Update, Thursday, October 24:A second demonstration has resulted in the arrests of two to three protesters. Read our report on those arrests here.
Original entry: A nearly 25-year-old campus community center at the City College of New York was abruptly closed Sunday night, leading to a large, furious protest by students and community groups. The Guillermo Morales/Assata Shakur Community and Student Center, which is on the third floor of a campus building, was abruptly converted into a “career center” late that night, just before midterms began this week. All the Morales-Shakur Center’s belongings were moved out and apparently thrown into storage, and the room and exterior doors, which were once red with a black fist, were both painted over.
A group calling itself Liberate CUNY Front quickly issued a press release, calling the closure “deceptive and dishonest, and indicative of a major lack of respect for the ability of students organizing.” The press release also said that the campus went into “lockdown” on Sunday night and Monday morning, with students unable to enter or leave the campus, or get into the library, which is in an adjacent building. Meanwhile, CCNY issued its own press release, saying the room had been “reallocated,” to provide a space for “students involved in experiential learning.”
The Shakur Center has been open since 1989, after students won it during a protest over tuition hikes. Since then, the school’s administraiton has tried repeatedly to close it or change the name. It’s named after Guillermo Morales and Assata Shakur, two CCNY students who went on to become, respectively, a Puerto Rican nationalist revolutionary and a Black Panther.
Morales escaped from Bellevue Hospital in 1979, while awaiting charges that he’d planted bombs for the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN); he was arrested after a bomb he’d planted at a Queens factory went off early, mangling his fingers and face. Shakur is best known for her role in a shootout between Black Panthers, the Black Liberation Army and New Jersey state troopers, which left one BLA member and one trooper dead. She, too, escaped from prison the same year; both Morales and Shakur fled to Cuba, where they still live.
CUNY’s chancellor first ordered the sign bearing their names be taken down in 2006, after an article in the Daily News said the school was “honoring terrorists.” The students sued, something they’d done previously after discovering a surveillance camera in the center, hidden inside a fake smoke detector .
An uneasy peace seems to have prevailed, at least until Sunday. On Sunday morning, a CCNY alumni and activist, David Suker, was arrested for sitting in front of the doors of the center and refusing to move. He was released later that day; he says he was charged with resisting arrest, criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct.
At 12:30 on Monday, student groups convened an emergency rally in front of the North Academic Center, where the Shakur Center was located. A junior, Natasha Adams, told a crowd of about 200 that the closure represented “an attack on the marginalized.” She urged them to “decolonize our imagination from an imperialist worldview that is stealing our lifeblood.”
“Just seize the fucking place already,” someone muttered impatiently from the crowd.
Suddenly, a fire alarm went off, and several hundred more students drifted outside. Some joined the protesters as they started to march around the building, chanting “No center, no peace,” while others stared in obvious bafflement.
As they rounded the building, the protesters found another set of doors leading to the center locked; at least 10 police officers stood behind them, many of them filming the protesters with their phones. The students briefly pounded on the glass, then marched inside and continued to rally, next to some more confused-looking kids drinking coffee and eating salads. A representative from City Councilmember Charles Barron’s office, a longtime supporter of the center, said that Barron supported the protest, but urged them to avoid “conflict with security. We don’t need anybody getting arrested today.”
No one did. Instead, the crowd dispersed, promising to meet again that night. Most of the police remained in place, still filming the students. Three flights up, more officers, looking bored, guarded the newly christened “Careers and Professional Development Institute.” The doors were now white. The paint was still wet.
“We knew this was going to happen,” said Shepard “Brother Shep” McDaniel, another CCNY alum, Black Panther, and the chairperson of the Shakur Center. He said they’ve called a community meeting for Thursday with the Harlem and Washington Heights groups who use the center: an after-school program for elementary kids, the Corbin Hill Food Project, which brings fresh produce to the neighborhood, as well as several political education classes and workshops.
“We have a contingency plan,” McDaniel added. The first step was to “flood the phones” of the chancellor and CCNY’s president. The second was to figure out where the money and records that were being stored in the room had disappeared to; the students had been raising money for several months to replace the carpet.
David Suker, the CCNY alum who was arrested for protesting outside the center, says a “day of education” is planned for CCNY students tomorrow, followed with a “day of action” Thursday, including a possible sit-in at what he called “an undisclosed location.”
The statement from CCNY said, “All the previous contents from the third floor room prior to the expansion are in storage for safekeeping and will be returned appropriately.” It added that the move had taken place over the weekend “so that it would be less disruptive to the college.”
This article has been updated, with the date of David Suker’s arrest corrected, and comments from him added regarding the proposed “day of action” at the university.
More photo and video from the protests on the next page, along with the full statements from Liberate CUNY and CCNY.
Both videos shot by independent journalist Suzy Subways.