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Chaos College of New York


By Richard Jones

On Tuesday, April 30, the City College of New York (CCNY) became a domestic battleground. Battalions of police, some suited in tactical gear, looked like soldiers waiting for orders against the unarmed public. The tension in the air was so thick it weighed on our lungs. How would the night end? What would start the chaos?


West Harlem, still recovering from rush hour, rumbled with the footsteps of energized protesters as they reached CCNY, the final stop on their march through New York City's city’s Gaza solidarity encampments. The energy built, and tensions rose, as protesters were followed and enveloped by the NYPD on their march. The mass of pro-Palestine supporters arrived at the campus around 7 p.m., and the perimeter of the campus was lined with police soon after. The protesters were there to support the City College activists, to stand in solidarity with Palestinians being ethnically cleansed now and throughout the 20th century.

City College has always been home to protests, and its students uphold a legacy of advocating for underprivileged and oppressed peoples. On Tuesday, their voices were heard. Around the neighborhood, around the city, the voices of demonstrators shook the very foundations of American politics. The memories of the college encampments in the 60s ringing in the ears of our politicians, many of whom came of age during that time.

When the demonstrators that came from Columbia University rounded 140th street to Convent avenue, they amassed in the intersection north of Campus. That was just the beginning, but the crowd felt prepared for what was to come. The CCNY encampment needed support if they were going to hold it, and sent out a call for more people to join them. 

Shortly after the administration building was breached, the tension broke. Over the next hour, the police’s looks grew more unsettled as the protesters’ chants grew louder. The rhythmic banging of people’s drums were periodically silenced by the cheers for protesters who broke through the barriers. Their goal was to join the encampment. 


As the NYPD became overwhelmed on Convent, a squad of strategic police officers marched down 140th street. The battle was beginning. The sea of red, green, and white protesters were divided and ordered to move. The white, plastic cuffs on the officers’ waists contrasted with the deep blue of their uniforms. There were too many restraints to count.


“This is the New York City Police Department. You are unlawfully walking in the roadway and we

are ordering you to go back on the sidewalk now. If you do so voluntarily, no charges will be placed against you. If you remain in the roadway and refuse to use the available sidewalk, you will be subject to arrest,” an officer boomed through a loudspeaker. Commotion ensued and demonstrators ran to the sidewalk. The sidewalks aren't big enough to hold us all. Arrests.

“This is the New York City Police Department. You are unlawfully obstructing pedestrian traffic. You are ordered to disperse to permit the flow of pedestrian traffic. If you do so voluntarily no charges will be brought against you. If you refuse to disperse, you will be placed under arrest and charged with disorderly conduct,” the loudspeaker ordered. A stampede ensued as protesters made a beeline up the street to Amsterdam Ave. We can’t move fast enough. Arrests.


Those who made it to Amsterdam avenue would not yield. The mass of Gaza Solidarity protesters regrouped at the campus’s 139th street gate. Inside, flares were lit, and realization hit that the encampment would end that night. Drums slowly filled the air again. The chants that were shouting now sang out in beautiful melody. A saxophonist started playing deep within the crowd.

The protesters were there to support Palestine. Their plight paled in comparison. Many decided the risk of arrest was a risk worth taking.  


So many questions remain.

What happened? Were the actions of “outside agitators” to blame for the violence and chaos? The police? What about this protest differed from the ones of the 60s? Why was this encampment a week shorter? Perhaps we have a less tolerant president and chancellor now? Do we have a school administration that’s more focused on optics and not being criticized by congress? Are our school’s president and university’s chancellor worthy of their jobs after ordering their own students be arrested? Does CUNY need larger structural changes?


The causes for April 30th’s violence lay not with the students, but fully with the college and city. The college bears responsibility for not meeting the demands of the protesters or taking steps in good faith to fairly end the protest. 

Is disinvesting that hard? Is asking the state to fund our schools too much?  

Like the students of CCNY in the 60s, we are being abruptly confronted with unyielding institutions that enrich themselves at the expense of their students. A city that thinks maintaining peace and order is about bars and shackles does not have liberation and equality. 

As we, the student body, look for the next steps in the fight against injustice, our college and city administrations need to seriously reexamine their moral positions. And they must sever their existing financial ties to unjust corporations and organizations that perpetuate violence at home and abroad.

Photos were taken by Richard Jones and Eliana Basher


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