This past Thursday and Friday, armed riot police invaded the University of Pittsburgh’s main campus. Ostensibly defending the visiting G-20 delegates meeting several miles away, these police in no way confined themselves to breaking up disruptions or protests. They attacked and arrested students who were making casual use of campus facilities including the student union and the residence halls. They trapped students between locked doors and police barricades and gassed or attacked them when they “refused to disperse.” They arrested student journalists and legal observers. They even invaded student housing, going to far as to arrest students for “refusal to disperse” within their own dorm rooms.
How has the University responded? With outrage at the treatment of students making typical use of University and public property? With warnings about overreaching police power and questions about closing an entire city to its residents because of a handful of visiting foreign nationals? Not exactly.
At first, Pitt announced that they would be sending every student who was arrested before the University’s Judicial Board to decide whether they should be suspended or expelled for violating the University’s “Student Code of Conduct.” They reversed that position shortly thereafter. According to the Pitt News, a University spokesman explained that “Being arrested does not mean you did the crime, so simply being arrested is not a violation of the student code.” Well gee, did it take a political science professor to explain that one?
The University’s new announcement is that some of the students who were arrested will go before the Judicial Board, and some will not. No clear guideline has been issued, but there’s an implication that a conviction will lead to Judicial action.
The Pittsburgh Police, meanwhile, have kindly announced that if students can prove they were innocent bystanders, charges will be dropped. How nice of them to announce that they will not prosecute people they already know to be innocent. It’s very thoughtful of them not to waste their money.
I am ashamed and angry at the response from the University of Pittsburgh. It’s not bad enough that K-12 students are taught to OBEY, we are now extending that education to universities?
The only proper response from the University is to condemn any and all violence, whether directed at the police or at the protesters, and the wanton destruction of private property, but to take the side of their students and condemn the actions of the police who inflicted physical and psychological harm upon students who represented no public safety threat whatsoever. Students have the right to their campus facilities, they have the right to free access of public spaces, and they have the right to observe the police.
They have the right to peaceful protest, too, but I’m not even getting into that here because these students weren’t even protesting. They were minding their own business, or idly watching the police action. This is why the response from the University is so disappointing. They should be advocating for the constitutional rights of their students, not sending a message that those who do not OBEY will be punished.