SJP Events Still Face A High Amount of Police Presence
By Clifford Michel & Jeremy L. Pasker
Students for Justice in Palestine’s chapter (SJP) at CSI encountered a heavy police presence on September 18 as they held a silent vigil against social injustice, one week after other student groups held a similar silent remembrance without a police presence.
“Our motivation was to connect struggles and offer support and solidarity to marginalized and oppressed people around the world,” expressed Nerden Mohsen, President of SJP at CSI. “We wanted to raise awareness about these injustices and create a conversation on campus about them.”
Near the water fountain behind the Center for the Arts, CUNY Public Safety officers placed three sets of barricades around SJP’s vigil. One barricade blocked off the path between the Library and the the Performing Arts Building, another cut off the walkway near the CFA and the Campus Center, and the other was placed outside rear walkway entrance of the CFA. Beside the barricades, safety officers laid out two portable flood light towers, and stationed a police car.
“The amount of security and administration at the event was appalling,” SAID Mohsen. “It was not what I had previously agreed upon with public safety and the administration at my meeting with them.”
SJP was told that the extra security outside their demonstration against state oppression was due to an anticipated counter protest.
“This made us feel like they assumed we were hostile,” TOLD Mohsen. “CSI does not just set up barricades for ‘counter protest’ at every event and gathering but we were treated like our cause is supposed to have opposition.”
Running into the issue before, Nerden Mohsen, SJP at CSI’s President, met with the boards of administration and public safety to discuss the arrangements of the vigil.
“We did not want it to be a protest,” reported Mohsen “It was supposed to be a safe space for us students to mourn together but the actions of public safety and the administration prevented that.”
SJP members and students silently held up signs stating: “your tax dollars kill one child in Gaza every hour” and “Palestinians hunger for justice.” Participants also held signs that coincide with the Ferguson killing of Michael Brown and quotes from Martin Luther King Jr.
Other clubs on campus that occasionally hold political protests, including CUNY DREAMers, Hillel, and NYPIRG do not receive a police presence.
“Their presence made students feel intimidated,” Explained Mohsen. “Their presence made students feel intimidated.”
CUNY professors have voiced their opinions about the treatment SJP chapters have received in the past in an open letter to administration released in early September. The letter was signed by over 100 CUNY professors including 16 from CSI.
The professors have confronted CUNY campuses and the central offices on the grounds of free speech, accusations made by separate organizations, and comparing the treatment of SJP to other advocacy groups.
“We call upon members of the administration throughout the CUNY system to treat SJP as they would any other student organization, respecting their right to organize events and activities within the existing rules and practices governing such organizations and refraining from setting up unfair barriers or subjecting SJP to standards different from those applied to other student groups,” the letter stated. “These students are acting within the traditions of intellectual inquiry and public responsibility that have guided CUNY since its inception.”
The letter also outlined outside groups that have spoken out against CUNYs actions against SJP chapters, including the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild and Palestine Solidarity Legal Support.
Last year, during SJP at CSI’s first public demonstration, there was an unusual amount of faculty members, most notably being Vice President for Finance and Administration, Ira Persky.
The Office of Public Safety at CSI did not return Banner requests for comment.
Despite the obstacles placed in front of SJP, the group remains hopeful that their message is being heard and influencing change.
“Students expressed interest in joining us,” told Mohsen. “Many students that we haven’t met even grabbed signs and began chanting with us.”
The concept of the vigil, one week after 9/11, was to mourn the 2100 lives lost in Gaza over the past few weeks of summer before class began, 500 of whom were children.
The intent also was to recognize the circumstances of the victims of police brutality in New York and inturn across the rest of the United States.
“Ferguson looked like the West Bank under occupation, where you can be an unarmed teenager and be killed for being the wrong ‘kind,’” spoke Mohsen. “In ferguson it is for being black, in Israel/palestine it is for being Palestinian.”
On that day SJP wanted to commemorate the people that shared injustices. Their intent was to connect struggles and create solidarity amongst oppressed people.
“As students for justice in palestine our fight for justice does not end on ethnic lines, we fight for justice everywhere,” said Mohsen. “Since no one else was talking about it we had to. Especially since a member of our own Staten Island community, Eric Garner, was a victim of police brutality.” (Emily Zoda Contributed)