Open Letter to the CUNY community regarding the police violence against Occupy Wall Street demonstrators on March 17th, 2012

Dear CUNY Community,

Last Saturday, March 17th, hundreds of peaceful demonstrators convened in Zuccotti Park to celebrate the six month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. The gathering was a joyous event, a reunion for many, filled with song, dance, a general assembly and lively conversation.

At around 11:30pm, with very little warning, hundreds of New York Police Department (NYPD) officers charged and violently dispersed the peaceful gathering, injuring many and arresting more than 70 people. Those arrested were thrown to the ground, many were beaten with clubs, I saw friends whose faces were stepped on by officers while being held down. One friend had his thumb broken and was bleeding from his ear. Another had two ribs broken. One OWS medic had his head smashed into a plate glass window by a police officer (this was captured on video by bystanders here:

But perhaps the most horrific display of sheer malice, brutality and negligence of the NYPD was in their handling of New School student, 23 year old Cecily McMillan, who, after having been tackled and beaten by a group of police officers fell into a violent seizure (most likely triggered by the intense pain of having two ribs fractured by the police). I watched in horror as my friend Cecily, still in handcuffs, went into violent convulsions on the ground in the middle of Broadway. The police standing around initially did nothing to assist her, they did not even remove the handcuffs for the first few minutes. Dozens of licensed EMTs were on site, but the NYPD would not let them treat her. This is not only illegal, it is also a form of wanton negligence bordering on inhumanity. Cecily lost consciousness, her body went limp, and eventually a few officers were ordered to move her to the sidewalk, handling her clumsily. It was over ten minutes before an ambulance arrived (seen in video at minute 8:50 — the video starts well after the first full minute of Cecily’s seizure).

Video: (Trigger Warning: this video contains disturbing images of police violence):!

After being discharged from Bellevue hospital, Cecily was taken to Midtown South Precinct and held in police custody until Monday afternoon, a full 40 hours after her violent arrest. Many other demonstrators were held for even longer hours. Now we find out that the courts have dropped nearly all the charges against the 70+ arrested on Saturday. This raises serious questions about the legality of the police raid. It also evidences what we’ve long known: that the small infractions which Occupiers are charged with are merely foils and pretexts for silencing our protest and violently suppressing dissent. Cecily herself is being charged with the more serious crime of assaulting an officer. Not only can this charge not be allowed to stand. We cannot stand for the direct assault against our civil liberties, our rights to protest, our friends, our bodies, our ideas, our desires and real efforts to build a better future.

Occupy Wall Street has been an entirely peaceful movement, yet it is repeatedly met with wanton police violence. The frightening pace of heightened militarization of the NYPD just this year is something that directly effects us at the City University of New york (CUNY). These are the people that our administration allows to spy on Muslim student groups on our campuses. These are the people who Stop and Frisk CUNY students on their way to school everyday. These are the people who shot and killed the unarmed teenager, Ramarley Graham, this year in his home. These are the people who CUNY invited onto Baruch Campus to help violently suppress protests during the Board of Trustees meeting on November 21st.

OWS is now asking people to sign a petition demanding an independent investigation into the police brutality of Saturday night. To my mind this is a bear minimum:

We should also all take this opportunity to reflect on how the brutal suppression of a peaceful social movement affects all of our lives. We should hold meetings on our various campuses to collectively ask how we would respond if one of our own students was so brutally mistreated for voicing dissent. We should remember that this incident is in only the latest in a long litany of abuses and a long history of wanton violence and impunity. And we should at the very least call for the immediate resignation of Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

I am under no illusion that Raymond Kelly’s resignation would solve all the problems of endemic racism, islamophobia, homophobia, sexism, impunity, negligence, and cruelty in the NYPD. But demanding this would at least send a strong and clear message that we as CUNY students and educators will not stand for it any longer.


Zoltán Glück
Department of Anthropology, PhD student
CUNY Graduate Center