On November 10, our campus was occupied. Occupied by riot police, by tear gas, by pepper spray, and by fear. On that night, the campus was no longer ours, and we were not all McGill. And since that night, I don’t want to be.
My head has been full of different thoughts and emotions since, yet embarrassment has been the most prominent. I’m embarrassed that nearly three months after the beginning of the school year, MUNACA workers are still standing outside our campus – shut out, and shut up. I’m embarrassed at the way in which Heather Munroe Blum, alongside other administration members, is running the school. I’m embarrassed that campus security has overreacted once again, with the assault of the fifth floor occupiers, despite the pacifist nature of their protest. And I’m embarrassed that riot police overtook our campus and drove fear into the hearts of students in a place where they should feel safe.
Unfortunately, I expect McGill’s administration to fail in meeting student expectations. I expect police officers to abuse their authority, and I have come to expect to see the faces of the dedicated MUNACA workers each day when I go to class. What I didn’t expect though, and what has caused the most embarrassment and sadness within me, is the reaction of students entirely defending the actions of police officers.
Most of those who defend police officers claim their actions were justified because protestors were violent. It seems as if some students on the McGill campus are just itching to find an excuse for the actions of police officers, as the violence they refer to was merely a few people throwing thin wooden sticks. If you want to label that as violence, fine. But it takes quite a stretch to logically claim that this action could warrant the indiscriminate beating, tear gassing, and pepper spraying of protestors, professors, and passers by in general.
So, I have to ask myself, why has this stretch been made over and over? I really don’t believe that the student body at McGill is full of baton sucking police apologists. Instead, it seems like many students have been eager to justify the actions of the riot police not out of love for police, but rather disdain for the politics of those perceived to be behind the events on November 10. Participated in the tuition protests? Quebec tuition is already the lowest! What are you whining about? Never mind that Quebec’s current tuition rates are a goal to work towards, not to stray from. Using direct action tactics to achieve this objective? Well then you must be a radical leftist who provoked and deserved the beating you got. Never mind that sit ins “are well established forms of student protest on North American university campuses, and they very rarely result in violent confrontation,” according to a statement by Ian Ward, an Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland.
Since the beginning of my time at McGill, I’ve noticed that many students look at the far left in a patronizing manner, although caring about tuition and striking workers certainly doesn’t require a far left point of view. Yet I really did not believe that this demonization of left wing politics was entrenched so deeply as to prevent people from being sympathetic to the unwarranted violence their fellow McGill community members faced.
However, these views are not completely widespread, as some recent events definitely have shown signs of hope for our campus and student body. Certainly there are those who have put humanity before politics, and are now more prone to supporting student actions on campus due to the brutality of the police, as Monday’s events displayed. I have also spoken to otherwise apathetic students who were caught in Thursday’s crossfire, and are now devoted to the student cause. It is unfortunate, though, that it took a swing of the baton to crack through the perception of police men as super heroes. It is a shame that it took temporary tear gas blindness for some to see that even if you are truly innocent, you may still be violently targeted by police.
Regardless of how they came to their conclusions though, the influx of those ready to support the student cause will be critical in making our campus a better place. And this is why I fully support the direct action tactics used Thursday, I had called for at the beginning of the year. Now that this call has been answered, I believe the student movement will become stronger and more effective, despite the students who will condemn it at every step along the way.
Balaclava Discourse is a column written by Davide Mastracci on the structures of authority, hierarchy, and domination in society. It appears every other Monday in commentary. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.