Letter to Brooklyn College President Karen Gould: Get Security off Students’ Backs!

The Executive Committee of the Brooklyn College Chapter of the Professional Staff Congress – CUNY (PSC-CUNY) has written to the President of Brooklyn College, Karen Gould, regarding the assaults on, and arrests of, CUNY students by CUNY Security at Brooklyn College on May 2nd. Please take the time to read the letter–reproduced below–in its entirety and help spread the word.

(For background, including links to videos, President Gould’s response, student letters, petition links please consult the Reclaim Brooklyn blog. As I’ve noted before on this blog, this kind of response by campus security is a classic piece of intimidation that always, without fail, succeeds in creating a hostile, combative, threatening atmosphere, and almost invariably results in students getting hurt. And as noted here before as well, the police continue to harass and abuse those that are ‘on their side.)
Dear President Gould,

We are very concerned about several aspects of the administration’s handling of yesterday’s student demonstration concerning access to CUNY. Our members were harassed, verbally abused, and physically assaulted by security staff. We witnessed excessive use of force by CUNY security staff against students, faculty, and staff and feel that this demonstration was handled in an unnecessarily aggressive and intolerant way. We call for 1) a college-wide conversation about demonstration policies on campus, 2) the exclusion of CUNY Central security personnel from campus, 3) a meeting between you and Student Union members to discuss their concerns about access to and conditions at Brooklyn College, and 4) the dropping of all charges against students, including the vacating of any Adjournment Contemplating Dismissal (ACDs) plea agreements.

There is a long and very valuable history of student activism and protest on college campuses, in the United States and around the world. We honor that history by making sure that our campus is a space where students can express their concerns in a non-violent way—even in a manner that may be loud and make some of us uncomfortable—without fear of physical assault. The students sitting in yesterday are our students; we have an obligation to listen to and work with them. The show of force with which these students—who have tried to meet with you in the past—were met contradicts the spirit of dialogue and education that define our institution.

Access to campus

We have received numerous complaints from our members and students about the extraordinary controls placed on access to the east side of campus. The zero tolerance policy and aggressive demeanor of guards seemed totally out of proportion to the events occurring on campus. Our members reported delays entering campus and in one incident involving a female staff member, a physical altercation, because one guard did not see that another guard had already checked the member’s ID. Several members and students reported that students were late to class because of ID’s without proper validation stickers or forgotten ID’s. While we object in principle to intensive access controls to the College, we further question the implementation of a “zero tolerance” policy with no advanced notice. In many cases we witnessed students being forced to choose between having their ID’s confiscated or attempting to negotiate the validation process on the spot in a situation in which they were trying to get to class on time. We object to any future zero tolerance policy on ID’s, especially when no prior notice has been given to students, so that they can correct their ID problems in advance.

It has also come to our attention that much of this aggressive posture was the result of fears concerning the involvement of the Occupy Wall Street movement. These concerns do not seem valid to us and represent the fears of CUNY Central, which have been manifest in past demonstrations, including one sponsored by the PSC at Baruch College last fall, concerning adjunct health insurance. The reality is that many students and our members identify with and participate in Occupy Wall Street events, workgroups, and demonstrations. This movement, while loud and defiant, has been overwhelmingly non-violent and the Executive Committee of the PSC welcomed their presence on campus yesterday. None of these guests were involved in the sit in outside the President’s office or the arrests that followed.

Handling of the Sit-in

We are very troubled by the actions of CUNY security officials in removing the students participating in the sit in and the students, faculty, and staff observing these events. We appreciate your intentions in asking security officials to avoid arrests of students. Arrests should always be a last result in a non-violent demonstration on campus. However, the use of force by security personnel should be just as important if not more so. Those of us who directly observed these events reported excessive use of force in removing students from your office doorway and in the removal of observers and onlookers from the second floor.

One of our central concerns was the haste with which this dispersal was carried out. This was an entirely non-violent protest with small but noisy groups of supporters and observers. Many of us deal with unwanted noise in our offices on a routine basis as a result of construction, maintenance, and other routine activities on campus. In addition, you and your staff had access to alternate means of egress to and from your office. Therefore, this was not an emergency situation. Instead of talking with the students and engaging with them in an orderly and safe fashion, we observed an enforcement action that was overly rushed, poorly executed, and ill conceived and resulted in unnecessary injuries and arrests and a poisoning of relations between student activists and the administration, which may have long lasting consequences.

We noted in particular the aggressive posture of non-uniform security personnel dispatched by CUNY Central. These personnel appeared to be at the center of the decision to deal hastily and violently with those sitting in and to approach those observing and supporting the event with aggression.

In addition, we found the conduct of some individual officers to be wholly unprofessional. The officer that made the accusation of assault against one of the students was witnessed assaulting that student after he objected to the violent treatment of fellow students, one of whom is disabled and required EMT treatment at the scene.

Two faculty observing the demonstration were berated by a security official for leading the students to take this action, teaching them to be violent, etc. A third faculty member, who was merely trying to access their office on that floor, was similarly chastised and is deeply upset about the experience. At least one other faculty member and one professional staff member, neither of whom had any connection to the demonstration, have complained to us about being physically assaulted by security on the second floor and two adjunct professors were threatened with arrest on the 1st floor while talking in front of the ATM machine.

We feel that many of the problems associated with this event could have been avoided if the following actions had been taken:

1)      You had agreed to meet with the Student Union concerning their legitimate grievances concerning tuition increases, reduced access to CUNY, and inadequate student resources on campus.

2)      You had reduced or eliminated the role of CUNY Central security in the planning and implementation of security procedures for this event.

3)      You had instructed security personnel to act in a considered and deliberate manner with demonstrators and avoid not just arrest but also the unnecessary use of force.

We hereby request a meeting sometime in the next 14 days between you, your senior security staff, concerned students, and us, to discuss the events of May 2nd and to develop a process for a broader conversation about security procedures on campus.

Sincerely,

The Executive Committee of the Brooklyn College Chapter of the Professional Staff Congress – CUNY
AFT, AFL-CIO

2 comments on “Letter to Brooklyn College President Karen Gould: Get Security off Students’ Backs!

  1. Daniel Kaufman says:

    Fight the Good Fight Samir. This is really important stuff. Thanks for bringing it to the attention of those of us who are no longer in NY and may not be up to speed on what’s going on.

    My best wishes to you and all involved.

    –DK

  2. Samir Chopra says:

    Dan,

    Thanks. The security staff’s behavior was outrageous; they seem to forget that students are the reason for the university’s existence. And yes, please, do spread the word about this.

    best,
    Samir

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