Three days ago, at a board meeting at Santa Monica College, campus security used pepper spray against student protesters. The students were railing against a proposed package of tuition hikes in which popular classes, such as English or math, would soon cost more than other less demanded classes. Though none of the students were seriously injured, the incident ultimately proved significant enough for the board to postpone their decision on fee hikes for later.
While the board delayed implementing the new policy, the president of Santa Monica College, Chui L. Tsang, defended the actions of the campus police. He issued an explanation stating that the students engaged in “unlawful” behavior and that the police used “restraint." Tsang is not alone in his belief; others have published opinion pieces that place culpability on the students’ shoulders.
The burden of blame placed on Santa Monica College students is not unique. A few months ago, UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi, ordered campus police to use military-grade pepper spray on Occupy protesters, composed primarily of students, because camping on university grounds is illegal. Despite the predominant disapproval of the young protesters, history will ultimately condemn the decisions that allowed institutions, intended to maintain peace, to inflict such violence.
The level of violence that permeates our society today is not a necessarily new phenomenon; America during the 60's was a particularly turbulent place. While many will decry the comparison by stating that perhaps the protesters of the 60's had more worthwhile causes than those today, it would be disingenuous to not recognize the many parallels. One significant example would be the incidents that occurred at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.
While the context and level of violence of the1968 riots is radically different from those of Occupy and other related protests; the situation in Chicago stemmed primarily from anti-war efforts and featured an incredible amount of brutality. The National Guard was actually deployed in order to maintain the peace, and tanks rumbled down streets. However, what is similar between the two eras is the public attitude directed towards the two.
The majority of Americans supported the police tactics deployed against the Chicago protesters; in fact, in a study, 32% percent of responders stated that the police used the appropriate amount of force whereas 25% believed that the police were too lenient. The overwhelming approval of brutality is not shared today; few Americans would provide the same responses and most consider it an incredibly traumatic moment of our past. The shift in common public opinion illustrates how history has judged violence, as used in the 1968 riots, unacceptable.
While the brutality of the 60's, in absolute terms, is certainly worse than violence today, violence cannot be considered in such unequivocal terms. The 1968 riots in Chicago are far from the most violent incidents to be perpetrated in history; nevertheless, they are still condemned. Therefore, institutional violence, as directed towards Santa Monica College students and Occupiers, is never a morally acceptable means of dealing with unrest for it ultimately causes more distress to our collective whole than it alleviates.