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Fallout of Columbia 1968

April 25, 2008

The New York Times is not known for delivering sharp blows to people engaged in countercultural preening, but it delivered a nice one this morning. As the nostalgic veterans of the 1968 Columbia University protests (or uprising, or riots) gathered on their old campus to celebrate the wonder of their 40-year-old disturbance, Susan Dominus of the Times produced a report on a police officer injured during the student occupation of campus buildings. One proud student veteran of the old unpleasantness wrote yesterday that “the bloody riot” was a police riot: most students occupying building engaged in Gandhian passive resistance.” But of course, Gandhi never jumped from a second-story window onto the back of a police officer, as one maddened Columbia student did to Frank Gucciardi in 1968.

The day after the buildings were cleared, the students were still acting up, and Gucciardi, then 34, was one of ten officers sent to cope with the continuing disorder. As soon as they went through the Columbia gates, students attacked with tree limbs. Various objects, including books, waste baskets and glue, were thrown from windows. A student knocked Gucciardi’s hat off, and as he stooped to retrieve it, another student jumped from a second-story window onto his back, crushing part of his spine. The damage was permanent. After three grueling operations, he cannot walk more than a hundred feet without stopping to rest. He never sued Columbia and is not bitter about the students who attacked his group. He told the Times: “I don’t think they were out to hurt anybody seriously, but it’s unfortunate it happened.”

Incidentally, the reunion, described as a conference, does have panel discussions, but so far as we know, none of those panels includes anyone who dissents from the veterans’ view that their protests (or acting out, or group temper tantrum) was a memorable achievement.

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