Thursday, April 19, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 17: Enter Bernardine Dohrn, 1968

Chapter 17: Enter Bernardine Dohrn, 1968 (iii)

The cops entered Hamilton Hall, wearing helmets, in the early morning hours of May 22, 1968, put handcuffs on Mark and, in a non-brutal way, escorted us all through tunnels out of Hamilton Hall, into waiting police vans and down to the 100 Centre St. Tombs jail. Before being arraigned, we spent most of the morning hours in crowded, uncomfortable jail cells. As we were led into the City cells, I heard one official of the liberal Lindsay Administration self-righteously say to some arrested student: “You students are the ones responsible for the right-wing backlash!”

The student smirked and replied: “Bull-shit!”

At the morning court arraignment, people arrested in Hamilton Hall were charged solely with “criminal trespassing,” with the exception of Mark. Mark had not been beaten, but he was now being charged with crimes like “inciting to riot” and “criminal solicitation,” in addition to his “criminal trespassing” charge. If ever convicted of these crimes, he faced a few years in jail. Some activists who had attempted to mobilize students outside Hamilton Hall to resist a second police invasion of Columbia’s campus were being charged with crimes such as “conspiracy to commit murder.”

What had happened was that while we were being non-brutally escorted from Hamilton Hall in the early morning hours of May 22nd, hundreds of Columbia and Barnard students on campus, in imitation of the students in Paris, had begun to spontaneously construct barricades by the 116th St. entrances to the campus, to try to prevent a second police invasion and occupation of their campus. Columbia President Kirk and Mayor Lindsay, however, ordered their cops to clear the campus and a police riot, even more brutal than the police riot of April 30th, occurred.

Hundreds of Columbia students were beaten, shoved or chased into dormitories by cops. SDS people who were seen speaking through bullhorns were singled out by plainclothes cops for special battering with blackjacks. Robby and Ron were sent to the hospital with quite serious head wounds. African-American student leaders like Ray were roughed up brutally. Columbia and Barnard students fought back more militantly than they had on April 30th but, since the students were unarmed, disorganized and possessed no clubs, the cops were able to seize the campus within a few hours. A few bricks had been thrown at some cops, but nearly all the people who ended up in the hospital were again unarmed students.

Around this same time, Mark, Lew, Bill and Ray appeared on David Susskind’s TV talk-show. On the talk-show, Susskind was very hostile towards the student leaders and appeared to act as an apologist for both the Columbia Administration and the NYC Police Department. What Susskind didn’t reveal on his show was that during the previous year he had signed a lucrative contract with the NYC Police Department which gave him free access to NYPD files for use by the scriptwriters of his NYPD television series on ABC—in exchange for New York City Police Department veto power over all the shows produced by Susskind for his cop-adventure series.

Following the May 22nd bust, more students were radicalized and many Columbia College seniors walked out of Columbia’s official commencement ceremony (which was being held in St. John’s the Divine Church for security reasons) in early June to attend the Columbia Strike Committee-sponsored “counter-commencement.” This “counter-commencement” was held in front of Low Library and was addressed by both Eric Fromm (the author of The Sane Society) and Dave.

“We don’t want to fill the corporate slots we’re supposed to fill. And the reason why we were treated seriously by the Columbia Administration this spring is that, for the first time, we took ourselves seriously,” Dave said.

The Spring 1968 term had ended at Columbia and, although I was now suspended, I did not think that Columbia would be able to open up again in Fall 1968 if we were able to mobilize and organize our mass New Left white base of students effectively prior to September.