Photo by Stephanie Davis
he trespassing and disorderly conduct violations against four CUNY students were dismissed at New York City Criminal Court on April 25.
Ben Douglas, Kelly Roberts, David Spataro, Michelle O’ Brien and Queens College student Erick Moreno were arrested on Nov. 21, 2011, for attempting to attend the CUNY board of trustees public hearing on that date.
If convicted, they would be fined and given mandatory community service with a maximum punishment of 15 days in jail.
“I’m super excited to have the charges dropped,” said Spataro, a human geography student at the CUNY Graduate Center. “I feel better about continuing participation in CUNY activism.”
Last year, the board of trustees held a public hearing at Baruch College to discuss the then proposed tuition hikes, which are now in effect and commonly known as the rational tuition plan. Outside, a protest erupted as students, faculty and alumni were prevented from entering the meeting. Fifteen people were arrested on accounts of trespassing, rioting and disorderly conduct.
According to O’Brien, a few of the students took an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal plea, adjourning a case for six months after which it is dismissed and sealed if the defendant is not rearrested.
Rebecca Heinegg, an attorney from the National Lawyers Guild, represented the students at the hearing. The NLG is an organization that has provided free legal support for more than 65 years to mass movements advocating change. They have recently supported Occupy Wall Street demonstrators and students.
The NLG has represented the group since their first court date on Feb. 3. Spataro said the organization has been very helpful in the numerous movements around NY.
Before the 9:30 a.m. hearing, around 20 supporters gathered at the front of the court’s south entrance for a press conference. Roberts, Spataro, O’Brien, Douglas and others made public statements that recounted the events that led up to the hearing and slammed administrators for what the students said were unjust actions and contributions to the failing education system.
Moreno did not appear at the court date because of an emergency, he said.
“We see administrators’ salaries rise while my students and I are both eligible for food stamps,” said Conor Tomas Reed, a Baruch College writing instructor, who was also arrested the day of the BOT hearing for criminal trespassing and resisting arrest. Reed accepted an ACD plea, fearing a possible year in jail if the resisting arrest charge had gone through.
New York University professor Andrew Ross was there to “salute the four students that called out this unjust formula.” He noted that the day of the court hearing was also “T1 Day,” which signified student debt passing the trillion-dollar mark.
Barbara Bowen, president of Professional Staff Congress, the CUNY faculty union, declared solidarity with the students and denounced the privatization of the public university system.
“It’s a direct attack on students, working people and it’s a racial attack being that two-thirds are students of color,” Bowen said. “CUNY used to be called ‘The Free Academy.’ I would like to see it be much more free in every sense of the word.”