Students and faculty respond to assaults and arrests at #May2 Student Manifestation

Earlier today, students and faculty wrote to Brooklyn College President Karen Gould about the handling of yesterday’s #May2 Student Manifestation, at which two Brooklyn College students were arrested (both now released—one with an ACD and another with a grand jury date set for June 20) and multiple bystanders assaulted by CUNY security. A public letter sent from a concerned student and a statement from the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) Brooklyn Chapter Executive Committee are included in full below.

Brooklyn College Student Union has also issued a petition to President Gould to repeal tuition increases and end securitiziation of CUNY campuses:

Brooklyn College President Karen Gould ordered for students to be violently removed by campus security from outside of her office in a main academic building; two students were wrongly arrested, spent a night in jail, and face unsubstantiated charges.

Over the next five years, students face a $1,500 tuition increase, and continuous cuts to student services and a continuation of increased securitization on CUNY Campuses– from the NYPD systematic spying on Muslim Student Associations, to Stop and Frisk racial profiling policies on and off our campuses, to attacks by security guards on peaceful students such as during the Board of Trustees Meeting on November 21st, 2011 at Baruch College.

We refuse to allow these to become the future of CUNY.

Petition:

To Chancellor Goldstein, President Karen Gould of Brooklyn College and other CUNY Administration,

Under your leadership, Chancellor Goldstein, students have seen our tuition dollars diverted from programs that support our needs as student to fund increased securitization of CUNY campuses.

We refuse to pay ever increasing tuition rates for decreasing student services. We refuse to watch our tuition money used to fund campus security measures that target students of color and those exercising their right to freedom of speech.

We demand the repeal of NYSUNY2020 Tuition Hikes and an end to the securitization of the City University of New York.

Dear Brooklyn College President Karen L. Gould,

My name is Matthis Chiroux, I am a graduating Brooklyn College senior, a founding member of the Brooklyn College Student Union, a veteran of the U.S. Army, a writer for the Huffington Post, and now by necessity, an advocate for my fellow students you are responsible for having beaten and arrested this afternoon (May 2, 2012) in front of your office by campus security personnel.

I am writing to express to you my profound shock and revulsion at the conduct of your officers involved in brutalizing Brooklyn College students and arresting them for congregating on their own campus. While I was not present at today’s demonstration, I have seen extensive, detailed footage which depicts several wildly unacceptable acts committed by your officers against our students, including the choking of one student against a wall, the beating and shoving of others, the wrongful arrest of student activists not involved in “sitting in,” not to mention the creation of a dangerous atmosphere of chaos and pandemonium which did not exist prior to their violent dispersal of a noisy, but peaceful crowd of students.

Furthermore, the students wrongfully arrested have been charged with very serious and completely fallacious and unsubstantial charges, including disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and in one case, assaulting an officer. As I am writing you this letter, both are at Brooklyn Central Booking being processed like criminals for lawfully standing in a hallway which they pay, like all students, for the right to stand in. Tonight, for no justifiable reason, they will both spend in jail because you refuse to intervene.

I know both Julieta and Eric, the students arrested today, and can personally attest not only to their peaceful nature and intent, but to their dedication to the well-being of Brooklyn College and the family that embodies its splendor; students, faculty and administrators alike. They were present today for that precise reason. They believe their academic home is under threat, as do nearly all of us (even you, I am sure), and we love Brooklyn College and want only what is best for it.

But today, my home was transformed into an all-too-familiar battlefield, and you being the head of my household are responsible for rectifying this situation. Brooklyn College cannot become a warzone because a politically-minded group of students decides to peacefully congregate. In fact, the only difference between the students who were assaulted and arrested by campus security today and students who regularly congregate, sit, lie-down and even sleep all over Brooklyn College is that they had grievances to bear in doing so.

Since its inception in 2009, the Brooklyn College Student Union has never committed a single violent act, never destroyed any property, never violated any laws or school policies, and has consistently advocated for the rights and needs of all parties at Brooklyn College, not simply the student body. Regardless, within the past year it seems campus security has initiated a policy of violent repression against Student Union activists, and this trend is a startling outrage to say the least!

