he handcuffs were tight and cold on his wrists as he sat in a classroom of Baruch College with 14 others in the same predicament as he.
“I felt like a prisoner in a classroom,” said Erick Moreno, a 26-year-old Queens College student.
Moreno was caught in the line of fire between security guards and students at the CUNY board of trustees’ public hearing on Nov. 21. He witnessed campus security and the NYPD acting in an extremely aggressive manner; pushing their batons upward toward female students, so he rushed in to help his peers.
“I have a mother and I have a sister, so I wanted to be in the front and help get them out,” Moreno said.
An officer then began pushing him into a revolving door that was already filled with students, Moreno says, and he resisted. He ended up in cuffs.
From Baruch to QC and throughout CUNY, there is an ongoing theme of campus security oppression toward student activists and students. Moreno’s story, as uncomfortable and unsettling as it is, is an all-too-familiar one.
“This is a public institution where we’re supposed to come and engage with our fellow students about ideas and how to expand our intellectual horizons,” Alfred Ortiz, a 23-year-old QC student. “It should be an environment where safety is promoted but not with violence.”
The primary responsibility of the Office of Public Safety is to maintain an atmosphere in which QC faculty members, staff and students can feel free and secure in pursuing their activities on campus, and those words — mainly, free and secure — come straight off the school’s website.
“If we can’t express our opinions in a public institution, then where else do we have to talk about issues like police brutality, racism and social inequality?” Ortiz said.
Students and the Professional Staff Congress, a union that represents CUNY faculty and professors, arranged a meeting with QC President James Muyskens regarding CUNY security officers and their videotaping of students during on-campus protests.
Unfortunately, the president was unable to make the meeting and notified the PSC the night prior. Vice President Katharine Cobb and Meryl Kaynard, the special counsel to the president, sat in on his behalf. Riveting stories like Moreno’s and unnecessary surveillance on campus came from testimonies of students. The holes in QC’s Public Safety’s measures and actions were exposed.
In the Business and Entrepreneurship Club’s Goldman Sach’s event on campus on March 7, students gathered and voiced their opinions about the speakers who showed up, saying their presence on campus was not respectable, blaming their industry for the current economic climate. Public Safety security officers taped these students with their personal phones. In retaliation, students began to record the security guards and were then told it was “not allowed.” The administration present at the meeting quickly disagreed with the officers and said that students are allowed to tape CUNY authority on campus.
So, why the confusion?
The fault lies with the lack of communication and authority between both departments. After all, QC security reports to CUNY security rather than QC.
But, this all comes down to the fact that QC has no policy regarding videotaping and therefore, according to administration, campus security follows an “unwritten policy.”
I wonder what other unwritten policies are being followed by CUNY authority on campus? Are we, the students, expected to rely on the better judgment or moral ethics and character of a CUNY higher-up regarding our safety and rights?
Well, let’s examine the evidence that questions this all powerful and morally stable team, shall we?
One student protestor, who would like to remain anonymous on the fear that he will be sought after and watched, said he was followed by campus security after participating in — and being filmed in — the Trayvon Martin protest on March 29. In fear, he walked faster only to see the official quickened his steps as well. He had done nothing more than voice his disapproval with administration at the event. The student then began to run, only to hear the campus security guard again behind him. Though the student out-ran the officer, the intimidation he faced made him fear for his safety, from the very people who are responsible for it.
“If I didn’t reach my friends, I think he would have beaten me up,” the student said.
“Campus security should not be intimidating students,” said Vice President Joe Bertolino. “Security should be there quietly to make sure that people are safe and that a protest is being conducted peacefully and should only intervene if there is a safety concern.”
The tradition of the University as a sanctuary of academic freedom and center of informed discussion is an honored one, to be guarded vigilantly, according to Rules and Regulations for the Maintenance of Public Order Pursuant to Article 129-A of the Education Law. It seems that now at QC, students must account for their own safety.
The group of students and the PSC are working toward a policy regarding videotaping on campus, but I say that’s not enough. You cannot place a Band-Aid on a wound that needs to be surgically repaired and expect it to improve. Students need to be more involved with creating policies regarding public safety; this way students know their rights and understand the restrictions of campus security. This way, “unwritten policies” are not the ones that will be followed and there is no gap behind what Public Safety is doing and what the administration claims they are. There should be no room left for campus security to do anything based off their moral conscious without faces drastic consequences. To them, we should not be helpless students with their boot to our neck, we should be armed as students: with knowledge.
Library Systems Officer Arthur Chitty attended the meeting with administration and students regarding videotaping and sees what is missing regarding public safety.
“Campus security should make sure students and activists are safe. Students and activists should be able to have confidence that campus security is working to protect them. The key missing ingredient is accountability,” Chitty said.
The NYPD surveillance of CUNY Muslim students, as explored in great detail by the Associated Press article released last October, was also addressed in the meeting and is yet another instance of administration and campus security failing to make students feel “free and secure.” Kaynard and Cobb continually addressed the issue carefully with the word “allegedly” and tip-toed around the matter. I guess, with good reason, judging from angry student reactions. But, why shouldn’t we be angry? Our rights were once again ignored by administration and security and when we ask for answers, they brush off the matter as if it nothing but a floating rumor.
“I do not like passing the security guards on campus. I don’t like going into the library,” said a QC junior who would also like to remain anonymous for the same reasons. “I do not even like passing the main gate because I know now that they are profiling me. I, to them, am a reactionary female student who is Indian. I have no respect for them. [campus security].”
Where do you draw the line? How about when students no longer feel safe on campus because of campus security? That time has come.
We, as students, have to oppose this behavior and become more knowledgeable about it and hold those in power accountable, just as Chitty suggested. We need to organize to defend the rights we do have as opposed to the rights the campus security feels we deserve. I propose a monthly meeting with students, administrators and Public Safety to grant students opportunities to voice their concerns and explain these apparent incidences of campus security oppression and wrong-doings.
“We should have access to their meetings and know what they’re doing,” Ortiz said. “That way, we can organize and feel free to organize and not be persecuted or reprimanded just for voicing our opinions, however different they may be.”
It’s time for us students to police the police and all those in power.