With news today about the police violence and unnecessary pepper spraying of students at UC Davis, I was reminded of the President's Commission On Campus Unrest that made its findings known on September 1970.
1970 was a pivotal year in terms of violence towards protesters on college campuses in the U.S. Not only were there the killings of students at Kent State, there were also the killings of students at Jackson State and police clashes at campuses all over the country. It signified a new and ugly escalation in the Anti-War movement, brought on very much by public condemnation of students as "bums" and "trouble makers" from the mouths of President Nixon and vice-President Agnew.
This episode of Meet The Press, from September 26, 1970 features members of the panel whose findings became the report. Former Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton. New Haven, Connecticut Police Chief James Ahern and representing students, Joseph Rhodes Jr., a Junior-Fellow at Harvard University.
James J. Kilpatrick: “Mister Ahern, what do you see as the role of Police in these serious campus disorders? When should they be called it?
James Ahern: I think that’s a problem that depends on the circumstances. It depends on the kind of plans that have been laid between law enforcement officers and university administrators.
Kilpatrick: Well you don’t call them in when there’s nothing but peaceful picketing.
Ahern: Absolutely not. And I think in terms of peaceful dissent, the role of the Police Officer is one of a referee. One of a fair, impartial observer on the scene – they’re as much to protect the right to dissent as he is to prevent trouble from occurring. And to take action when it does occur. The point when he comes in is a critical one. If he comes in early he may be provocative. If he comes in too late it may. . .the situation may have escalated. That judgment has to be made by both the University Administrator and the Law Enforcement Administrator who have to be well informed, and unfortunately in some incidents that have happened in this country, that hasn’t been the case.”
And forty years later . . .