Reader Contends Police Did Not Act Unjustly, Criticizes Crimson
To the Editors of the CRIMSON:
I would like to raise one dissenting voice to the choruses of protest against the Cambridge police that have been filling the CRIMSON lately. In my opinion, the riot last Thursday was a disgrace to the name of Harvard exceeded only by the childish recriminations that the CRIMSON, the Student Council, et al. have indulged in since the riot.
Harvard may have lagged behind some schools in the timing of its riot, but it was by no means alone in its outburst. Though European students may riot about Communism or Triest, Harvard is right within the American college tradition of rioting over such things as Pogo, ice cream, panties and brassieres. Where Harvard stands alone, however, is in its unwillingness to accept the fact that a riot can be dangerous and that the rioters may have to take the consequences of their participation. If we have permission to hold a rally in the Square, that is fine; but when some of us start disconnecting trolley wires, pounding on police cars, attempting to overturn cars, and blocking traffic, we must expect the Cambridge police to attempt to disperse us before more damage is done. But how can they disperse a riot? To tell everyone to go home, or to reason with a crowd of college boys out to raise hell is futile. Possibly the only way to disperse an unruly mob is by frightening them, and the Cambridge police did this very well. Though they might have been slightly extreme (and I say slightly because, despite the CRIMSON stories of brutality, no broken skulls resulted, but only a few bruises shared by students and police), the police did break up the riot with the only method available to them.
The argument that those arrested were innocent bystanders is, I believe, fallacious. A mob finds its power of destruction because it is a large mass of people. Though a single individual may not be responsible for damage, just by standing within the crowd he is adding to its effectiveness and danger. Since the police cannot arrest the whole crowd, they must single out individuals--and this will usually be arbitrary. Dean Bender has pointed out several times that when a student sees a riot, he should walk away as fast as possible or he will be liable to place of influence in our community, the CRIMSON does have a certain responsibility--a responsibility that has been punishment. With few exceptions, I would guess that those arrested on Thursday had not just wandered into the crowd accidentally and were not trying to leave it when the police came. Having been within the riot, they must be prepared to take the consequences.
If the riot had ended on Thursday, Harvard would have looked no worse than Yale, Columbia, MIT, and the mid-western schools have been rioting lately. But the riot did not end then. The repercussions of it have filled the pages of the CRIMSON for the past few days and seem to be here to stay. No one expects the CRIMSON to be a fully mature and serious newspaper like the Times or Monitor. It is written by college students for a college audience and can be expected to share the slight degree of immaturity that separates boys from adults. Therefore, if it wants to sponsor a Pogo for President rally and devote most if its energies to this task, it has a perfect right to do so. But, because of its high sorely lacking in its treatment of the riot.
If the police were unnecessarily brutal, the CRIMSON has a right to protest. But it also has a duty to point out both sides of the issue--the tough job of a policeman attempting to maintain order among a bunch of fun-seeking students; the rights of the Cambridge citizen who may not be amused by Pogo or stalled busses; and the many dangers involved in a riot. I am writing this letter on Tuesday, and in all the articles and editorials on the riot (and the news articles all read like editorials), I have seen little else but violent recriminations. How does the CRIMSON believe the police should have stopped the riot? Or does the CRIMSON, and I get this impression from its treatment of the affair, believe the police should have let the riot continue?
When little boys misbehave, they are often punished. This does not mean that little boys should never misbehave, but it also does not mean that they should never be punished. However, if they do get their wrists slapped for acting badly, they ought not to act like martyrs about it and circulate petitions. The CRIMSON might do well to remember this and not make Harvard look ridiculous in the eyes of the nation. Sidney Verba '53
Reader Verba is not alone in his dissent, for many people have confused the inane actions of a few attending the Pogo rally with the docility of the many. The trolly de-wiring and car-pounding was confined to a few individuals, most of whom were not even apprehended. Most of those in the Square last Tuesday, as many letters to the CRIMSON have pointed out, were dawdling on the sidebalk, waiting to see a cartoonist ride by and perhaps to cheer lustily when he did. There was no mob, as there is in a football riot, and few if any attended in the hope or expectation that there would be any "hell" raised.
When the riot squad first arrived, it was faced with a relatively inactive crowd, which unfortunately included a few students who liked to pull trolley wires. By slugging a few undergraduates on the head, the police were sure of raising more of a rumpus than ever existed before their arrival. They did. Most disturbances are terminated by the apprehension of those who are causing the trouble, which in this case was a small number, not by ostentatious brutality. Mr. Verba's argument that force was the most suitable weapon with which to disperse the rally is refuted by the fact that a second disturbance occured almost two hours after the first. The excitement ended only when the students became board.
The theory that those standing around were just as responsible for a riot as those hurling beer cans is true, assuming that there is a riot in progess. In this case, there was no riot until the police came, and it is hardly fair to suggest that students quickly run away before the ob-of their attendance, in this case Walt Kelly, had arrived. Only when the whole crowd is bent on raising hell can the Bender Riot Act be properly applied.
Reader Verba's main error then comes in assuming that there was a riot. There was none, and although the arrival of the police bid fair to make it one, even then it did not assume the proportions of a riot.
As for the CRIMSON'S coverage of the disturbance, its extent is certainly justified by the fact approximately half of the undergraduate body was directly involved in the disturbance.
The CRIMSON does not believe that the police should have let the "riot" continue. It believes that the police should have used the same tactics that they have used with success and without criticism in the past; arresting those few students who were creating the disturbance, and remaining around in solemn dignity until the other fun-seekers went home--ED.