of underground parking garages, in an effort
to avoid having images of the arrests appear on TV.
Some of the protesters outside
Morrill Hall thought the cops might take the students through the underground
tunnels and garages that connect most buildings at the University on Minnesota, so a few
protesters went in to each nearby parking garage to see if the students were
being taken out that way. Walker and three students went into the Northrop
Garage, and encountered two police booking vans and a plainclothes man who said
he was a police officer blocking access to the tunnel that leads to Morrill
The plainclothes man yelled at
Walker and the students to get away, then started kicking and pepper-spraying
the students. Fortunately for Walker,
the whole incident was videotaped by another student, including footage of the
cop kicking and pepper-spraying two students multiple times. That tape was
played on TV news and was used as key evidence in Walker’s favor at the trial. The videotape
showed the cop brutalizing students who were just standing there, and clearly
showed that Walker
did not interfere with the cop. Shortly after seeing the video footage, the
judge threw out the trumped-up charges.
one of the students, who the cop had pepper-sprayed and kicked, were also
thrown out in a separate trial. Five of the students who had outstanding
charges from participating in the sit-in had their charges reduced to a bare
minimum at their trial in September. Though the county pursued the legal
of Minnesota Deputy General Counsel Bill Donohue
sat with the prosecution in the students’ trial, underscoring the university
administration’s role in these political prosecutions.