That now, your officers have falsely accused a student activist with a well-known reputation for peaceful poise and effective verbal facilitation with the violent assault of an officer is beyond outrageous and cannot be permitted in our home, and I believe you know this. Further, you must know that your officers may in all actuality have committed serious acts of unprovoked violence against Brooklyn College students today, violating their rights, and were as well responsible for creating an unsafe situation.

President Gould, I am calling on you to immediately do the right thing and take the following actions: First, you must see to the release of your students from police custody and have all charges dismissed against them. Second, you must place the officers suspected of misconduct in today’s incident, including the ranking officer on-site, on immediate administrative leave pending the results of an independent investigation to be conducted by an acceptable committee of Brooklyn College students, faculty and administrators. Third, you must give full access of said investigating committee to all documentation pertaining to today’s police action, including but not limited to internal and external correspondence, video evidence, witnesses testimony and personnel evaluations. Lastly, you must offer the student body some form of condolence for today’s events, and further affirm your commitment to the non-violent resolution of student grievances in the future.

Anything short this type of critical, timely action on your behalf will SERIOUSLY jeopardize your legitimacy as President of Brooklyn College in the eyes of the student body, almost all of whom stand united in opposing police brutality in any form, especially on our campus. I believe you are able to make the right decision now, not only to avert potential unrest on our peaceful campus, but because you know that Eric and Julieta and Student Union members are not criminals, and that ‘safety’ officers assaulting students is unacceptable at Brooklyn College.

Very Respectfully,

Matthis Chiroux
Brooklyn College, Class of 2012

Dear President Gould,

We are very concerned about several aspects of the administration’s handling of yesterday’s student demonstration concerning access to CUNY. Our members were harassed, verbally abused, and physically assaulted by security staff. We witnessed excessive use of force by CUNY security staff against students, faculty, and staff and feel that this demonstration was handled in an unnecessarily aggressive and intolerant way. We call for 1) a college-wide conversation about demonstration policies on campus, 2) the exclusion of CUNY Central security personnel from campus, 3) a meeting between you and Student Union members to discuss their concerns about access to and conditions at Brooklyn College, and 4) the dropping of all charges against students, including the vacating of any Adjournment Contemplating Dismissal (ACDs) plea agreements.

There is a long and very valuable history of student activism and protest on college campuses, in the United States and around the world. We honor that history by making sure that our campus is a space where students can express their concerns in a non-violent way—even in a manner that may be loud and make some of us uncomfortable—without fear of physical assault. The students sitting in yesterday are our students; we have an obligation to listen to and work with them. The show of force with which these students—who have tried to meet with you in the past—were met contradicts the spirit of dialogue and education that define our institution.

Access to campus

We have received numerous complaints from our members and students about the extraordinary controls placed on access to the east side of campus. The zero tolerance policy and aggressive demeanor of guards seemed totally out of proportion to the events occurring on campus. Our members reported delays entering campus and in one incident involving a female staff member, a physical altercation, because one guard did not see that another guard had already checked the member’s ID. Several members and students reported that students were late to class because of ID’s without proper validation stickers or forgotten ID’s. While we object in principle to intensive access controls to the College, we further question the implementation of a “zero tolerance” policy with no advanced notice. In many cases we witnessed students being forced to choose between having their ID’s confiscated or attempting to negotiate the validation process on the spot in a situation in which they were trying to get to class on time. We object to any future zero tolerance policy on ID’s, especially when no prior notice has been given to students, so that they can correct their ID problems in advance.

It has also come to our attention that much of this aggressive posture was the result of fears concerning the involvement of the Occupy Wall Street movement. These concerns do not seem valid to us and represent the fears of CUNY Central, which have been manifest in past demonstrations, including one sponsored by the PSC at Baruch College last fall, concerning adjunct health insurance. The reality is that many students and our members identify with and participate in Occupy Wall Street events, workgroups, and demonstrations. This movement, while loud and defiant, has been overwhelmingly non-violent and the Executive Committee of the PSC welcomed their presence on campus yesterday. None of these guests were involved in the sit in outside the President’s office or the arrests that followed.

