A Pakistani-American who served four years in the United States Air
Force as munitions personnel was beaten and brutalized by right-wing students
and campus police last Thursday at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
Tariq Khan, now a junior majoring in sociology, said he was standing in front
of the recruitment table outside the school student center - as he has often
done before - during noontime with a paper sign reading, "Recruiters lie,
don't be deceived," taped to his shirt. A student approached Khan and initiated
a verbal argument, screaming in his face; he then took the flyer and ripped
it up in front of him, Khan says.
The student then left and returned with another student claiming to be a Marine
having recently served in Iraq, and the three continued a verbal argument that
began to escalate, Khan claimed. "I asked the marine, 'So how many people
did you kill?'" Khan said. "And he answered, 'Not enough.'" The
marine student soon ripped Khan's sign off his shirt and threw it in the trash.
Shortly thereafter, two of Khan's friends came to his defense, and a college
staff member told Khan he had to leave because he had no permit to table in
the area. "I didn't even have a table to begin with, so I didn't see why
I needed a permit for one," Khan said. "Besides, to have a table,
you need to be a campus group, and we didn't have one," he added, pointing
out that the student council denied an anti-war group's right to exist on campus
earlier because it contained several anarchists.
The staff member called campus security, at which point a police officer, Lt.
Reynolds, approached Khan and demanded to see his student ID. Khan said he told
the officer he was not carrying his ID and tried to walk away when the policeman
tried to arrest him and then became violent. "He threw me into the stage,"
Khan claimed, referring to a dance area in the student center left from an event
earlier in the day, "and I just sort of raised my hands to show I'm not
violent and tried to get as much attention by saying, 'I'm being non-violent
and I'm being brutalized.'"
Fellow student and friend Amie Wells confirmed Khan's account, saying the officer
"grabbed him, put him in a half-nelson headlock," and then "slammed
him into a metal stage," propped three feet above the floor. Wells added
that the officer then slammed Khan into the ground hard, resulting in his face
hitting the surface.
Describing the atmosphere, Wells said a number of right-wing students were
cheering on police officers who were attacking Khan, exclaiming, "Kick
him!" She claimed most of the crowd appeared to be on the side of the police.
"It was disgusting," she said. Another student who witnessed events,
David Curtis, said some students initially implored the police to let Khan go,
but others soon arrived to support the police, chanting "Kick his ass!"
According to Khan, Wells, and Curtis, one of the right-wing students who had
earlier harassed Khan joined the cops in forcing him on the ground. Curtis asked
the student what authority he was exercising, and the student backed off.
However, Curtis says, a university employee who stood about six feet eight
inches and weighed around 300 pounds began helping the cops to further subdue
Khan. "He performed jujitsu moves on me while the cops held me down, and
the cops let him do it," Khan said.
"Frankly, the cops were doing just fine without him, but this huge guy
came and put [Khan's] free arm in a Kamora," Curtis said, referring to
a jujitsu maneuver in which the arm is painfully bent backwards. "You could
see on his face that it was really hurting him," Curtis said of Khan.
A police officer claimed the university employee was an "auxiliary police
officer," but Wells, who works with the man in the computer store, said
she had never seen him in that capacity.
Khan said he was then dragged off by two officers toward a police car but was
reluctant to get in. He says one cop was preparing to spray him with mace. "He
held the can straight at my eyes, about five inches away from my face,"
Khan said. "So I started yelling, 'Hey, this cop is trying to mace me,
someone take a picture if you have a camera!"
Wells quickly took out her cell-phone camera and began snapping pictures. "After
I did that, the cop put away his mace can and said, 'Okay, no one's going to
get maced today.' I mean, clearly, he knew he was doing something wrong,"
Khan says Officer Reynolds told him he had to arrest him because, "What
with 9/11 and everything else, we didn't know what you would do." Khan
also says another policeman told him that "You people are the most violent
people in the world." Before being hauled off to the Fairfax County Jail,
Khan was warned by the police who were questioning him that "If you even
look at [cops] the wrong way, they'll hang you up by your feet."
Officer Reynolds asked the handcuffed student if he needed medical attention
or desired an attorney, Khan claims, but says he was granted neither medical
attention nor an attorney after expressly asking for both.
Released after two hours, Khan was charged with disorderly conduct and trespassing
on campus - even though Khan is a student and police found his ID when they
searched him. The student protester says he is planning to sue the school, the
police, and the right-wing students who attacked him. "I went with my wife
and my mother-in law to file a complaint at the police office right afterwards,
and had pictures taken of all my cuts and bruises," he says.
In response to the incident, the university issued a statement to Khan recognizing
that he was staging a peaceful protest and insisting it was committed to students'
rights to free speech on campus; it also said it will conduct an internal investigation
into the conduct of the police officers and the other students who were involved
in Thursday's events.
Khan, however, is not impressed. "They haven't even contacted me yet,"
he said. "I'll believe them when I see results."
Asked what motivated him to begin his protest against military recruiters on
a campus where there is no organized anti-war movement, the former Air Force
enlistee said, "For four years, I was making bombs. Then I started wondering
where those bombs were actually going."
After reading and learning about the bombing of Kosovo and ongoing destruction
of civilian facilities in Iraq, he came to his conclusion: "I asked the
questions and I wasn't happy with the answers We were bombing civilian plants."
Speaking at a rally held on October 3 that was attended by 150 to 200 supporters
at the university, Khan sounded a defiant note: "I will not be bullied
or intimidated into silence…The university authority's actions against
me last Thursday were their way of telling me to shut up. And my answer to them
is, no, I will not shut up...The power-mongers in this country are using 9/11
and terrorism as an excuse to trample all over our individual rights. A friend
of mine recently said, 'When we've traded in all our freedom for security, we'll
find that the only thing we've secured is our own incarceration.'"