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"Tuition Fees are Class War!" CUNY Brooklyn College Students Roughed Up By Police for Demanding Fairer Treatment

Calling for an end to policies that make college less accessible to lower-income students, CUNY activists held a peaceful sit-in that was violently broken up by police.

Every gate at the City University of New York's Brooklyn College had doubled security—no one was getting in without a student ID.

That and the rain might have dampened turnout for a mass student day of action calling for increased access to higher education and supported by the likes of Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky, but it didn't dampen the spirits of the student activists who rallied on the quad and then marched into Boylan Hall, chanting, “1, 2, 3, 4, tuition fees are class war! 5, 6, 7, 8, students will retaliate!”

It took police, batons and riot cuffs to do that.

I was able to get onto campus with the name of a professor given to me by one of the student organizers--the last time I visited the campus, I had no problem walking by the guards, but this time a student was left in tears because her ID wasn't properly validated and she couldn't get to class. Some CUNY graduate students from other campuses were able to join the Brooklyn College students for their rally, which included a banner drop from the top of Boylan Hall (also reading "tuition fees are class war"). "They didn't give access to a rally about access," commented Biola Jeje, one of the students involved in the action, later to AlterNet. 

Arriving on the quad just after 1pm, I was just in time to follow the march into Boylan Hall and up the stairs. The students, a mix of men and women, many of whom wore red squares on their shirts or backpacks in solidarity with the Quebec student movement, took the stairs and lined up arm-in-arm in front of the office of the college president, Karen Gould.

Campus police followed the students up the stairs and lined up behind them as they sat down, still with their arms linked together, still singing. They mic-checked their demands, the crowd surrounding them repeating their calls for the college president to meet with them to discuss tuition hikes, the surveillance and racial profiling of Muslim and other students, and funding student services, as well as the over-arching presence of security on campus. And they stressed that they would not move.

The university president, they pointed out, might not have the power to change the tuition hikes they were fighting, but she did have the choice to come and meet with them and she chose instead to send campus police.  "We had a petition going around that had over 1000 signatures for free printing, extension of library hours, free course packets. Those are ways besides rescinding the tuition hikes, to help students who were dealing with the tuition hikes," Jeje said of the students' demands to the president.

A clarinetist accompanied them as they turned once again to songs, declaring “The Italians fought fascists with this song” and keeping the mood, for the moment, cheerful, yet militant.

In 1969 we shut this school down , in 1989 we shut this school down. In 1995 guess what we did? We shut this school down!” the crowd echoed as the police moved closer.

These peaceful students are not leaving by Sarah Jaffe

Those of us standing were herded backward and the police began yanking students to their feet, pulling them apart and pushing them down the hallway. "They yanked us up and just threw us away," Jeje said later. 

In front of me, an older man dressed in a suit tried to move forward and was roughly pushed back by an officer. He declined to give me his name, but he told the police, “I'm a college professor!” He was threatened with arrest for disorderly conduct by a large plainclothes security officer when he pressed his case for staying close. Others loudly proclaimed their right to be in the hallway as the police continued to shove students down the hall—and more of them streamed up the stairs, batons out, plastic riot cuffs dangling from their belts. 

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