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Gaza Solidarity Protesters Express Distrust of Media, Arrests Made, The Latest...

By Rhiannon Rashidi

CITY COLLEGE, May 1- The organizers of the CUNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment held a press conference in front of the campus at 6:00 pm today. Over seven media organizations, around 100 police officers, and at least 250 onlookers and protesters gathered at Amsterdam and 140th Street. At the press conference, they avoided speaking on the events last night between NYPD and protesters. "We're trying not to make statements right now because we have a lot of different people in a lot of different places," one protester who was present last night chimed in.

Before any media was allowed to speak to organizers of the encampment, they had to check in and receive a sticker that said "vetted." Though this process was set up by the encampment organizers to identify media that could be trusted, most of the protesters were unwilling to talk on the record.

The organizers have been clear about their distrust of media organizations. Just an hour before the NYPD arrived Tuesday, The Paper spoke with Hadeeqa Arzoo, one of the organizers of the encampment. And she made it clear that the protesters are being careful who they speak to. "You'll see it on our guidelines in the front," she said, looking towards the front of the now-cleared encampment. "But we have a rule of 'don't talk to zionists. That's why you have that sticker," she added, pointing to my shirt. "The thing about media is that we don't know who is and who isn't."

Some of the protesters are students who don't want to speak for fear of retaliation from CUNY. One student from Hunter College spoke to us on the condition of anonymity because they say they were previously suspended from Hunter for protesting pro-life students. "[The college] told me that if I break student conduct again, the consequences would be more severe. And the head of student conduct warned me about it," they said while pitching their tent Tuesday afternoon. "I don't know if there are other students in high positions, but I know for sure there are a bunch that cannot afford to get suspended."

But more of them expressed anger about the way media has presented their actions and words. "We are students. We are human beings. We are not your content!" one organizer at the press conference said. They feel that their message is getting lost. And they say it is more important for them to get the right message out, than to get the story of their demonstration to the largest audiences. "Yes, it's important to talk about administration being annoying and public safety and the cops being stupid, but we are here for Gaza," Hadeeqa Arzoo said. "As an organizer, it makes me feel like I am not doing my job, if I am the one who is being talked about at the end of the day."

Since April 25, protesters advocating for Palestinian liberation from Israeli occupation and demanding that CUNY cut all academic and financial ties to Israel have camped out in the quad. They set up a political library, free food pantry, and a makeshift outdoor classroom where they regularly held speeches and poetry readings. They also regularly led religious prayers and had religious leaders speak. Like universities across the country with similar encampments, they expected retaliation from the university. And at 6:00 pm Tuesday, they made an announcement to the encampment:

"[The College] did ask us to disperse before classes tomorrow," one of the organizers said into a microphone from the flagpole. "I want to clarify that there was no explicit threat of violence. The NYPD was not mentioned. Cops were not mentioned," she added.

It was during this announcement that the organizers and protesters voted to stay and defend the encampment. What they didn't know was that, just six hours later, over 100 protesters, some with police inflicted injuries, would be driven away in the MTA buses many of them use to get to class every day.


Vincent Boudreau, president of CCNY, sent a letter Tuesday afternoon informing the protesters they must disperse by the morning of May 1.

"As you likely know by now, there is an encampment of demonstrators on our quad, and it is posing significant difficulties for us," President Boudreau said in an executive statement posted around 4:00 pm Tuesday. "We are instructing the demonstrators encamped on our quad to dismantle their encampment and restrict their future activities to those permitted under CUNY guidelines for assembly, free speech and protest."

But the encampment didn't make it to the morning. Just an hour after the protesters decided to ignore the letter and stay, hundreds of protesters (who marched on Tuesday to all college-campus Gaza solidarity encampments), and dozens of cop cars arrived.

The situation escalated quickly. "At 7:00, I was aware people were not allowed to enter [the campus] and attended a briefing on what to if you get arrested. By 7:30, I was across the [Wille] administration building, handing out water to individuals that got tear gassed," Eliana Basher, a student at CCNY and Gaza solidarity demonstrator, said. "[At one point], I was on the sidewalk across the street from campus, and the protesters formed a human barrier to not be moved. The cops began pushing people to the ground, hitting them with batons all the way down the block."

@Cunygse, the instagram account run by the encampment organizers, posted a press release today at 10:00 am. In it, the encampment organizers report some instances of the police initiating violence against the protesters. "Police broke the ankle of an undergraduate student, broke the teeth of two protesters, attacked and burned many students, faculty and at least one journalist with pepper spray at close range," the press release states.

Video footage posted to social media shows some protesters washing their eyes out. Neither CCNY nor CUNY have commented on the reports of police violence yet.

In the release, the organizers also confirm reports that protesters broke into the Wille administration building. It is unclear when the protesters made it into the building, but the organizers claim that "the students held the building for over an hour until they were violently removed and arrested."

The NYPD got the all clear from the university to breach the encampments barricades around 11:30, and moved in soon after. By 1:00 am, the NYPD cleared all protesters and media off campus.

It is unclear the exact number of protesters that were arrested at CCNY last night, but some reports say 173. The Paper has not heard back from the NYPD yet. But despite the violence and chaos of last night, much of which we still do not understand, the protesters are not backing down.

As of one hour ago (9:30 pm), hordes of people, many who arrived for the press conference, were still chanting on the sidewalk outside the now-locked campus. And in a story posted by the Students for Justice in Palestine's instagram (@ccnysjp), they say they will come back "again again again."

This story will be updated as The Paper receives new information. Photos by Miguel J. Johnson.


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