As a campus police officer put Tariq Khan in a chokehold, a lunchtime crowd at George Mason University began egging the officer on. Chants of “Kick his ass! Kick his ass!” were intermingled with cries of “Punch him!” “Kick him!” and “Take him down!” Two students–one had earlier ripped a sign off Khan’s chest, the other had repeatedly called him a “pussy”–and a computer-lab staff member assisted the officer in “apprehending” Khan, as university spokesperson Dan Walsch put it, by piling on top of him and twisting his body until he cried out in pain.
Khan, 27, a four-year Air Force veteran and a junior at GMU, had been walking through the Johnson Center on September 29 when he saw a Marine recruiter. He made up a sign, “Recruiters lie. Don’t be deceived,” and silently stood next to the recruiter’s table. Less than thirty minutes later he found himself in the chokehold. Backup police dragged Khan from the building, and one of them pulled out pepper spray. “I’m being nonviolent, and this officer is going to pepper-spray me! If you have a cell phone, please take a picture,” Khan says he shouted. Aimee Wells, a junior and a library staffer, says she pulled out her camera-phone and the officer put away the canister, saying, “Don’t worry. Nobody’s getting pepper-sprayed today.”
Khan, a sociology major, was taken to the Fairfax County jail and charged with disorderly conduct and trespassing. While there, he says, one officer told him, “You people are the most dangerous people in the world.” Another officer, he says, warned him that if he didn’t behave, “They’ll hang you up by your feet.” Police photographs show a bruised and bloodied Khan. A campus investigation is under way into the actions of the police, the staff member and the students, but no charges have yet been brought. “Buz” Grover, the balding, gray-ponytailed computer lab staffer who jumped on Khan and pulled his arm back, looks about six-foot-six and weighs maybe 280 pounds. “I assisted the officer,” he said, “but beyond saying anything else I think I should consult with the university first…. Basically, someone doesn’t want to take responsibility for his actions, and I’m not inclined to help them do that.”
Last semester, the counterrecruiting protest movement was just getting warmed up. New York’s City College; William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey; San Francisco State University; and the University of California-Santa Cruz all saw confrontations that resulted in varying degrees of police and/or administrative action against counterrecruitment protesters. Though it’s still early in the 2005-06 school year, the counterrecruiting movement has picked up serious steam nationwide, and is being met with angry–sometimes violent–reactions. “It’s getting really ugly,” says Liz Rivera Goldstein, chair of the National Network Opposing Militarization of Youth and a mother of two draft-age sons.
The same week that Khan was arrested, student protesters in Wisconsin and western Massachusetts were met with similar displays of force. Ultimately, though, it may be Holyoke Community College (HCC), located in one of Massachusetts’s poorest towns, the predominantly Puerto Rican Holyoke, that has recruiters the most worried. Protests against military recruitment may not be welcomed by recruiters on campuses in Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Madison or Manhattan, but they’re not unexpected. These campuses, based in deeply liberal areas, have a strong sense of community and a proud history of protest. Besides, well-educated liberals don’t necessarily make the most fertile soil for recruitment. Says Holyoke sophomore Charles Peterson, “It’s OK for Amherst or Hampshire College to have politics, but once working-class students start protesting, then state cops in riot gear get called in.”