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New attacks on antiwar activists
Cracking down on student protests

October 7, 2005 | Pages 1 and 2

CAMPUS ADMINISTRATORS are cracking down on student activists who stand up against the presence of military recruiters at their schools.

In late September, peaceful protests by students at three campuses--Holyoke Community College (HCC), George Mason University (GMU) and the University of Wisconsin-Madison--were met with police repression that denied students their right to free speech.

-- At Holyoke Community College in western Massachusetts, about 30 students were conducting a peaceful picket of an Army National Guard recruiting table in the school cafeteria. The activists had been assured by campus officials that they could leaflet and chant during their picket of the recruiters. But they were attacked by campus security after a few approached the recruiters' table to inquire if their homosexuality would make them ineligible to enlist.

One student, Charles Peterson, was put in a chokehold by campus officer Scott Landry--and maced.

Landry, who assaulted several other students and bystanders, happens to serve as a staff advisor to the HCC College Republicans, who were enthusiastically encouraging the attack from behind the police lines. Landry then saw another activist wearing a gay and lesbian liberation button, and loudly commented to another officer, "He'll have fun in jail."

The counter-recruitment demonstration was called by the HCC Anti-War Coalition (AWC), an affiliate of the Campus Antiwar Network (CAN). A diverse group of activists--black, white, Latino, gay and straight--answered the call. "I was there to speak for my brother," said one student, a member of the AWC Steering Committee. "He was wounded in Iraq...He was promised money for college and a chance to see the world. But he went to Iraq, and he wasn't the same when he came back."

Rather than take action against the officers who attacked protesters, campus police threatened Peterson with arrest if he came back to campus. Though an administration official later told him that he is welcome on campus, Peterson has yet to receive any such assurance from the campus police.

Peterson says he won't back down, though. "The next time the recruiters are there, I'll be on the front ranks," he said.

Following a successful October 3 press conference, preparations were underway for an October 6 solidarity action organized by student antiwar activists from University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

-- Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, campus police at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., used the same sort of violent tactics against student Tariq Khan, a former airman turned counter-recruitment activist.

Khan, who has protested recruiters on his campus before, taped a sign to his chest that read "U.S. out of Iraq, U.S. out of Palestine, U.S. out of North America: Resist tyranny" and silently sat down in a chair several feet away from recruiters. For this modest protest, Khan was exposed to abuse and battery from campus police and other students, pushed off a stage, subjected to pain compliance, and charged with disorderly conduct and trespassing--at his own school!

As right-wing students shouted epithets in his face, his sign was ripped off his chest. A former Marine who had been to Iraq told Khan to "shut up," and when Khan asked him how many people he'd killed, the Marine responded "not enough."

As Khan began to make another sign, an officer told him, "You're not allowed to do that" and ordered him to leave. When Khan refused, the officer tried to arrest him.

Some students repeatedly chanted "Let him go!" as Khan squirmed out of various headlocks and grips, and other students began to jump in with the police, according to several witnesses. "I am being nonviolent while they are using violence against me!" shouted Khan.

After finally handcuffing Khan, police dragged him to a police car. Khan, who is half Pakistani, said he received the worst racist abuse at the police station. "You people are the most violent people in the world," he recalls one cop telling him. Another told him not to mouth off in jail because they "will hang you from the ceiling by your feet," a veiled allusion to prisoner torture at Guantánamo Bay.

-- At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 25 people mobilized to confront military recruiters at a career fair on one day's notice last week. But the police and administration were intent on preventing the protest from taking place.

Ten cops were already inside, and building managers distributed a copy of the administrative code for protests in UW buildings to protesters on their arrival. But this code didn't seem to matter much, since the protesters weren't violating any part of it--they weren't preventing the event from taking place, blocking the recruiters' tables, using signs with sticks, or blocking entrances and exits.

Police refused to give protesters any justification for their imminent arrest, and after some time, the protesters decided to move outside and began chanting and handing out leaflets for another hour.

With enlistment slumping, military officials are increasingly desperate to find potential recruits. As of September 30, the military had fallen some 7,000 recruits short of its goal for fiscal year 2005--and the National Guard and Army Reserve did even worse. Military officials predict that meeting the coming year's goal will be even more difficult.

"I think there's been a big shift in U.S. politics over the last few months," said Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, a student at New York University and member of the Campus Antiwar Network. "The resurgence of the antiwar movement--especially among students who are focusing on counter-recruitment--promises to erect even more barriers to filling the ranks of the military. The antiwar movement has gone from feeling like an embattled minority to feeling like the majority we are.

"But we're running up against college administrations that don't want to lose control of the campuses. And they may be facing pressure from a government that's seeing the Army in its worst recruiting slump since 1979--and telling administrators that they need to do whatever it takes to guarantee their success on campuses.

"Last semester, there were cases of repression against counter-recruiters, and some of them sparked defense campaigns that were successful and showed the administration that they couldn't get away with repressing student protests. This time, what's amazing is how quickly the schools seemed prepared to deal with the protesters and how happy they were to collude with right-wing students who were singling out individual protesters.

"But now we have the successes of last spring to draw on, so HCC and GMU students can have a connection to City College of New York and San Francisco State students who won. Most importantly, the whole student antiwar movement is growing and becoming more confident, and that means the HCC and GMU students have a more powerful movement that's got their back."

For more information on how to get involved or to send messages of support, go to Taryn Biggs, James Fiorentino, Stephanie Jung, Justin LaFurjah and Bill Linville contributed to this report.

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