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A new report on a 2011 CUNY protest that saw more than a dozen arrests leaves core questions unanswered while misrepresenting evidence of police violence.
On November 21, 2011, City University of New York students and faculty assembled with others at Baruch College for a public meeting of the CUNY board of trustees. The gathering, which took place six days after police rousted the Occupy Wall Street encampment at Zuccotti Park, was large and boisterous, and turned confrontational after police and CUNY security blocked most of those in attendance from the room in which the meeting was taking place. Fifteen demonstrators were arrested in the clash that followed, amid reports of rough behavior from baton-wielding cops.
In the weeks after the confrontation CUNY commissioned an independent report on the incident, and that report, prepared by the Kroll consulting firm, has just been released. But the 65-page report fails to confront the exclusion of most protesters from the trustee meeting, a central issue for the demonstrators and a crucial question for CUNY to address going forward. Additionally, it misrepresents the state of the public record on the question of whether police used inappropriate force during the course of the demonstration.
The Kroll report documents that CUNY administrators expected, and prepared for, a large turnout for the public hearing on November 21, which was staged to allow comment on proposed tuition hikes. Administrators and security officials held a series of planning meetings and police trainings in the run-up to the hearing, at which some 79 security officers were made available to manage crowd control. Despite this planning, and the fact that the purpose of the hearing was to facilitate public comment on CUNY policies, the meeting was held in a room which the Kroll report describes as having a capacity of just 120 people, while an “overflow” room with a one-way video hookup was provided in an entirely different part of the building from the hearing itself.
Protesters’ frustration with their exclusion from the meeting was the primary source of conflict that day. The Kroll report makes that clear. The report, however, never so much as raises the possibility that a different choice of venue might have led to a better outcome, or engages with the question of whether CUNY might have done more to facilitate public access to the hearing. This omission is particularly striking given the fact that the report’s witnesses note that the room was filled to capacity nearly an hour before the hearing’s scheduled start time, leaving more than a hundred members of the public — a large majority of them, by all accounts, students — unable to participate. (Barbara Bowen, the president of the CUNY faculty union, has described the hearing room as having a posted capacity of 300, which would have provided ample space for all those present at Baruch that day. It’s not at all clear where the Kroll report’s figure of 120 came from.)
The most generous interpretation of CUNY’s meeting planning is that the university prioritized crowd control over the university community’s ability to provide input into the institution’s tuition and governance policies. A more cynical observer might reasonably conclude that the trustees’ intentional restriction of access was itself a root cause of the conflict that followed. That these questions remain unexplored is a glaring defect in the Kroll report.
A second, and more dramatic, flaw in the report is what can only be described as a fundamental misrepresentation of the available evidence of police misconduct. Alleging that its investigators “found no evidence to suggest that any of the protesters were injured during the struggle,” the report claims that the CUNY department of public safety “received no complaints indicating that anyone had been injured, even superficially,” and that Kroll did not “find any evidence to the contrary,” either in its interviews with participants or “in its review of public records, social media, and video evidence.” (Emphasis mine.)
The first contradiction to this sweeping declaration comes in the very next sentence, in which a reporter from the Hunter College student newspaper who interviewed a number of protesters is said to have described several of them as “banged up and bruised.” My own research, moreover — which took the form of a twenty-minute Google search — turned up the following:
- A New York Times story on the demonstration described protest organizer and participant Carlos Pazmino, a City College student, as having witnessed CUNY public safety officers “hitting … students with the batons.” The Times quoted Pazmino as saying that he had seen “two people knocked down by cops … and one guy’s head was bleeding.”
- In a Daily News story, Hunter alum Michelle O’Brien was quoted as saying “the officers were attacking us,” while Baruch undergraduate Brittany Robinson said police “started pushing us and beating us” without provocation.
- A Daily Kos liveblog declared that a journalist who covered the hearing had been injured when police threw her into a revolving door, and that witnesses had described another participant as having been “taken away bleeding from the head or face.”
- A story in the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that one witness had told their reporter that “several students had been struck” with batons. The Chronicle reporter himself said he had seen “a young woman’s head on the floor, under an officer’s knee.”
- In comments on an NYU Local piece, Hunter College student newspaper staffer Tiffany Huan said that she had been “beaten” and “sexually harassed.”
- In an article on the CUNY faculty union website, Huan said she was grabbed by her hair and thrown to the ground, leaving her “in so much pain … I could barely stand up.”
- In an article in the Baruch student newspaper, demonstrator Kevin Tighe said that “a lot of people got beat up really badly,” while demonstrator Denise Romero alleged that there were injuries among the protesters.
- In a blogpost, Brooklyn College student Zachary Poliski said that officers struck demonstrators with batons, and that one student’s head was bloodied.
- A commenter on a YouTube video who described him or herself as an eyewitness said that “students were beaten” by police.
By my count that’s seven witnesses, five of them named, who claimed to have seen police beating protesters. Three witnesses, two named, said they saw a demonstrator bloodied, and at least four witnesses alleged other injuries. And again, that’s what I found in twenty minutes. But in a yearlong investigation, Kroll says, they found no evidence — none — “that anyone had been injured, even superficially,” in the demonstration.
Only one of the eight named eyewitnesses I cite above is mentioned in the Kroll report, and that witness, Tiffany Huan, is named only in the context of a dismissal of her charges of sexual harassment. Her claim that police violence left her “in so much pain [she] could barely stand up” is not addressed.
