Public Comment

Why They Go After the Students: Reflections on Police Actions at Davis and Berkeley

By Michael Song Lim
Monday November 21, 2011 - 09:23:00 AM

So there we have it, a policeman pepper-sprays seated protesters at close range, not with a small device, but essentially empties an extinguisher-sized canister of chemicals into young, upturned faces. Now, the sprayer, UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike. knew full well that the cameras were running. He brandished the canister, slowly raised it, and opened fire. Lieutenant Pike must have known that his full name and phone number would be tweeted all over the blogosphere before he wiped his hands and holstered his weapon, and must have predicted that his telephone message machine would be filled with inquiries, probably before his victims were triaged and admitted to the hospital. He must, therefore have figured that the UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi would have his back. And, I’m sure that both Generalissimo Katehi and her sidekick believed that it's high time to draw the line against the Occupy movement. Both figured that, although the public may sympathize with the protester’s demands, most would agree these spoiled children need to be taken to the woodshed for a good whippin’. 

Why is that? Why is it that busloads of Tea Party activists can invade the halls of Congress with sticks and signs to protest Obama’s health care plan, and be considered a savvy political force, while seated student protesters are considered legitimate targets for cops? The main reason is that the Tea Party preaches privatization of all public institutions, and thus, has the support of billionaires everywhere, whereas the Occupiers demand oversight of same moneymaking machines that create such billionaires. No mystery there. 

But here’s the real reason why many people disdain uppity college students: A general consensus that a university education is overrated. Many people believe that university students are being treated to an extended pre-employment luxury cruise of useless learning, learning that has little to do with future employment. Wealthy media figures enforce this notion with stories about growing rich using simple money-tricks. Parents look at the outlandish cost of a university education, and dearly wish it were so. 

College students, coddled as we may be, see reality a bit more clearly. We’re aware that the ideas of inventors like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are useless unless you have an educated class that can develop them. New disease aren’t cured by brilliant flashes of genius, but by teams of scientists who make those findings practical. An American-developed Prius won’t be made possible by a few savvy inventors, but by the work of many engineers. Thomas Edison might get history’s credit for all those inventions, but it was those teams of scientists at Menlo Park that did the real work. Wanna have breathable air a hundred years from now? If we have it, it will be the result of a bunch of really educated people, not because of a couple wise guys with big wallets. 

Most Occupy protesters have followed the same course well-travelled by millions of other Americans: Get fired from a good job, resolve to find something in a similar field, spend months, then years posting resumes, knock on lots of doors, and eventually, feel damn lucky to be offered a job at Target. And it is these educated job-seekers that most clearly see the new line being drawn in America. They see what companies are looking for these days, what the lauded “job creators” value: More burger-flippers, more checkout girls, more service-sector employees all around. That’s the “job creators’” idea of the future. Now, it’s not that America doesn’t need other things. But the billionaires tell us: “There’s no money in it.” Can’t save the future ‘cause there’s no money in it. Can’t develop an energy-efficient type of housing because there’s no money in it. Can’t make solar panels as cheap as the Chinese do, so why bother? And most importantly, can’t understand the irony of a wealthy Chinese businessman taking a high-speed bullet train to work while reading a newspaper article about South Dakota having to un-pave their roads because they have no maintenance funds. 

But for the mega-rich, that’s the point of creating a nation of burger-flippers. If you are overworked and underpaid and trying to raise a family, you'd have no time to read such a newspaper article; much less have time to reflect on its implications. A nation of minimally educated workers might grumble about having to work two jobs to get by, might grumble about China getting the better of us, but there wouldn’t be enough hours of the day to turn grumbling into action. 

But in order to create a nation of pacified serfs, you have to first do something about the smart kids, and it begins by spraying mace in their faces, spraying it at close range, and seeing if you get away with it. During the 1960’s, when violence rocked America’s college campuses, few Republicans questioned the value of education in general. Nixon-era Republicans wouldn’t care for the likes of Herman Cain, who brags that he knows nothing about foreign policy. Perhaps Republicans in the 1960's didn’t seek to dumb down everyone and take over. But the NYPD, under the order of their billionaire-mayor Michael Bloomberg, knew exactly what to do. A week ago, they descended upon Occupy Wall Street under cover of darkness, took down everything, went straight to OWS Library and destroyed 5000 books. That’s what you gotta do. Always burn the books. And pepper-spray the kids who read them.