|I was arrested twice at the 1968 student demonstrations at Columbia. |
On April 30th I was arrested with my live-in girlfriend (in violation of Barnard College dormitory policy) Vicki Ruth Cohen. We were arrested in Mathematics Hall–the last of the buildings to be liberated by the police. Consequently, the pissed off New York City Police–generally a commendable group–were forced to act poorly on that occasion.
Boiling down the Six Demands (which I still support), there were, as Wikipedia points out lucidly, only three:
1 End Columbia’s shameful involvement in researching ways to kill Vietnamese.
2 Withdraw the gymnasium from Morning Side Park because it was architecturally a monument to racism; i.e. students and faculty entered through the nifty front door; members of the community; via. African-Americans, enter the back door at the bottom of the hill.
3. Do not punish the students; because why should we have been punished for demonstrating against the Vietnam War and Columbia’s racism: Amnesty. [Everybody got amnesty but me.]
Lost within our reminiscences was this reality. The student demonstrators—after taking over:
University President Grayson Kirk’s Office Loe Memorial Library
and even the dope smokers at Fayerweather Hall (where in addition to weddings, sex also was reportedly taken place
this was a demonstration by stuck-in-the-mud prudes who had not yet met (mind-meld) style
Jerry Ruben—one of the surprisingly small number of outside agitators SDS sent us while SDS had persuaded the press incorrectly that Mark Rudd was our leader. We were our leader.
Regarding the amnesty deal, I was one of the few students who did not get the deal. If you were arrested once at the spring 1968 Columbiademonstrations, free pass. Charges dropped. Record expunged.No deal if you were arrested in any of the two subsequent demonstrations.There were nearly-one thousand students. Men and women arrested holding hands and freeking the police out in a way that demonstrated why so many members of my class are named partners in establishment law firms.
The then gender segregated Columbia boys and Bernard girls understood in some visceral way that it drove the police crazy (many of whom had daughters that age in their homes) to see the brazen way so many Barnard women had adopted the fashion of the time: Flaunting the fact that they were bra-less, carelessly left their blouses only partially buttoned revealing other things, they had not shaving under their arms.
The vast-majority had enjoyed their first arrest but were in no way eager for the next. When we emerged from The Tombs, there was the Columbia strike–held outside in beautiful weather and in several neighborhood bars. Students were learning Greek in the Golden Rule. The media loved it. There were moments when Newsweek, The New York Times, and other publications (which have since redeemed themselves) combined to render of version of fake news that would make me sound like POTUS 45.++++ Unfortunately, I was also arrested in the Third Bust. Students had again taken over Hamilton Hall. This time black and white together. Police came almost instantly—with horses, of course.
The Dean announced students arrested inside Hamilton Hall would be expelled. I was arrested outside Hamilton Hall. I was beaten up. Put in the Tombs with a cast of characters out of Becket [an ice cream salesman wearing his white uniform– change device still around his belt as he stared through thick prison bars].
Later, I was indicted by a grand jury charged with conspiracy to commit riot with three other people I had not met until we were arrested together.Because I had rioted on the outside of Hamilton Hall, I was not expelled but graduated from Columbia in 1969 with a major in Medieval European History. The spring semester (when I was arrested twic) in 1968 ; the only semester I made dean’s list for praiseworthy academic performance. More than a year after everyone else got out from the First Bust, so did I. I was released from the first arrest simply because the district attorney had gotten sick of the whole thing.
The worst part was Jerry Rubin. He was in our group and I had to see a lot of him.My indictment for conspiracy to riot [I had rioted but did not conspired to do so; rioting just came over me suddenly and never again] involved initially my attorney William Kunstler.
Unfortunately, Kunstler was the worst kind of attorney for this kind of thing because his outlook was ideological; mine was keeping my ass out of jail. Plus, my worried mother flew up from Florida distraught by the predicament her only son had gotten into seeking solace from my attorney and she nearly received too much. When my mother’s eyes hit Kunstler’s, sexual sparks hit the air. I am convinced they would have done it before my eyes were there not four black panthers in the waiting room.
Years ( a seeming 1978 lifetime) later, President Jimmy Carter honored me with a political appointment writing speeches for the number two person at the U.S. Department of Labor.
Among my duties was reading CIA documents. This required a security clearance. Of course, I revealed all my arrests to the FBI agents in my office adding additional paper which was needed. Then, I showed my security form to my boss Deputy Secretary of Labor Robert J. Brown, who was a dyed-in-the wool United Automobile Workers labor skate who had worked for seven years on the assembly line,
Deputy Secretary Brown was jealous. “Damn; you were arrested, but I wasn’t.”
Joel Solkoff, Class of 1969 Columbia College. My father Isadore was Class of 1925 . Joel is the author of The Politics of Food. He is a paraplegic and is a disabilities rights advocate in Rust Belt, Pennsylvania