I’ve written to Kroll to request comment on these issues, and I’ll let you know what — if anything — I hear back.
On Saturday night two campus cops were sent to the dorm room of Graham Gaddis, a first-year student at the University of Kentucky, responding to a report that he’d been seen pouring liquor out of the room’s window. While the cops waited, Gaddis set up a video camera, turned it on, and pointed it at the door.
In the video that follows, Gaddis can be seen denying the allegations against him, then refusing the cops entry, then refusing to move his foot so that they can go around him and into the room. He says they need a warrant, they say they have “administrative rights.”
“Do you want to be kicked out of this university?” one asks. “Because I can pave that road.”
“You have braces,” Gaddis replies. “Nice.”
That’s about when the cursing starts. “Fuck you guys,” Gaddis says. “You guys suck dick. You can’t find shit.” That’s right after he makes a weird, mocking “nee nee nee nee nee” sound at them.
After that, they start debating procedure. “Have you ever read the student code of conduct?” a cop asks. “Multiple times.” “Okay, cool. Then you should know well…”
Gaddis interrupts. “So the student code of conduct — if a cop comes to your door you have to let him in? Nah. Your fucking dorm is exactly the same as your house. You have the exact same privacy rights. You cannot come in my room without consent.” The cop says that’s right, but that administrative representatives, not cops, have the right to enter. When Gaddis asks why his RA isn’t conducting the search, then, the cop says “your belligerence.”
“I’m belligerent, dude? Are you fucking stupid?”
After that they just all hang out for a while, debating the Fourth Amendment, until Gaddis interrupts one too many times.
“No no no! Shut up!” a cop yells. “I’m talking! Okay? I am talking! I am in charge here! This is what’s going to happen. We’re just going to leave your ass alone. And we’re going to write up a Student Contact, and we’re going to the dean of students, and we’re going to kick your ass out of this university. Where you’re going is home. Don’t even bother paying your tuition next semester. Because you’re going.”
Then they apparently walk away, and as they do, Gaddis calls after them. “Good point, guys, good point. Sorry I kicked you out of my room. I just owned you guys. Fuck you guys. You can’t come in my room.”
That’s when the cop comes back, shoves him, and bursts into the room: “I can come in your room, because I’m a university administrator, stud.”
They proceed to search the room while the student continues to mock them.
As of yesterday morning, the video had been watched more than a hundred thousand times on YouTube.
Yesterday afternoon the cop was fired.
Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton helped establish the Chicago Panthers as an organization providing community services for the poor and brokered a treaty between the street gangs of the city — all before his twenty-first birthday.
Hampton was murdered by police on this date in 1969, shot down in his bed as he slept with his heavily pregnant girlfriend beside him.
Here’s Hampton, just weeks before he died, responding to the Days of Rage, a Weatherman riot in his hometown of Chicago.
“We believe that the Weatherman action is anarchistic, opportunistic, individualistic. It’s chauvinistic, it’s Custeristic. And that’s the bad part about it. It’s Custeristic in that its leaders take people into situations where the people can be massacred — and they call that a revolution. It’s nothing but child’s play, it’s folly. We think these people may be sincere but they’re misguided. They’re muddleheads and they’re scatterbrains.”
A new North Carolina law makes it a crime for any student to, “with the intent to intimidate or torment a school employee,”
a. Build a fake profile or Web site.
b. Post or encourage others to post on the Internet private, personal, or sexual information pertaining to a school employee.
c. Post a real or doctored image of the school employee on the Internet.
When I was in tenth grade, my school’s principal ordered the installation of several video cameras at the school’s entrances (and, if memory serves, in certain hallways). The year was 1984, and I was pretty bookish for a juvenile delinquent, so I ran off a handful of 8.5 by 11 posters bearing her photo and the message “BIG SISTER IS WATCHING YOU,” and taped them up around the school.
Did I intend to torment her with these posters? You bet I did.
Which means that if I’d done this today, in North Carolina, and I’d put a photo of one of the posters on Tumblr, I’d have been guilty of “cyber-bullying” under section 14-458.2(b)(1)c of the General Statutes of the state. My act would have been a Class 2 misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to one thousand dollars along with possible community service or house arrest.
Just for making fun of my principal on Tumblr.
A student was shot and killed, apparently by police, at a protest against tax hikes and university privatization plans at the Dominican Republic’s largest public university.
William Florian Ramírez, identified in some news reports as Wilfredo or Willy, was a 22-year-old medical student at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo, where the protests broke out on Thursday morning. According to witnesses, he was not a participant in the demonstration.
The students were protesting a newly-enacted increase in sales taxes from 16 to 18 percent, as well as plans to privatize the university, which enrolls nearly two hundred thousand students. Activists charge that the nation’s budget deficit is a result of corruption and mismanagement by the ruling Dominican Liberation Party.
Some demonstrators threw rocks at police during the clash, as police fired tear gas and automatic weapons on the crowd. Police say they have video evidence that at least one protester fired a gun at their officers. (Spanish language link.)
One union leader said the fatal shot came from an AK-47, and activists said other students were also injured in the incident. (Spanish-language link. Warning: Graphic images.) A bullet taken from Florian Ramirez’s body has been sent for testing, and police say they are investigating the incident.
Classes at the university have been suspended through Saturday. (Spanish language link.)