The following statement was distributed by the League for the Revolutionary Party on April 21, 2005 at the City College of New York (CCNY) campus.
CCNY’s administrators last week rescinded their suspension of the “City College Four,” who were arrested in connection with the protest against military recruitment at a job fair in Shepard Hall. At the March 9 event, the protestors were attacked by security in an orchestrated operation. Three students, Nick Bergreen, Justino Rodriguez and Hadas Thier were arrested; Nick and Justino were brutalized by the cops. Two days later, a Theater Department worker, Carol Lang, was taken from her office by security and arrested. All four were held for over 24 hours and charged with offenses such as assault, resisting arrest and obstruction.
CCNY President Gregory Williams quickly put out a statement to the entire campus claiming -- contrary to all non-cop observers at the event -- that the four had committed violence, not the police. The administration then took the unprecedented step of suspending all four and docking Carol’s pay -- without a hearing or finding of fact, claiming that they “posed a continuing danger” on campus -- an obvious fabrication.
Williams’ statement added: “We will not tolerate any acts of violence or other violations of campus public safety regulations by students, faculty or staff.” This too is a lie: Williams has not taken any steps to investigate or discipline the security officers who assaulted the demonstrators. He turns his back on police brutality; it’s only anti-war and other protesters he won’t “tolerate.” Williams & Co. have joined reactionary forces from Bush to Bloomberg in chopping away at civil liberties and the right to protest.
In response to the administration attacks, many people on campus and off have become involved in the City Defense Campaign, a coalition to defend the City College Four. In the month after the arrests, the Campaign held a rally and a town-hall meeting, continually handed out flyers on campus, raised funds to defend the Four and circulated a petition calling for the administration drop the charges and rescind the punishments. This kept up the pressure, and word of the CCNY Four has spread around the country. The fact that the Four were punished without any hearing, in the Alice-in-Wonderland spirit of “sentence first, trial afterward,” was seen as particularly outrageous.
The administration had clearly overreached, thinking they could scare people off with thuggish tactics, but this backfired. Disciplinary hearings scheduled for early April were cancelled, and the Four were allowed back on campus on Monday, April 11th. This represents a significant but partial victory for the campaign, won through the constant struggle of the defense campaign and the anger of many in the CCNY and broader community. But there is more to be done: the criminal charges must be dropped, and Carol Lang’s back pay -- nearly four weeks’ worth -- must be restored to her. Secretaries and other campus workers do not get the munificent salaries that the capitalist ruling class of this country affords its loyal servants like Williams.
The attack on the CCNY Four is a small sample of what passes for “justice” in the capitalist world. The U.S. is engaged in imperialist occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and making aggressive threats against Syria, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela. The U.S.-run prisons at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are horrific examples of modern American “justice”: imprisonment without trial, accompanied by torture. At home, the working class is under economic assault, since the capitalists can keep their profits up only by squeezing more out of working people here and abroad. Dissent is being strangled.
The crackdown at CCNY took place at a time when opposition to the anti-working-class assault is mounting. The war against Iraq is increasingly unpopular, and recruitment is sagging well below Washington’s needs for policing the world. For years, the U.S. has maintained an army combining hard-core volunteers with working-class youth, especially those of color, recruited through economic necessity. Stretched thin in Iraq, the military has sent into battle Reservists and National Guard troops who never expected to fight abroad. Re-enlistment is down, and “stop-loss” orders have forced thousands of soldiers into involuntarily extended tours of duty -- a “back-door draft.” Protests by soldiers, their families and outraged opponents of the war are growing. Resistance at high schools and colleges across the country has the Pentagon particularly worried.
The City University authorities, tailing their ruling-class bosses, have hardened their line against student, worker and faculty activists. CUNY is a working-class university, with a majority of Black, Latino, Asian and immigrant students. As part of the overall anti-worker and racist assault, cutbacks and rising costs at CUNY have become the norm over the years and have inspired numerous rounds of protests. Inevitably these attacks will accelerate, and protests will escalate. So police presence on CUNY campuses has been expanded, and arrests of student demonstrators on trumped-up charges is becoming standard practice. Miguel Malo of Hostos Community College still faces charges of assaulting security officers, three years after his arrest and beating in 2001 for holding a protest sign.
City College in particular is a symbol of protest and resistance. It was a hotbed of political radicalism in the 1930’s and ’40’s, the locus of the Black and Puerto Rican student upsurge that took over the campus to demand open admissions in 1969, and the center of the CUNY-wide student protests against tuition hikes in the late ’80’s and early ’90’s. In 1990, when the college awarded an honorary degree to Colin Powell, who was then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and fresh from engineering George Bush I’s brutal and racist invasion of Panama, a campus protest persuaded Powell not to show up.
More recently, a teach-in about the upcoming Afghan war in 2001 inspired tabloid headlines claiming that “CCNY Attacks America,” a charge shamefully echoed by the university’s Chancellor and Board of Trustees. A year ago, student and staff protesters exposed John Kerry as a supporter of Bush’s Iraq war when he made an early campaign stop at City College. This year, campus security has used police holding pens to restrict faculty and staff members demonstrating for a decent union contract.
The campaign to force the dropping of all charges against the “City College Four” continues. The hired thugs in uniform who police the campus to serve their masters in suits have to be exposed. Once again CCNY can take the lead in sparking a defense against the crippling assault on civil liberties across the country.
The LRP is proud to have taken part in all the anti-imperialist, anti-racist and working-class actions at City College for the past twenty years. Mass class struggle is the only way to stop the attacks on our class here and around the world, and to show fellow workers that they have the power not only to resist, but to put an end to the profit-gouging rule of the capitalists and create a new society run by and for the working classes. The LRP is dedicated to building the revolutionary working-class party that can show the way forward in these struggles.
(Checks or money orders payable to the City Defense Fund.)