What Really Happened At Baruch On Nov 21st, 2011

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Images of the French Revolution and mob violence flashed across my mind last week as I stood in front of the clashing forces of NYPD/CUNY Safety personals and CUNY student protesters. By now you’ve undoubtedly heard about the protest and more, about how the protesting students refused to leave the VC lobby and where arrested, about how Baruch students were throwing books on police officers, perhaps even rumors of violence on both sides. I’ve had a week to mull over what I saw that day and allow my emotions to simmer down, and I believe it’s time to review what happened that day in preparation of another round of protests today, November 28th 2011.

1. Why protest: There’s no doubt that the students were mainly protesting over possible CUNY tuition hike over the next few years, in an attempt to capture the attention of the board of trustees. Publically, the protest was not related to Occupy Wall-Street, despite individuals handing out OWS related fliers at the time. Yet there were also many protest signs for the health benefits of adjunct professors and chants against the privatization of CUNY. In this sense the protest was akin to the UC Davis protest that received national coverage the weekend before.

2. Who started the violence: I would be the first to admit that the students refused to leave the vertical campus lobby despite repeated police orders. The protesters also acted inappropriately on a few occasions. More than once up to 20 individuals were banging on the glass wall near the first floor VC entrance in a misguided attempt to get their message across. The protesters in the lobby ultimately decided to chant “cops out of CUNY Campus” and sat on the lobby floor. This is when the police started pushing the students violently through the side lobby door, where two officers were planted a few minutes before to bar them from reentering. Both parties are at fault, the protestors for refusing to leave when ordered, and the police/safety personals for pushing the students out forcefully.

3. Escalation: There seems to be wide spread report that the students were throwing textbooks on police officers during the protest (Even the New York Times reported it Here). In reality no textbook were involved, after all who is dumb enough to throw away our overpriced textbooks for chance to assault an officer? From the Baruch president’s email I’ve also learned that no students were injured during the protest, although my own recording seems to indicate police used inappropriate force against protestors who were refusing to leave. You can see 5 police officers tripping and shoving a student on the ground below, I would not be surprised if some injury were sustained by the student.

While I have many grievances with how both parties acted during the protest at Baruch last Monday, deep down I know we were lucky that it did not get much worse. Compare to the outrageous treatment of students at UC Davis and in other Occupy movements the police at Baruch acted with much less undue force. It could’ve gone much worse than my classes rescheduled today, and I sincerely hope the rescheduling will help to somewhat deflate the tension at VC later today. Many issues will be at the stakes again during today’s protest, freedom of speech, students’ right to assembly, the public-private partnership of the CUNY system, the role of NYPD at CUNY campuses, and least of all a 300 dollar tuition hike next semester.

*Image by Dave Sanders of The New York Times

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