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'Free our Jamie': Protesters fight campus ban of law student charged with domestic terrorism

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UNC Law students and other members of the campus community walk through Polk Place on Thursday, April 13. The students protested in support of Jamie Marsicano, a second-year law student barred from campus after their arrest in Georgia.

Over 100 people protested second-year law student Jamie Marsicano’s ban from campus on Thursday. The protesters included law students, graduate students, undergraduates and members of the Chapel Hill community. They marched while chanting from the UNC School of Law to South Building, where they delivered a petition that they said had over 500 signatures.

Marsicano is facing a charge of domestic terrorism in Georgia in connection with a movement opposing the construction of a new police training facility. Based on a recommendation from the University’s Emergency Evaluation and Action Committee, Marsicano is barred from campus and has only been able to watch live streams of classes. 

In early March, a large group of protesters stormed a police training facility construction site five miles southeast of downtown Atlanta. Videos show individuals setting fire to equipment and throwing fireworks at police officers.  

Marsicano’s attorney, Bob Rubin, said his client was not among them and that Marsicano was arrested later at an outdoor concert affiliated with the movement.

“Jamie wasn't damaging property or injuring people or doing anything of the sort,” Rubin said. 

Activists say the charges are being used to intimidate protesters from out of state. Of the 23 people charged with domestic terrorism, two are from Georgia.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation “stands behind the charges levied and believe they are justified based on elements of the crime committed,” according to a statement provided to The Daily Tar Heel.

Christi Hurt, the chief of staff to the chancellor, received the letters and listened to the protesters’ stories. She told protesters in South Building that their letters would be delivered and taken seriously.

“The students were very respectful and stated their case, and we appreciate our students and we appreciate their opinions,” Kamrhan Farwell, vice chancellor of communications, said.

Inside South Building, protesters continued chanting, “if Jamie’s not in class, we’re not in class” and “F-R-E-E, free our Jamie." Many told stories of how Marsicano had helped them in times of trouble.

“When I got diagnosed with type one diabetes, Jamie helped pay for my medication, she fundraised for me and supported me. When I got arrested in the 2020 protests, Jamie helped me obtain a lawyer so that I could go on to apply for my masters degree,” Nada Merghani, an N.C. Central student, said to the crowd in South Building.

Meghan Rankins was a walkout leader and is a second-year law student and friend of Marsicano. They said they believe the charge was politically motivated to intimidate protesters and that the University and chancellor should let Marsicano return to class.

“The University policy and the letter that Jamie received says that [the administration] can make a reconsideration at any time,” Rankins said. “That is part of the reason why we are walking out today and why we have sent the letters, because, you know, if successful, they could decide today or tomorrow that Jamie can come back to class next week.”

Marsicano has been involved in racial justice activism since the killing of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte in 2016 and was arrested five times and charged with 10 offenses in Mecklenburg County during separate protests in 2020. All of the 2020 charges against Marsicano were dropped.

Gina Balamucki graduated from the UNC School of Law in 2021 and now works as a criminal defense attorney in Chapel Hill. She attended the protest because she said that it is common for prosecutors to over-charge activists.

“Banning Jamie from campus before she’s been proven guilty in a court of law is wrong,” she said.

Marsicano was initially denied bail, with a DeKalb County judge saying she was a danger to the community and a flight risk.

Defense attorney Eli Bennett, who represented Marsicano at a March 7 bond hearing, said Marsicano “got caught up in this” and was not involved in any violence or vandalism.

Marsicano is the president of the UNC chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. In a statement after the arrests, the national chapter of the NLG called the charges “part of ongoing state repression and violence against racial and environmental justice protesters.”

Marsicano was released on bond on March 23 has continued to live in an apartment off-campus since being released from DeKalb County Jail. 

@satchelwalton

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article used incorrect pronouns for Marsicano as well as incorrectly named the National Lawyers Guild. The story and photo caption have been updated. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for these errors.