City College Lifts Suspensions Against Two Student Protesters, But Criminal Charges Still Stand
There's been a weeks-long battle between City College of New York's (CCNY) administration and student protesters angry over the closure of the Morales-Shakur Center, a hub for left-leaning campus political activity. That battle cooled down slightly on November 22, when an attorney for two suspended students negotiated their return to campus for the spring semester. They are, however, still facing a battery of criminal charges that could land them in prison for up to a year.
Image via Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee Khalil Vasquez, left, and Tafadar Sourov
Tafadar Sourov, 19, and Khalil Vasquez, 22, were suspended and barred from campus in late October, after participating in a rowdy protest in which two people were arrested. Campus police say the crowd damaged a door while trying to get into the North Academic Center (NAC), where the Morales-Shakur center used to be, and a police corporal reported that Sourov shoved her to the ground while inciting the other students to rush into the center.
On November 19, three weeks after the protest, Sourov and Vasquez were charged in Manhattan criminal court with criminal mischief, obstructing governmental administration, rioting, inciting to riot, and harassment, all misdemeanors. Sourov is also being charged with attempted assault, for allegedly shoving the police officer.
On Friday morning, Sourov and Vasquez returned to campus for a disciplinary hearing; their attorneys said they would be unable to testify in their own defense during that hearing, because of the pending criminal charges against them. Instead, according to the CCNY Campus, the students entered into an agreement where they were allowed to plead "no contest and no admission of guilt." They'll withdraw from the fall semester voluntarily and have their tuition refunded, then be allowed to return in the spring. (The Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee, a progressive group with chapters throughout the CUNY system, says that the deal was made privately, before the hearing.)
"No one should leave this room believing that this is a victory for Taffy and Khalil," Ron McGuire reportedly told the room, according to the Campus. He's a former CCNY student and activist himself, and a lawyer for the two men in both their on-campus and their criminal cases. "This is essentially a recognition of a reality of an iron curtain which has fallen down on CUNY."
Before the hearing, a spokesperson for the school, Deidra Hill, declined to comment, telling the Voice, "We do not comment on student disciplinary cases." The college has also declined to comment on the pending criminal charges against the two men.
The Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee issued a statement through their Facebook page, which read, in part:
The gain for the people: Khalil and Taffy will be back on campus in the spring semester, Spring 2014, to serve the people as they do best.
The loss for the people: CUNY's collaboration with the police and the District Attorney, which filed criminal charges against Khalil and Taffy before its own disciplinary process ran its course, severely restricted the ability of the defense to put on a case and prevented Khalil and Taffy from testifying if there would have been a hearing today.
The militarization of CUNY continues.
The struggle to liberate CUNY continues.
Towards a CUNY Spring.
Sounds like things won't stay quiet for long. Students for Educational Rights, another group spearheading the CUNY protests, has called for a city-wide walkout at all the system's campuses today at noon. They're planning to rally outside Baruch College at 3 p.m.; the CUNY Board of Trustees meets there at 4:00. Follow along on Twitter under the hashtag #cunymachine.
Send your story tips to the author, Anna Merlan.