Last Tuesday, student activists made aware of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s arrival on-campus organized an anti-fracking demonstration outside the Student Union building (SUB), only to be met by police opposition.
A police officer stationed at the SUB ordered the protestors to vacate the area, which had been cordoned off for the event. When the students repeatedly challenged the officer’s order, on the preface that it violated the SUNY system’s student handbook policy of not interfering with peaceful pickets on campus grounds, the officer un-holstered his canister of pepper spray and threatened its use against the students.
We at The New Paltz Oracle are alarmed by the actions taken by the officer considering the circumstances and hope that in the future administration will better communicate when and where students demonstrations will be restricted.
We believe the officer’s decision to threaten student demonstrators with pepper spray was extremely rash and uncalled for given the situation. While yes, the students refused to follow the officer’s orders until that point, they were by no means hostile and were debating the validity of the order – of which the officer could not provide documentation – in regards to their right to peacefully demonstrate on campus. The officer’s response was inappropriate, which has only furthered the sentiment that police are not to be trusted. Threatening to use pepper should have only been a last resort, especially considering the parallels across other universities when police force has been used against student demonstrators.
While we understand that Cuomo’s arrival on campus was short notice and kept private for security reasons, we hope that administration has learned from this event and in the future will seek to inform students when extenuating circumstances limit student activities. We realize specifics can not always be shared but something must be made known. Saying that a private event is being held without giving a reason as to why certain restrictions are in place is not a satisfying answer. Doing so gives the impression that rules are being made simple to satisfy the intentions of those in charge of the event.
In college, students exist in an idealized bubble where the notion that freedom of speech could be limited in anyway seems absurd. Because of this, it is easy to feel outraged at the administration and university police. While we believe that anger is a valid reaction to the incident, it is important to remember that there are occasions when that bubble will pop. When it does, all the parties involved must move forward to ensure that steps are taken to mitigate the potential scenario in the future.
We implore Student Association to discuss this issue with the administration to ensure that there will always be a fair area in which demonstrations can be held when events take place. We also encourage administration to reach out to the students involved in the altercation so that their concerns can be shared in a face-to-face environment and not primarily through varying media outlets.