A sit-in and protest at City College of New York turned confrontational on the afternoon of Thursday, October 24, when a protester was pepper-sprayed and arrested for endangering the welfare of a minor, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. A second protester was detained and cited for disorderly conduct.
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 ensued after protesters tried to force their way inside the North Academic Center (NAC), where the Morales-Shakur center used to be.
The pepper-sprayed arrestee is CCNY alumnus and activist David Suker. It’s his second CCNY-related arrest of the week; Suker was arrested Sunday morning while sitting outside the center’s doors and refusing to move. He 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.”
About an hour before the arrests, CCNY released a Q&A about the “reallocation” of the space previously occupied by the center — a document virtually identical to previous statements released to the media. The school also re-posted to its Facebook page articles supporting the center’s closure, including one from the New York Post and one from AM New York.
Students continued to march outside and through campus buildings before staging another sit-in in the middle of a street on campus. Tempers flared 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, the school’s 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.
At 4 p.m. Thursday, CCNY spokeswoman Deidra Hill sent the Village Voice 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 [through] told me, in classic fashion, “I’m just doing my job.”
Send your story tips to the author, Anna Merlan.