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Violence Against Pro-Palestine Student Protesters Affirms We Are on the Right Side of History

A student protester reflects on the police raid of the CUNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment at City College on Tuesday night.

Ayesha Khan May 2

There is power in community. There is power in thought, in conversation and in proximity. That power forces resistance. It is the only thing that can save us from ourselves.

On Thursday, April 25, a group of CUNY students and faculty found their way to CUNY City College of New York and erected the CUNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment (GSE). A little over twenty tents filled up the sparse grass patches, the Palestinian flag rose on the pole at the center of the quad, and colorful posters and artwork made their way throughout the encampment. It was an act of solidarity with the people of Palestine who are experiencing a horrific genocide on the land they’ve called home for thousands of years.

It is important to note that this encampment on the CUNY campus came a few days after Columbia University students set up their own camp in solidarity with the Palestinian people. The purpose of this encampment (and that of the numerous others that have since popped up around the country and world) is mainly advocating for our academic institutions to divest their money from weapons manufacturers and Israel, whose government is systematically oppressing and murdering the Palestinian people. This particular effort at City College was inspired by the Five Demands protest and Takeover of 1969  — an effort where Puerto Rican and Black students took over the campus demanding, among other things, open admissions at CUNY.

Once the CUNY GSE was set up, the number of tents, art and people only grew. Faculty and students came with their young children to join performances and craft workshops. People scattered throughout the camp listened in to the various teach-ins and talks. Multi-faith prayers were held, and food and supply donations piled high. Meanwhile, public safety “peace” officers and the NYPD occasionally circled the camp, questioning and intimidating protesters.

Around midday on Tuesday, April 30, the CUNY administration communicated that it refused to negotiate with the organizers, and that the encampment and protesters had until the next morning to leave campus. Classes were moved online and campus buildings were closed to all. By 6:30 p.m. that night, over one hundred NYPD officers and numerous police vans and arrest buses flooded the campus. Every single entrance was barricaded (which was a process that had already been starting over the past few days) as hundreds of protesters started surrounding and supporting our fellow peers from outside the gates. By 8 p.m., even more police in riot gear took over entire street blocks, using sirens, pepper spray and tear gas against protesters. At around 11 p.m., police violently and without warning began arresting people inside the encampment. With absolute brute force, the NYPD completely destroyed the GSE and arrested 133 people.

The “days of liberation” are kept neatly hung in paintings in fancy halls and celebrated with red, white and blue paper toys every summer in July.

The night of April 30 is a shameful stain on the NYC government that unnecessarily escalated a student movement, the NYPD who did not protect or serve, and the CUNY/CCNY leadership who knowingly threw their own students and faculty in harm’s way. And while this despicable attempt to muffle the CUNY resistance happened, the NYPD was also sent to destroy the Columbia encampment, arresting students less than twenty blocks south of CCNY.

On Tuesday night, our city attacked its own schools, teachers and students. On that night, our leadership cowered behind violence instead of listening to the pleas and voices of their constituents. On that night, we were punished for being on the right side of history.

As young students, we are told to have a voice. We are told to use that voice. It seems, though,  that our voice is limited to words that are easy to hear. This incessant need to control and strangle the voice and soul of people has become the bedrock of  American institutions (and in many cases, it always has been). 

The “days of liberation” are kept neatly hung in paintings in fancy halls and celebrated with red, white and blue paper toys every summer in July. But that is all that liberation is allowed to be — nostalgia. Liberation has been traded in for daintier words like order and peace. 

Calls for order ring hollow in this cruel, prejudiced world. There is no peace if my fellow human beings are being oppressed and brutalized.

Nights like April 30 fall in line with a long stream of betrayals that my generation has felt for as long as we can remember. From the absolute mockery of gun regulation in this country, especially while mass shootings mount, to the crippling of social goods and resources, we have not been given the care and protection every young generation deserves. 

What happened in Upper Manhattan on April 30 is yet another example. But events like this also have a knack for creating momentum that no one saw coming. In a society that does not protect us, we protect ourselves. As our governments and schools continue to fail us and fail vulnerable people everywhere, we are taking a stand against complicity and oppression. My peers at CUNY — and all around the world — have locked arms in this continued fight.

In a few decades, the history books will look back at this time and its aftermath, celebrating our bravery, righteousness and youth. But today, we know we are brave and right. That is our power. That is how we will save ourselves. 

Photos of Gaza Solidarity Encampment at City College on April 25, the first day it was made by students. Taken by Elias Guerra.

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