•  HOME 
  •  BOOKS 
  •  WWP 
  •  DONATE 
  • Loading

Follow workers.org on
Twitter Facebook iGoogle

CCNY activists defend Assata Shakur and Guillermo Morales

Published Dec 21, 2006 10:22 PM

On Dec. 12, the New York Daily News printed a front-page attack on a community and student center named in honor of Puerto Rican freedom fighter Guillermo Morales and former Black Panther Assata Shakur. This center is located on the campus of City College of New York, also affectionately known as Harlem University.le>

From left: Ydanis Rodriguez, Rodolfo Leyton,
Lydia Shestopalova & Igwe Williams
speak at meeting on defending
Shakur/Morales center at CCNY, Dec. 15.
Photo: Mayibuye2

“Disgrace” was the front-page headline; the page 3 article managed, in just a few lines, to call Assata a “terrorist and cop killer.”

A slam was also sent Fidel Castro’s way, since Cuba has provided political exile for Assata after she escaped from a New Jersey prison in 1979. Assata had been falsely accused and then found guilty of murder of a white New Jersey state trooper in 1973 by an all-white jury.

Morales was a member of the Armed Forces for the Liberation of Puerto Rico (FALN) and was also granted political exile in Cuba.

It was no surprise that this attack on Assata and Guillermo came on the heels of a brutal killing by police of an unarmed Black man, Sean Bell, along with the wounding of his unarmed friends, Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman.

The full-page Daily News article went on to quote New York Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch on how “disgusting it was to honor a person whose life’s goal was to kill people.” Imagine that? Nowhere did the article point out that the center was a lighting rod for student political and social activism nor the community’s historical recognition of the center’s work. Somehow they neglected to talk about the evidence of Assata’s innocence and the FBI’s campaign against the Black Panther Party under COINTELPRO.

The outcome of the Daily News article was the removal of the center’s 17-year-old sign with the pictures of Shakur and Morales. An emergency community/student meeting was called on Dec. 15 at the North Academic Center (NAC) of City College to address the attacks by the Daily News and police on the center.

The students and faculty see this as a long-range plan by the administration not just to remove names. The organizers pointed out the battles won in the 1960s and 1970s are being overturned. Educational gentrification and ethnic cleansing was happening right in the open.

We crossed Amsterdam Avenue onto a campus that seemed not to show any signs of an event. Blue police uniforms were scurrying about and the police carts seemed strategically placed in front of a building. A lone student stood in the dark as we neared the NAC building. There were no visible signs for directions, only a student wearing a SLAM button. Very quietly, the student told us the community and students were locked out of the room and they had to resort to Underground Railroad techniques to get the community to the meeting.  Many community people were actually turned away by the police.

Why would a public institution put their campus on a lockdown to prevent a community meeting? Why would students be locked out of their own center, a center whose mission is to serve as a student community room?      

The meeting took place in a classroom offered by a long-time revered champion of educational and social justice, Dr. Leonard Jefferies. He opened his classroom to ensure the meeting could take place. The room was filled with students, faculty, former students and many other organizations and activists. The agenda was well organized and facilitated by members of the center, the Student Liberation Action Movement (SLAM) and Students for Educational Rights (SER). The most impacting moments came from faculty and former students who gave a crash course in the history of CCNY, which was once known as Free Academy.

The time line was plotted by Rodolfo Leyton, a volunteer at the center, and Ydanis Rodríguez of the Dominicans 2000.  As described, the policies and practices at City College were changed only after many Black and Puerto Rican students waged a victorious fight for free higher education in the late 1960s. The previous white-elite-male domination of CCNY was fought physically by a handful of Black and Brown students. SLAM members who work out of the Shakur/Morales Community Center explained what was won after the 1989 student hunger strike and takeover of City College.

Bill McGuire, an alumnus and lawyer representing students of SLAM, spoke of the case being prepared. He vowed to also bring charges against the intimidating tactics by the administration. The committed faculty promised to stand with each other and the students. Students involved in the struggle vowed to organize, educate and have actions of protest. The immediate action would include putting the center’s sign back up, even though it received a memo from City College Vice President Ramona Brown threatening college disciplinary action.

Joy Simmons, spokesperson for City Council Member Charles Barron, stated Mr. Barron’s support and pledge to put the sign back. Community leaders and activists in attendance promised grass-roots pressure as well.

The meeting ended with a determined chant, “Hands off Assata and Morales!” No amount of media spin would cause the community to forget the FBI’s COINTELPRO.

On Dec. 20, there will be a gathering at the NAC Plaza, which is across from the Administration Building. There will then be a march to deliver a statement of demands to President Gregory Williams of CCNY. For more information, contact the Morales/Shakur Community & Student Center at 212-650-5008. E-mail: [email protected].

—Agnes Johnson
International Action Center volunteer member