Drop all accusations against the CUNY 22!

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By Creative Media News

  • Mumia Abu-Jamal supports CUNY Gaza protest
  • CUNY 22 face trial for encampment
  • NYPD accused of protester violence

On the evening of April 26, Mumia Abu-Jamal visited the City University of New York (CUNY) Gaza Solidarity Encampment. CUNY students and workers, as well as our Harlem neighbours, gathered around the flagpole in the centre of the campsite to hear Mumia speak in solidarity with the protesting students, the people of Gaza, and the thousands of political prisoners held captive in Israeli prisons.

Mumia had spent his 70th birthday two days before in Pennsylvania’s Mahanoy prison, where he is serving a death sentence for more than 40 years. Mumia, like many of his Black Panther Party comrades, including Sekou Odinga, Jalil Muntaqim, and Herman Bell, has spent decades in prison as a result of political persecution.

On June 12, 22 protesters from the CUNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment faced trial. Like the 13 students jailed at Stanford University for occupying an administrative building, they are facing felony burglary charges. In my opinion, these unjust allegations, which could result in a seven-year prison sentence, are part of a strategic campaign to repress the Palestinian liberation movement.

The protestors, known as the CUNY 22, were detained on April 30 when the New York Police Department (NYPD) was summoned to campus to raid the encampment with CUNY’s police force. The two police units on campus that night pepper-sprayed protesters, resulting in allegations of fractured bones and concussions.

I feel that by allowing the NYPD to campus, senior officials at CUNY failed in their obligation to protect students and employees, and they hold responsibility for the violence perpetrated on our community that night, which has resulted in the politically driven charges now facing CUNY 22.

Prosecutors have also contributed to the hyperpolicing of mixed-race, working-class areas by charging the CUNY 22 with criminal offences.

From the Stop Line 3 movement in Minnesota to the Stop Cop City movement in Georgia, many prosecutors use mass felony charges to crush organizing, mistakenly believing that they can criminalize movements into extinction when, in reality, repression breeds bolder and more creative forms of resistance.

Following CUNY 22’s violent arrests, New York State amended its penal code to broaden the scope of felony burglary accusations, particularly when prosecuting groups. Along with the growing use of racketeering charges against protestors and the criminalization of bail funds, this modification in the penal code gives prosecutors a new tool for suppressing radical movements.

Taking advantage of the moral panic surrounding shoplifting, New York’s penal code reform is being utilized to enhance monitoring, surveillance, and imprisonment of working-class and poor New Yorkers.

The same police unit that raided the CUNY campsite on April 30 and brutalized the Nakba Day protest in Brooklyn a few weeks later routinely harasses Black, immigrant, and homeless individuals. We must resist the rising persecution and criminalization of our movement. Liberation is a collective effort, which means that we must demolish all fences, from Rikers to Palestine to the Mexican border. We campaign for the eradication of all settler states, from the United States to Israel, as well as jails and police forces worldwide.

In 1966, James Baldwin said, “Harlem is policed like occupied territory”. This is still the situation today, which is why the CUNY encampment demands “cops off campus” and the demilitarization of Harlem. It is no accident that the NYPD trains with Israel’s military and has an office in occupied Palestine; the police of the Black community in Harlem and Palestinians from Gaza to East Jerusalem to Bay Ridge are both part of the same settler colonial, imperialist, gendered racial capitalism system.

The brutality used against CUNY students on April 30 is precisely what cops will be educated in at the projected “Cop City,” a 16-agency compound that will cost at least $225 million (but most likely much more). This so-called “Cop City” is part of Mayor Eric Adams’ vision of New York, which includes thousands of police officers on the subway and a new multibillion-dollar borough-based jail system but no weekend library service. This strategy, predictably, implies substantial budget cutbacks for CUNY.

The CUNY encampment’s five demands (a tribute to the five demands of the 1969 student occupation at City College) include a people’s CUNY with free tuition, living wages, and “comprehensive support for students including Metrocards, housing, food, healthcare, and mental health counselling” The demands also include a call to divest CUNY’s funds from the decades-long occupation of Palestine (as CUNY did from apartheid South Africa in 1984), as well as a call to boycott Israeli universities, which are foundational institutions in the Zionist project and are inextricably linked to the Israeli military.

The encampment’s third demand, “Solidarity with the Palestine Liberation Struggle: Protect CUNY Students and Workers for Expressing Solidarity with the Palestine Liberation Struggle,” is especially significant. This requirement also applies to community members because CUNY is a public university whose movements have traditionally incorporated community participation.

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Elements of the university administration are pushing the narrative that “outside agitators” have taken over the protests at CUNY, endangering student-employee safety and necessitating an NYPD presence on campus. This is a tremendous insult to innumerable Black Harlem organizers who have battled for decades to ensure community ownership of City College, which was formerly “almost as lily white during the day as the campus of the University of Mississippi”, according to a 1965 Amsterdam News editorial.

Over the last eight months, the Israeli military (with the US government’s unrelenting political, financial, and military support) has attacked every university in Gaza, killing thousands of students in a “scholasticide” of horrible proportions. As Israel continues its homicidal asymmetrical war on Gaza with the invasion of Rafah, we must stand with the CUNY 22 in solidarity with the Gazan people and the Palestinian liberation fight. As a professor at CUNY, I am happy to support the Gaza Solidarity Encampment’s five requests and stand in solidarity with the CUNY 22.

Drop the charges now! Free all political prisoners, CUNY, and Palestine!

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