“White People, Welcome to Police Brutality”

(Craig Campbell)– When Facebook buzz does not suffice, I get my fix of world news from occasionally pausing on my browser’s NPR homepage to look at the stories. I understand that it reports with a pretty liberal slant, but my trust of the news outlet has more to do with childhood memories of listening to Car Talk and Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me! than the quality of their reporting.

In one of my routine news-checks, I was surprised to see reports of “ongoing” protests and violence at the University of California campuses. Reading over the article and other related ones, I got the sense that this was a pretty big deal.

Earlier last week, local police, fully equipped in Riot Gear, broke up an ‘Occupy UC Berkley’ protest. This video shows a number of serious instances of police brutality that took place that day. Several protesters were faculty, including the woman being pulled by her hair. She was forcefully thrown to the ground after peaceably offering her wrists for arrest.

In response to the violence at Berkeley, and in addition to complaints about tuition increases, students at UC Davis joined the fervor of the Occupy movement. Protesting on a lawn on campus, students were told to move by police, and they refused. This is what followed:

UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi had ordered police to clear the tents students had erected on the quad. She can’t be blamed for that. If the students did not have legal rights to assemble like this on school grounds, Katehi had every right to order police to remove them. The police, though, executed this order in an unwarranted and abhorring way, and Katehi proceeded to defend their actions, which is where she went wrong. The students responded with silence.That is how to make a statement; politicians should take note. When dialogue moves away from inarticulate shouting, proselytizing, and violence on either side, people notice, views are affected, and real changes are made.

When I searched Facebook under “posts by friends” for anything that included “UC” or “occupy,” my query turned no results. Why is it that of my many Facebook friends who are currently attended college all over the United States, NO ONE commented on this? Maybe Twitter is a more sympathetic medium for breaking political news, I wouldn’t know. But everyone was blowing up my newsfeed about his or her opinion on Jerry Sandusky. Why isn’t there a similar sentiment for this important political issue?

I wrote in my post last week that I couldn’t fathom how Amherst students and administration would react to an incident of racist graffiti like the one that took place on the Williams College campus. My reaction to the UC incidents is similar: I just can’t picture any of this happening here.

It sucks to have your bong taken away or to get written up for pissing in the bushes outside of Pond, but can you really picture Officer Sullivan shooting pepper spray down your throat? Maybe spraying the dangerous bear that was terrorizing the Hill, but no, not at us.

Or, is it that I can’t picture any sizable group of Amherst students gathering and demonstrating for a long period of time at all? Granted, our weather isn’t as idyllic as any in California, but would Amherst students really ever sacrifice class, practice, lab, work, or play time to sit on the quad in a display of social agitation?

Maybe the disparity that I can’t completely come to terms with is the difference between a public and a private school. By choosing to attend Amherst, we subscribe to the idea of a private, liberal arts education; here, police are friends and instead of an MIP, being caught with booze results in a meeting with a nice guidance counselor. The mission statement of a public school reads differently. Because the state funds it, it is founded on the ideal that education is an inalienable right to be protected by the government. And by attending a school like that, it becomes easier to criticize the flaws of the institution and government that backs it.

Another theory: Amherst specifically strives for socioeconomic diversity at the school. Unlike 30 years ago, our student body represents everyone from the 1st to 99th percentile. Does campus diversity allow us to transcend the “class-warfare” that’s being seen by the world in Zuccotti Park?

The new “Occupy Amherst College” group on campus is no doubt being funded by the AAS, and by extension, the college, aka the tuition of those not on financial aid, or alumni donors, aka those people, who, if not in the 1%, are at least part of the top 50% of American income earners.

I don’t agree with everything about the Occupy movement. Its murky organizational structure lends itself to an inevitably short lifespan. Demands are unclear, and some of the more definitive goals contradict basic economic principles. However, the anti-corporate sentiment is well-grounded. According to an article in Der Spiegel, “the 400 wealthiest Americans now own more than the “lower” 150 million Americans put together… Nearly two-thirds of net private assets are concentrated in the hands of 5 percent of Americans… if you look at the reports it compiles on every country in the world, even the CIA has concluded that wealth disparity is greater in the US than in Tunisia or Egypt.” (Speaking of Northern Africa, let’s not forget about the much more violent and ongoing police brutality and civil unrest currently underway there.

Americans enjoy a very high standard of living relative to the rest of the world. But that doesn’t have any effect on the skewed distribution of wealth within the population. Everybody likes to say they’re middle class. But as the rich become richer and everyone else loses jobs, the middle-class deteriorates. And with no middle class, there’s no buffer between the top and bottom earners, which means no real hope for the American Dream. It also leads to class struggle, which, if we look to history (see: Spain after the expulsion of Jews and Muslims, the French Revolution), leads to chaos.

The Occupy movement is about democracy. It’s a group of disgruntled people organizing in order to be heard. The fact that their statement isn’t necessarily based on sound economic sense is irrelevant. This is how a democracy, however flawed ours may be, works. Even if protestors are being forcibly removed from college campuses or the streets of Manhattan, they’re still making those around them to listen. Politicians, journalists, and every American with a TV are listening, and that’s all that really matters, whether the protestors know it or not.

Speak up, Amherst, and be heard.