Handling of the Sit-in

We are very troubled by the actions of CUNY security officials in removing the students participating in the sit in and the students, faculty, and staff observing these events. We appreciate your intentions in asking security officials to avoid arrests of students. Arrests should always be a last result in a non-violent demonstration on campus. However, the use of force by security personnel should be just as important if not more so. Those of us who directly observed these events reported excessive use of force in removing students from your office doorway and in the removal of observers and onlookers from the second floor.

One of our central concerns was the haste with which this dispersal was carried out. This was an entirely non-violent protest with small but noisy groups of supporters and observers. Many of us deal with unwanted noise in our offices on a routine basis as a result of construction, maintenance, and other routine activities on campus. In addition, you and your staff had access to alternate means of egress to and from your office. Therefore, this was not an emergency situation.  Instead of talking with the students and engaging with them in an orderly and safe fashion, we observed an enforcement action that was overly rushed, poorly executed, and ill conceived and resulted in unnecessary injuries and arrests and a poisoning of relations between student activists and the administration, which may have long lasting consequences.

We noted in particular the aggressive posture of non-uniform security personnel dispatched by CUNY Central. These personnel appeared to be at the center of the decision to deal hastily and violently with those sitting in and to approach those observing and supporting the event with aggression.

In addition, we found the conduct of some individual officers to be wholly unprofessional. The officer that made the accusation of assault against one of the students was witnessed assaulting that student after he objected to the violent treatment of fellow students, one of whom is disabled and required EMT treatment at the scene.

Two faculty observing the demonstration were berated by a security official for leading the students to take this action, teaching them to be violent, etc. A third faculty member, who was merely trying to access their office on that floor, was similarly chastised and is deeply upset about the experience. At least one other faculty member and one professional staff member, neither of whom had any connection to the demonstration, have complained to us about being physically assaulted by security on the second floor and two adjunct professors were threatened with arrest on the 1st floor while talking in front of the ATM machine.

We feel that many of the problems associated with this event could have been avoided if the following actions had been taken:

  1. You had agreed to meet with the Student Union concerning their legitimate grievances concerning tuition increases, reduced access to CUNY, and inadequate student resources on campus.
  2. You had reduced or eliminated the role of CUNY Central security in the planning and implementation of security procedures for this event.
  3. You had instructed security personnel to act in a considered and deliberate manner with demonstrators and avoid not just arrest but also the unnecessary use of force.

We hereby request a meeting sometime in the next 14 days between you, your senior security staff, concerned students, and us, to discuss the events of May 2nd and to develop a process for a broader conversation about security procedures on campus.

Sincerely,

The Executive Committee of the Brooklyn College Chapter of the Professional Staff Congress – CUNY

This letter was delivered to the chair of President Gould on May 8, 2012 at 3:30PM in Woody Tanger Auditorium during Faculty Council:

Dear President Karen L. Gould,

We are an autonomous group of students organized under the name the Brooklyn College Student Union. We were founded in the Spring semester of 2009 as an organization that serves the needs of students and works towards a democratic university. We are responsible for the planning of various events on campus that draw awareness to the decreasing accessibility of public higher education. Our events have always been peaceful, fun and engaging for Brooklyn College students, faculty and staff.

We are writing to express to you our profound shock and dismay at the overwhelming security response to Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012’s planned events on the Quad and to students peacefully sitting down in front of your office. We have continuously tried to use the legitimate channels including the petition we circulated in March and April–that was announced at the March 8th Faculty Council meeting and delivered to your office on April 16th–both which we have documentation of. We did not sit in front of your door for light or transient reasons. We sat down in front of your office to draw attention to the rising cost of our tuition at the hands of the State legislature and the CUNY Board of Trustees, and the diminishing social and infrastructural conditions of our school for which you, President Gould, do have a say in.

As students, we experience continuous cuts to student services and a continuation of increased securitization on CUNY Campuses– from the NYPD systematic spying on Muslim Student Associations, to Stop and Frisk racial profiling policies on and off our campuses, to attacks by security guards on peaceful students such as during the Board of Trustees Meeting on November 21st, 2011 at Baruch College and last week, the physical intimidation and assaults of students and faculty by Brooklyn College security personnel.

