On Wednesday, March 9, three students from the City College of New York (CCNY), Justino Rodriguez Nicholas Bergreen and one of the authors of this piece (Hadas Thier) were brutalized and arrested by campus security guards for peacefully protesting the presence of military recruiters at CCNY’s “career fair.” We were charged with misdemeanor counts of assaulting an officer, resisting arrest, and disturbing the peace, among other things. Hospital records from Mt. Sinai confirm that Bergreen and Rodriguez suffered multiple contusions and post-concussion syndrome. A court date is set for April 5.
What was the reaction of CCNY’s administration to these events? Without so much as a phone call to see if we were alright, or to find out our side of the story, Gregory H. Williams, the president of our college, sent an email to the entire faculty and student body repeating the allegations against us as if they were facts. “The confrontation escalated and several of the demonstrators grabbed and hit the officer. At this point, the three students involved in the attack on the officer were arrested,” he wrote.
Perhaps his previous job experience as a small-town sheriff filled him with an innate sympathy for security forces. Nevertheless, Williams is now the president of an institution of higher learning. Debate, dissent, and, yes, even protest, must not only be tolerated in education, they should be nurtured and encouraged.
On the same day, Students Against War at San Francisco State University, a chapter of the Campus Antiwar Network, along with other student groups, organized a demonstration against military recruiters on our campus. Two hundred students rallied in Malcolm X Plaza and then marched inside the Cesar Chavez Student Center to confront Army and Air Force recruiters. For over 3 hours, students chanted down the recruiters and then surrounded them with a peaceful teach-in. The Army recruiters left within forty-five minutes. The Air Force recruiters held out longer, but ultimately gave up and left-without any new recruits.
The following day, March 10th, military recruiters returned to the SFSU. When two activists attempted to hand out anti-recruitment leaflets by the recruiters’ tables, eight police officers surrounded them and forcibly removed them from their own student center, pushing them and twisting one activist’s arm. When the other activist asked why she was being forced to leave, she was pushed into a doorway, told she was causing a fire hazard by standing there, and then kicked out of the building.
The military recruitment debate is heating up. With unemployment for black men currently standing at 50 percent in New York, Harlem — and CCNY in particular — is bound to be a priority target for military recruiters. “Counter-recruitment” has become a national issue (see “Counter-Recruiters Shadowing the Military,” USA Today, March 7), and it’s working. Between these efforts, and widespread anger about the war, recruitment is down. According to a March 6 Reuters report, “The regular Army is 6 percent behind its year-to-date recruiting target, the Reserve is 10 percent behind, and the Guard is 26 percent short.” The military newspaper Stars and Stripes reports that African-American recruitment is down 41 percent since 2000.
Counter-recruitment efforts have taken off from New York to Seattle and the military has clearly become concerned. At William Patterson University in New Jersey, an activist was arrested for simply handing out counter-recruitment leaflets. Twice last semester, CCNY student protesters drove military recruiters off of Colin Powell’s alma mater with peaceful protests. This time campus security was ready.
“We didn’t even get through one round of chanting,” according to Tiffany Paul, a junior at CCNY and a member of the Campus Anti-War Network (CAN), who was one of the protesters. “We were completely peaceful. It was the officers who were violent.”
On Friday, March 11, Hadas Their was informed that she had been suspended from the University for “posing a continuing danger,” and was banned from even setting foot on campus, pending a hearing to take place sometime in the next seven days. On the same day, Carol Lang, a CCNY staff member, was picked up in her office and arrested in connection with Wednesday’s protest and also charged with assault.
At SFSU a university spokesperson informed reporters that groups involved in the protest will be suspended and some of the individual students will also face discipline.
Sean O’Neill, a veteran who returned from Iraq last year after serving with the Marines, spoke out in defense of the SFSU students who helped organize the counter-recruitment protest, saying, “Do students have the right to protest? Of course they do! Are you saying that people can’t protest anything now? Anyone who’s taken even a cursory glance at the Constitution will tell you that we have the right to protest whatever we want…As a vet, I don’t take any offense! Anyone who doesn’t want me over there is a friend in my book.”
Bush claims that his occupation of Iraq represents “democracy is on the march” in the Middle East. Will that include the right to protest? Certainly not for the 100,000 Iraqis killed by the U.S. since the March 2003 invasion, or the more than 1500 dead American soldiers. Blood and oil don’t mix and they don’t create democracy.
Here in the U.S., high school and college student activists all over the country can take up the fight for peace and democracy and organize to kick recruiters out of their schools. Like the lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro 45 years ago that challenged segregation in dozens of communities across the nation, you can get started opposing the recruiters at your school with just a few friends. Getting the military out of our schools and replacing them with real educational opportunities is our generation’s fight. No one will do it for us. We owe it to ourselves, the Iraqis, and the American soldiers dying for a lie.
Hadas Thier attends City College of New York and Katrina Yeaw attends San Francisco State University.