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OpinionEditorialPolice violence on campuses must end

Police violence on campuses must end

Calling in over-militarized state forces to repress non-violent student protests against the war on Gaza is not a solution.

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We have watched in alarm and then horror the past few days as university administrations and local authorities from New York to Los Angeles have chosen to send over-militarized police to clear out non-violently protesting students from campuses. Scenes of professors and journalists, not to mention students valiantly exercising their right to speak out, being beaten and arrested have filled our screens. 

This week’s violent crackdown at the University of Texas Austin and last night’s at Columbia University were especially terrifying, as the world witnessed the full force of the state bearing down on young people and their mentors who are the future of this country, merely for taking a stand against Israel’s disproportionate, ongoing, US-supported invasion of Gaza that has left tens of thousands of innocent people dead and displaced.

Still from a video of police entering student-occupied Hamilton Hall on Columbia campus.

Reminders of deadly student protest repression by police, from Vietnam-era Kent State and Berkeley, have flooded back into memory, as have more recent overwhelming riot police responses to WTO, Occupy Wall Street, and Black Lives Matter protests.

Students occupying campus quads and buildings in protest is nothing new, and yes, in some cases they can reasonably be charged with trespassing—this is the nature of civil disobedience, after all. But increasingly and terrifyingly over-armed police and National Guard forces, a vestige of the “War on Terror” that has flooded local authorities with military-grade weaponry, storming onto campuses with war machines and guns, should give pause to anyone in this age of burgeoning authoritarianism.

As should the support of a Democratic administration and, apparently, the mainstream media, who only this week cozied up as they walked together past pro-Palestine demonstrators at the White House Press Correspondent’s dinner. (While establishment players and networks like CNN advanced the hoary myth that the protesters at Columbia were “outside agitators,” hero student journalists from campus radio station WKCR 89.89 FM were reporting live and at great personal risk from occupied Hamilton Hall as it was being stormed by police.)

Students, and their parents, have an explicit expectation that universities will protect their charges. That universities would almost immediately choose this violent route rather than engage in de-escalatory dialogue and other tactics—let alone examine their investments and entanglements with a foreign county currently committing plausible war crimes including genocide, as student protesters demand—shows not just shameful cowardliness and total lack of imagination, but an abhorrent vacuum of moral judgement.

These scenes will forever stain the offending universities’ reputations. We hope that students, and everyone else, keep speaking out about the atrocities happening in Gaza, and those perpetuated by the United States around the world. No one should fear grievous bodily harm or even death from our government for doing so.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 

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