While we are saddened to hear of the physical injuries of Sgt. Denise Gallegos, who we witnessed fall to the ground on May 2nd, the charges against our classmate, Eric Carlsen, are completely unsubstantiated. Our assemblies are peaceful as are our members and the injuries caused to the officer in question can be attributed to a lack of adequate training on the part of the Brooklyn College Security, the incident was an accident that Eric is not responsible for. We have multiple video documentation to prove Eric’s innocence and would like the opportunity to work with you to clear all charges against him. Many of us are filing complaints against your security personnel for suffocating adjunct faculty up against the walls of the 2nd Floor of Boylan Hall, being elbowed, punched and physically intimidated by officers.

We ask you, President Gould, to:
1) Drop all charges against Eric Carlsen and Julieta Salgado, the two undergraduate students who were arrested and violently removed from Boylan Hall on May 2nd, and spent the night of the 2nd in Brooklyn Central Bookings.
2) End the securitization and police repression of Brooklyn College.

We request a meeting with you on May 14th, 2012 to address these concerns.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
Brooklyn College Student Union
bcstudentunion.outreach@gmail.com

A doctoral student in anthropology at the Graduate Center also wrote to President William Kelly and Provost Chase Robinson regarding the events at Brooklyn College:

Open letter to President Bill Kelly and Provost Chase F. Robinson of the CUNY Graduate Center written in solidarity with the students and faculty of CUNY Graduate Center, Brooklyn College, Free University of
New York organizers and participants, the PSC, the larger CUNY and NYC public, and OWS:

Dear President Kelly and Provost Robinson:

As I am sure you are aware, on May 1st  students and instructors throughout the city, many of whom are affiliated with the CUNY Graduate Center, created and participated in  The Free University in
Madison Square Park.  It was a validating and inspiring example that public higher education could be a step toward a just and equitable world and a celebration of our collective knowledge and humanity. This
“experiment in education,” attended by upwards of 2,000 people, was also a manifestation of the creativity, ethics, and resourcefulness of the CUNY community and encapsulates all the reasons why my
allegiance to it and pride about being a part of it runs so deep.  I hope that you have seen some of the footage and press about this collaboration; perhaps you feel a similar sense of pride and respect
for the students and faculty who comprise the institution in which you hold positions of leadership.

I am writing this letter in the hopes that you might show your respect – and your support – by taking a public stand on the events that transpired –  the physical intimidation of Graduate Center students,
myself included – at Brooklyn College on May 2nd. I write this as an open letter as issues addressed here are relevant to all Graduate Center and CUNY students and faculty and I hope many of us do all we
can to address it.  I write specifically to you,President Kelly and Provost Robinson, because I feel you should know how your students are harassed on CUNY campuses where they teach or have been placed as part
of their recruitment fellowships. Furthermore, because Graduate Center students are also instructors,these issues are about how our students are treated and the environment of  intimidation in the workplace and
school that is not conducive to teaching and learning.

Specifically, I ask that – in solidarity with your prospective and current students as well as with the larger CUNY community – you publicly decry the actions of police, security, and administrators at
Brooklyn College on May 2nd and that you ask President Karen Gould of Brooklyn College to:
1) drop charges against the two students who were unfairly arrested;
2) issue a formal apology to her instructors and students for abuses of power and force that transpired on her campus, in front of her office, and onto her students, instructors, and guests;
3) take clear measures to make sure such events do not transpire in the future, which would include meeting with students to address needs they expressed in an earlier letter, respecting the right to free
speech and assembly, and removing draconian security measures from campus;
4) ensuring that workers on her campus are not physically intimidated and threatened with arrest for such things as standing; this would include the ceasing of all physical and verbal harassment of women
(like me) by men in uniform.

There is ample documentation of the events that took place on May 2nd at Brooklyn College, including video footage and letters by students and the Executive Committee of the Brooklyn Chapter of the PSC.  I will speak to my personal experience as someone who was not part of any of the planning of the day’s events and who intended to come for an hour before going to work in order to support the cause.  I had no intention of getting arrested.  Many of us who had gathered outside marched into Boylan Hall and up to the hallway of the second floor in front of the President Gould’s closed door.  I would like to note here that ALL of Brooklyn College – its indoor and outdoor spaces– is part of a public institution where the right to assemble and to speak should be guaranteed.  I would also like to note that I did not see any student or instructor commit any act of violence, despite the fact that, yes, the gathering was also loud and powerful.  The sense of passion, solidarity, outrage, and courage was palpable. People were standing in a circle, some with linked arms, chanting. I understand that such moments are deeply threatening for those in power because they reveal the vulnerability behind such power and so I was aware that we were risking violence upon us and arrest for simply being there.

