The following article was originally published in Proletarian Revolution No. 79 (Winter 2007).
A student center at City College of New York (CCNY) is under political attack from the gutter press, the cops and the City University (CUNY) administration because of its name.
As a result of the successful CUNY-wide student protest against tuition hikes in 1989, the City College group that initiated the struggle was given permanent use of a centrally located office room. They named it the Guillermo Morales/Assata Shakur Community and Student Center, after two former CCNY students who had become political prisoners as fighters for Puerto Rican independence and Black liberation.
Their backgrounds in brief: Morales was a member of the FALN, a Puerto Rican liberation group that took responsibility for several bombings in New York and nearby in the 1970's. Shakur had been a member of the Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army. She had been charged with several bank robberies and other crimes, but was acquitted every time. Then in 1973, when she and two comrades were driving on the New Jersey Turnpike and were pulled over by state troopers, shooting broke out. Assata’s companion, Zayd Malik Shakur, was killed by the cops; Assata was wounded. She and the other comrade, Sundiata Acoli, were caught and arrested. Acop who had arrived at the scene ended up dead, shot by persons unknown.
Assata and Sundiata were charged with both killings, even though defense witnesses who proved that she had not fired a gun were unchallenged by the prosecution. In an atmosphere of hysteria, they were convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to life-plus. Later, both Morales and Shakur escaped prison and ended up in exile in Cuba; Acoli remains a political prisoner. Shakur has since been officially labeled a dangerous terrorist, and the U.S. government has offered a $1 million bounty for her capture.
The Center, ironically directly beneath the office suite of campus security, has remained under the control of radical student groups since 1989. A large sign with its full name and pictures of Morales and Shakur has been hanging outside the room above the door all that time. There have been various hassles over the years, including a still-pending lawsuit against the College for setting up a disguised surveillance camera covering the room entrance.
On December 12, the Daily News, the second-most scurrilous rag among major New York tabloids, ran a page-one photo of a young Black woman with a gun under the headline “DISGRACE!,” complaining that the sign over the student center has been named after the notorious cop killer, Joanne Chesimard, Assata Shakur’s given name. An inside headline read, “‘Terrorist’ Lauded at CCNY.” Other bourgeois media joined in the garish coverage. And although the City College administration at first said it would not intervene, CUNY Chancellor Goldstein demanded that the sign be removed, and the College capitulated. The next night the sign was surreptitiously taken down by the authorities, and the students from the Center were told that they would be disciplined if they put it back up.
The College’s new-found concern about this “terrorist” in their midst is especially hypocritical, since they repeatedly bestow honors upon Colin Powell, a CCNY graduate who has had a distinguished career involving planning mass slaughters in Panama and Iraq, covering up of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, and lying (as he has now admitted) to the U.N. over Saddam Hussein’s invisible weapons of mass destruction. Most recently CCNY has proudly announced a $10 million grant to the Colin Powell Center for Policy Studies on campus.
The timing of this media-provoked scandal is significant. It comes amid weeks of protest against the police murder of Sean Bell in a barrage of 50 bullets, and seems clearly designed to undercut the anti-police sentiment growing in the city, especially among Black people. The obvious intent is to make killer cops look like heroic victims. That would go some way to explaining why the focus has been on Shakur as opposed to Morales, who under normal conditions would be the more obvious choice for an “anti-terrorist” campaign. But Shakur’s “crime” involved cops, so she became the designated hit-person.
One of the vilest comments came from Patrick Lynch, head of the police “union,” the PBA. He said, “It's outrageous that any student body would honor someone like Joanne Chesimard. Joanne Chesimard is a cold-blooded murderer. She is a cockroach!” Lynch also defended the killer cops in the Sean Bell case, stating that “the amount of shots were not excessive.”
Lynch was the “labor leader” chosen by Transport Workers Local 100 president Roger Toussaint to chair the rally he held last summer before he went to prison for a week over the transit strike a year ago. Toussaint, who has been highly visible in the marches against the Bell shooting, has not seen fit to denounce the multiple racist insults of his “brother unionist.”
There have been several meetings and rallies at City College to protest CUNY’s blatant violation of its own past agreement, student rights and free speech. The Center has filed a new lawsuit. Defenders of the Center are planning a forum and a teach-in for the start of the new term in February. Contact the Center at 212-650-5008 or the LRP for further information.