Students arrested in sit-in tried to ‘normalize civil disobedience’

One of the three students arrested last week said he was trying to “normalize civil disobedience” following President Donald Trump’s second executive order on immigration.

The students, Kei Pritsker, Henry Manning and graduate student Alison Hawkins, were arrested last Tuesday at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center on Pennsylvania Avenue, where the office for U.S. Customs and Border Protection is located. They were part of a “sit in” where they encouraged employees at the office to not enforce Trump’s executive order banning new visas to be signed for people from six Muslim-majority countries for 90 days.

Federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland both blocked enforcement of the executive order this week, questioning the legality of the measure, BBC reported.

The students sat in the lobby of the building for about an hour until officials from the General Services Administration asked them to leave. When they did not, they were arrested and charged for unlawful entry at around 10:30 a.m., according to a Metropolitan Police Department report.

“The idea was to normalize civil disobedience and push people to take their activism to the next step,” Pritsker said. “Someone needed to obstruct, put their body in the way of these forces. We planned on staying there as long as we could.”

Pritsker said the group wanted to reduce the stigma associated with being arrested for civil disobedience. He said he and the other people participating in the protest wanted to encourage the CBP employees to not enforce Trump’s orders.

There were five people arrested as part of the group, and a sixth person from the sit-in met them outside of the jail and contacted the media about the protest, Pritsker said.

Some of the protesters first met each other at a sit-in following Trump’s first executive order banning people from immigrating from Muslim-majority countries. There were 22 people who marked that they would attend the event on the Facebook group, but only six showed up, Pritsker said.

Pritsker said they were prepared to be arrested and wanted to send the message that everyday advocacy is not enough to make change. The group researched civil disobedience for about three weeks before the second protest and consulted civil disobedience trainers and the National Lawyers Guild in preparation for the sit-in.

Pritsker said he was holding a sign quoting Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi officer in World War II who claimed he was just following orders before he was sentenced to death for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the trials following the war.

“Now that I look back, I realize that a life predicated on being obedient is a very comfortable life indeed. Living such a way reduces to a minimum one’s own need to think,” Pritsker’s sign read.

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