Published on Friday, March 18, 2005 by CommonDreams.org
Dying in Iraq is Not a Job Opportunity
by Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg
The best way that City College student Justino Rodriguez, 23, knows how to protect his dad, who has already served one tour of duty in Iraq and may serve another, is to protest the presence of military recruiters on his campus.
Witnesses say Rodriguez was doing just that at his college career fair last week when he and other students were shoved out of the fair and assaulted by security officers.
But it was Rodriguez who spent the night in jail, after being charged with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. Fellow students Nicholas Bergreen, 22, and Hadas Thier, 28, were charged with assault. All three face the possibility of up to a year in prison and were suspended from school, pending a hearing.
Last Wednesday at City's job fair about twenty students stood in front of the National Guard table and began chanting anti-war slogans when, within moments, they were outnumbered by security, said Tiffany Paul, a City College student who participated in the protest.
"The students were chanting peacefully," said Marie Nazon, a City College counselor who attended the fair. "The situation became aggressive when the [security officers] came in. [They] looked like they were ready for action."
When private security guards and campus peace officers told them to leave, the protestors began slowly walking out when the officers shoved them into the hallway and shut the door, Paul said.
She said security officers then slammed Rodriguez against the wall and pushed Bergreen to the ground. Bergreen and Rodriguez went to the hospital Saturday where Rodriguez was diagnosed with a left jaw contusion and Bergreen with a mild concussion.
The university director of public safety had no comment.
On Friday morning 54-year old Carol Lang, a City College secretary who attended the protest, was taken from her office, arrested and held for thirty hours. She too was charged with assault. Lang said she unsuccessfully tried to stop an officer from arresting Thier who was only taking photos.
"I said, 'Get off of her. Leave her alone,'" Lang said. "I tried to pull her away."
Lang, who is just under 5 feet tall, was suspended for one month without pay and is not allowed to step foot on the campus where she has worked for thirty years.
"They get me, they get everyone," Lang said.
On Thursday at a campus protest decrying the arrests and suspensions, Lang stood a block away in solidarity with the demonstrators. Her 23-year old daughter, Jesse, spoke on her behalf.
When asked how one month without pay would affect her family, Jesse, a single parent, said, "We struggle as it is. It's going to be rough."
But she's determined that her mother's arrest will do nothing to stop the protests.
"As long as [the military recruiters] are here, we're going to keep protesting," Jesse said.
Despite the protestors' insistence they did nothing wrong and the faculty union's demand that all charges be dropped, City College President Gregory H. Williams's statements and actions show he has already assumed the protestors' guilt.
"They were not peacefully protesting," Williams said in a telephone interview. "They assaulted two police officers."
City's public relations director Ellis Simon claimed one security officer went to the hospital after being "beaten up fairly badly."
But when asked for specifics Simon could only say the officer was "very disoriented" and his blood pressure "shot up to dangerous levels." (This important detail was removed by the author's editor in the original story published in Amsterdam News, allegedly for irrelevance.)
Last semester City College students peacefully drove recruiters off campus twice, as security officers looked on, activists say. For last week's protest, students were instructed to demonstrate outside the building after they told the administration their plans.
Jeff Fogel of the Center for Constitutional Rights said that the students had a right to protest inside.
"If the demonstration was an annoyance, [CUNY] should be able to tolerate it," said Fogel. "The students' exercising their first amendment rights should take precedence."
Counter-recruitment work at City College is part of a national trend at public universities and community colleges - schools that military recruiters target with often unfulfilled promises of college money. According to a College employee who works in the administration building and asked not to be identified, military recruiters once asked him for a list of students that the college rejected. He referred them to his boss who refused.
While there are some victories for counter- recruiters, like when students at San Francisco State drove recruiters out of their job fair, most schools present a grossly uneven picture to students. Some school administrations, like City College's, go to great lengths to protect the recruiters' presence.
At a job fair for high schoolers in Richland, South Carolina, members of the Carolina Peace Resource Center were escorted out by the police, even though they had registered to participate. They were giving information on non-profit work and alternatives to the military, which presented at the fair. In New Jersey, a student at William Patterson College was charged with trespassing at his own school for passing out counter-recruitment pamphlets.
Some activists, like students at Seattle Central Community College, are asking that their administration ban recruiters based on the Third Circuit Court's ruling that any school with a non-discrimination policy can ban recruiters because the military discriminates against gays.
But Simon said City was not reconsidering their policy of inviting the defense department to campus.
Despite the ongoing war in Iraq, the military continues to present itself as just another career path, But counter-recruiters like Rodriguez want to tell other students that enlisting is anything but ordinary.
"Dying in Iraq is not a job opportunity," he said.
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Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg's work has appeared in In These Times, mtv.com and the Amsterdam News. She can be reached at email@example.com