I was standing at the edge of the crowd. My experience was to be surrounded by officers in uniform who began pushing at us from all sides, but especially from the other side of the crowd.  There seemed to be at least as many officers as us; they were armed, we were not. I was against the wall and as people were pushed against me I could not move.  I took off my glasses because I was afraid of a stampede-like situation.  There was something jutting out of the wall between my friend (a Graduate Center student and an instructor at Brooklyn College) and me. An officer was pushing against her and yelling at her to move but she was caught in this tight space. Officers continued to push against us in a  line, like a steamroller, and it seemed like people would begin falling upon each other. I was scared.  An Officer Andrews began pushing my friend and only took his hands off her when she called out his name and we repeated it.  They were also holding video cameras and putting them close to people’s faces.  Once the crowd was separated and shoved down various stairways, I realized by bag was about thirty feet down the hallway. To illustrate the tenor of the moment, an officer –whose decency I truly appreciate — felt compelled to grab me around my arm in order to protect me from his
fellow officers as he accompanied me to get it.

A short while later when four of us – all CUNY instructors and two of us at Brooklyn College – were standing downstairs talking quietly in the hallway by the ATM machines we were yelled at by an officer (one
of a small group),  who told us we would get arrested ifwe remained there.  Beside us stood another Brooklyn College instructor who had never been part of the protest but was waiting for the stairway to be
opened so he could get to his office.  He too was threatened with arrest.  When I asked about the charge, the officer said for trespassing. I said that were all had CUNY IDs and moreover three of us were instructors at this college.  He responded that  unless we are physically in the act of teaching, it did not matter and we essentially had no claims to this space.  A group of full-time faculty then came to our aid and spoke on our behalf.  I hope I do not have to explicate how dehumanizing, devaluing, illegal,and disrespectful such an outlook is to workers.  Is it true that we can be arrested simply for standing at any moment when we are not engaged in the act of working?  Has this institution of thought and education really come to this?

I must confess, President Kelly, that I am unsure if these issues are of pressing concern to you.  I would be heartened to discover otherwise.  As many know, in November I wrote you an open letter regarding your decision to increase security and monitor your students at The Graduate Center  during the week after we were physically assaulted by CUNY security and NYPD on the Baruch campus while attempting to attend a public hearing. Many members of The Graduate Center community, including fellow students, alum, faculty, and staff, responded personally to me to express their concern about these issues; yet your voice was noticeably absent in the countless substantive discussions that have taken place throughout the Graduate Center over the past five months.  In particular, I was dismayed and surprised that you never made a statement in support of Graduate Center students who were unduly arrested on November 21st, which might have expedited their charges being dropped.  I was further dismayed and surprised when in January, ten of us were commanded by an administrator we needed to leave the 8th Floor cafeteria because “a group of ten” but potentially as small as “four” needed official permission to congregate (the latter part of this conversation was
audio recorded).  In light of your silence, it is difficult not to read such warnings by your employees as your unofficial communication. I understand that you are  in the unenviable and conflicted position of being an administrator in a larger institution that is systematically becoming less safe and interesting and more corporate and as an academic and a leader of university whose employees and students are creative, political, and believe in the power of ideas. Nonetheless, the balance you have struck does not appear to err on the side of solidarity, trust, or righteousness.

I hope you seize this opportunity to stand beside us.  Now is a good time to do so.  As this city and institutions of education within it become more exclusive and defend that exclusivity with weaponry and force, the people of CUNY and NYC are reclaiming public space.  The events of the past months and the past days show that even if you deny people access to a building, a room, or an institution, you cannot imprison their thoughts, sentiments, and beliefs or beat the resilience, love, or passion out of them.  In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Thank you for reading this letter.  Once again, your actions –or inaction – will be read as your response.