Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Prologue

PROLOGUE: Clubbed At Columbia, 1968

We sat on the floor of Fayerweather Lounge, our arms linked, singing a freedom song defiantly. We heard our barricade of chairs and desks being torn apart and tossed to the floor. We saw helmeted Tactical Patrol Force [TPF] cops entering the lounge.

I watched four TPF cops grab, rough up and drag the student in front of me out of the Columbia University building. It all seemed unreal. It seemed like a bad dream or some scene from a Hollywood movie. The cops were intent on getting us out of the building as quickly as possible. Students who refused to unlink their arms were roughed up and clubbed by the cops more than students who quickly unlinked their arms.

More helmeted cops poured into the lounge. I realized my turn to be brutalized was coming. I noticed a husky, tall, helmeted African-American cop. We looked into each other’s eyes and I noticed no sign of empathy in his eyes. I thought to myself: “Yes, some Black men will even fight for Columbia, if you pay them enough.” He then grabbed me and started to rough me up as efficiently as any white cop. I felt a club come down on my head during the one minute it took for the TPF cops to shove me from the lounge to the front steps of Fayerweather Hall and throw me onto the campus grass. My head was bleeding. I lay dazed, until I was approached by a medical student who gave me first aid.

It happened fast. One moment we were singing and watching them come at us. Then, while they were brutalizing me, I was wondering whether I was going to survive. And I thought: “Is this really happening to me?” as they passed me from cop-to-cop and out of the building. I felt completely powerless, because they had all the clubs. And I was not clear about what was happening until I was on the grass of Columbia’s campus and realized that I was still alive.

Dino was lying on the grass next to me. He was also bleeding from the head. He was crying and cursing the cops. Spontaneously, we grabbed each other’s hand.

Dino was a tall African-American non-student. A street-hustler, a grass dealer, and a street revolutionary. He looked like a SNCC person, although he never had been into Movement organizing.

A medical student helped Dino and me stand up. Other medical students escorted us into an ambulance. We were taken with other bleeding protesters to Knickerbocker Hospital further uptown in Manhattan. In the emergency room, a doctor sewed up our head wounds and put bandages on our heads, using about 10 to 15 stitches. Then we were released from the hospital. I walked back downtown to my dorm room in Furnald Hall, in the darkness of early morning.

As I re-entered Columbia’s campus, I wondered how many other people were injured, how many other students were arrested and whether the Black students who had occupied Columbia’s Hamilton Hall had been brutalized. I wondered whether the Columbia Administration was going to be able to get away with its use of police to evict us all from the campus buildings we had collectively liberated. I wondered how the rest of the campus and the rest of the world were going to react to the police invasion of Columbia’s campus.

I was angry. And I was ready to resume the fight against Columbia’s institutional racism, complicity with the Viet Nam War and its policy of suppressing student dissent. But were other students at Columbia and Barnard ready to continue the fight?

By the afternoon of April 30, 1968, crowds of students had started to form again on Columbia’s campus. It became clear that the police bust had led to a mass radicalization of the campus. The fight against Columbia’s trustees and the Columbia Administration was going to continue. Spontaneously, students were angrily chanting, over and over again outside of Low Library, “Kirk must go! Kirk must go! Kirk must go!” and, simultaneously, raising their hands in the peace sign to emphasize each word.