Students Protest Closing CUNY Student Union, Arrests & Pepper Spray

Above: Enraged students find the doors of the student center locked and guarded Monday. Hundreds turned out to protest after City College took back a center given to students as part of a 1989 tuition hike. Photo: David McGlynn

A sit-in and protest at the the City College of New York turned confrontational Thursday afternoon, when a protester was pepper-sprayed and arrested for endangering the welfare of a minor, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. Another was detained and cited for disorderly conduct.

Protesters and police clash outside the North Academic Center, where the Morales-Shakur center was housed. Photo by Ian Scott Horst

Protesters and police clash outside the North Academic Center, where the Morales-Shakur center was housed. Photo by Ian Scott Horst

The protest took place outside City College’s recently closed Morales-Shakur Center, which CCNY abruptly converted into a “career center” on Sunday. The arrests happened when a crowd of protesters tried to force their way inside the North Academic Center (NAC), where the Morales-Shakur center used to be.

The arrested, pepper-sprayed person was CCNY alumnus and activist David Suker. It’s his second CCNY-related arrest of the week; Suker was previously arrested Sunday morning while sitting outside the center’s doors and refusing to move. Suker attended Thursday’s protest with his toddler son, who was left in the care of another protester after his arrest. A little while later, the police could be seen escorting both the child and the protester inside, away from the crowd.

After the arrests, one protester suggested calling 911 to report a “kidnapping” (meaning the arrests), an idea that was quickly voted down. A group of around 50 to 60 protesters then sat down in front of the NAC building’s closed doors and chanted, “No center, no peace.”

One of the arrests taking place. Photo by Twitter user MiksWrites

One of the arrests taking place. Photo by Twitter user MiksWrites

About an hour before the arrests, CCNY released a Q&A about the “reallocation” of the space previously occupied by the center. It is virtually identical to previous statements released to the media. In the past day, they’ve also re-posted articles supporting the center’s closure to their Facebook page, including one by the New York Post and one byAM New York.

The students continued to march outside and through campus buildings rallying before staging another sit-in in the middle of a street on campus. They were furthered angered when one protester announced that she’d learned the Career Center would also be expanding into a basement where the Muslim Student Union now meets.

As they stood outside the NAC before continuing their march, Vice President of Student Affairs Juana Reina appeared briefly to talk with them.

“I don’t have any answers for you,” she replied, when the students asked where the arrested protesters had been taken, and whether they’d consider re-opening the center. She suggested checking the website.

A Twitter page affiliated with the protesters, Liberate CUNY Front, alleges that the doors to the NAC and an adjoining building have been locked by campus security for at least three hours. Some students have been unable to get to class.

You can view an hour-long livestream of the protest below; the stream has now gone off the air.

Video streaming by Ustream

At 4 p.m. on Thursday, CCNY spokesperson Deidra Hill sent us this statement:

Today, a peaceful student demonstration at City College was interrupted when a nonstudent, using his child as a shield, tried unsuccessfully to bypass public safety officers and enter the Administration Building. Subsequently, the nonstudent along with a group of people rushed across the street to enter the North Academic Building from the Amsterdam Street side. A door was pulled from the hinge, causing the situation to become unsafe. As a result, public safety officers arrested one person for endangering the welfare of a minor, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, and another person was cited for disorderly conduct. City College continues to respect peaceful protests while maintaining safety.

A recent CCNY graduate who says she was at the school for a meeting during the protest sent us an email, disputing several aspects of the statement issued by the administration. We’ve confirmed independently that she was a CCNY student; here’s a portion of her email:

I have nothing to do with any of the protests, except that I think the students are correct to stand up for lawful dissent, and that CCNY has a history of being less than respectful and fair towards the student body it profits from.1: I entered the door in question not long after the arrests took place. There was no door off of its hinges. I tried several entrances and exits, as students were briefly being held (denied exit) of the NAC building. I never saw any door off its hinges. As far as I know, this is false.

2: The door I did finally enter, successfully gaining entrance to my meeting, I noticed a bouquet of flowers someone had left at the security desk. This is characteristic of CCNY dissent, overall.

3: Officers would not answer any questions, even simple ones, and contributed to the climate of fear and anger. When I was finally able to leave the building, one student, being held back by an officer, pleaded with me to tell her if I had found an exit. I’m embarrassed to say I just ran for it, because a lot of us still had no idea what was going on and were afraid. When I found out what was happening, the guard at the exit I left told me, in classic fashion, “I’m just doing my job.”

 See also: CUNY City College Students Protest After Morales-Shakur Center, Hub of Campus Political Activity, Is Abruptly Closed