Two students at Northwestern University are facing up to a year in prison for distributing a parody front page attached to the school’s newspaper that criticized the university’s response to Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.
The faux “Northwestern Daily” paper’s front page featured the headline “Northwestern complicit in genocide of Palestinians,” along with invented quotes from school officials, a false report about a leaflet drop telling students who lived above a certain street to evacuate their homes, and a fake ad for a “Birthright Israel” trip with the slogan, “One man’s home is another man’s former home!”
The students face charges for theft of advertising services, a Class A misdemeanor specific to Illinois and California that was originally used to prevent the Ku Klux Klan from distributing materials in their daily papers, according to The Intercept. The charges carry a potential sentence of up to a year in prison, and a $2,500 fine.
“We reject and condemn this act of vandalism, and we have engaged law enforcement to investigate and find those responsible,” the Board of Directors wrote in a statement. A spokesperson for the SPC told The Intercept that the organization had pursued a criminal investigation.
On Monday, The Daily Northwestern’s editorial board published a statement objecting to the charges and the treatment of their peers.
“While the students’ alleged actions may violate Illinois law, we believe SPC’s decision to engage the criminal justice system during this investigation was unnecessary and harmful,” they wrote. They have asked the SPC to notify the Cooks County State’s Attorney’s office that it no longer wishes for the charges to be prosecuted.
The Daily Northwestern’s editorial board said that the case against the students, who are Black, is part of “a long history of placing people of color in harm’s way.”
“We hope this situation invites reflection about the impacts that people, particularly people of color, may face as a result of decisions that involve the police,” they wrote in the statement. Over 6,000 Northwestern students have signed a petition opposing the criminal charges, and the “targeted over-policing of Black students.”
The SPC’s board has denied having a political agenda in its pursuit of criminal charges. “This is not an issue of free speech or parody,” the board said in a statement on Monday. “[J]ust as you cannot take over the airwaves of a TV station or the website of a publication, you also cannot disrupt the distribution of a student newspaper.”