CCNY students arrested for the “crime” of protesting
Challenging military recruiters
By Sarah Hines | March 18, 2005 | Pages 1 and 2
THREE CITY College of New York (CCNY) students and one staff member were arrested for taking part in a peaceful protest against military recruiters at a campus career fair March 9.
Police attacked two of the students, Justino Rodriguez and Nicholas Bergreen. They suffered minor concussions and deep bruises. Yet they are the ones being charged with assault.
The university has also suspended a third student, Hadas Thier, banning her from even setting foot on campus. And two days after the demonstration, another witness to the police crackdown, CCNY staff member Carol Lang, was hauled out of work, arrested and charged with assault in connection with the protest.
This attack on the rights of antiwar activists takes place against a growing movement against military recruitment across the country. From coast to coast, college and high schools students are organizing to tell their administrations that they won’t be cannon fodder in the U.S. war on Iraq.
The picture circulated on the Internet of hundreds of Seattle Central Community College students surrounding a military recruiter–the culmination of a walkout of classes organized to protest George Bush’s inauguration–has become a symbol of the fight. The struggle is reaching into the high schools, too. In February, for example, Los Angeles high school students refused to sign up for the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, a test regularly given in working-class and minority schools that helps recruiters with the information they need to corral students into the military.
Scenes like these have been duplicated across the country–in San Francisco, Chicago, southern Connecticut, Texas–as activists organize actions, large and small, to oppose military recruiters.
“The recruiters are targeting our school because they know this is where working-class students, predominantly people of color, attend,” said Thier at CCNY. “They’re looking for a community that will say, ‘This is our only opportunity.’ We were there to say that serving in the military for a war based on lies is not a job opportunity.”
This was not the first time that students at CCNY–which is located in the middle of Harlem in Manhattan–have taken on recruiters. Last semester, activists kicked the Marines off campus; then they shut down Army recruiters a couple weeks later.
This time, campus authorities were prepared. They put up barricades outside the career fair, and security officers were out in full force. As the counter-recruiters began to chant in front of the National Guard table, they were pushed into an empty hallway.
That’s where security officers beat Rodriguez’s and Bergreen’s heads into the wall and floor–before arresting them. Thier began taking pictures of the abuse when she was arrested, too.
City College President Gregory Williams sided immediately with campus security and–without investigating the evidence–sent an e-mail to the entire faculty and student body, repeating campus security’s allegations against the students as if they were fact. Apparently, the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” doesn’t apply if you challenge the U.S. military.
If the authorities are going after the counter-recruitment movement, it may be because it’s working. According to USA Today, the Army missed its February recruiting goal by more than 27 percent. According to Reuters, 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.
“In Harlem,” said Rodriguez, “you have a 50 percent unemployment rate among African American men, and you also have two military recruitment stations. Recruiters are preying on the fact that we’re not able to put ourselves through school, or even put food on our tables to a certain extent.” Nevertheless, the number of Black Army enlistees has dropped by 41 percent since 2000–pointing to intense opposition to the war and occupation in communities like Harlem.
As Michael Letwin, cofounder of New York City Labor Against the War, said, “They cannot wage these kinds of wars abroad and at home against people who have done nothing to us–in many cases are us–without squashing the freedom to dissent.”
Activists at CCNY and around the city have come together to mount a defense campaign. They’re planning to picket the CCNY president’s office and present him with a petition demanding that he defend the students, drop all disciplinary proceedings against students involved in the protest and launch an investigation into the actions of campus security.
There is a feeling of solidarity among students. “Everybody at CCNY is outraged,” said student Tiffany Paul. “I’ve been surprised by how many students know about it.”
As Brian Jones, a member of the ISO, put it, “The message being sent to students is clear–shut up and go to class. We should send them a very clear message: You messed with the wrong students. They want us to be silent. Now is the time to do the exact opposite. Now is the time to turn up the volume.”
To sign the petition in support of CCNY protesters, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.