A member of SDS New York stands vigil outside the 1st Precinct (Photo: Thomas Good)
New York, NY – November 20, 2006. Wednesday, November 15th began quietly enough in lower Manhattan. However, by day’s end a large group of SDS, armed with pots and pans, would be vigiling outside a New York City police precinct – demanding the release of five first amendment activists wrongfully arrested for protesting on the sidewalk of the very university they pay to attend. They would be joined by one of their professors – chair of the Sociology Department; members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or “Wobblies”), and; attorneys from the National Lawyers Guild. The students, members of Pace University Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), would spend several hours in jail – two spending the night at the Tombs. By the next day the story would be in the New York Times, on New York One (a cable news station) and all over the internet. The Pace Five would be receiving letters of support from SDS Chapters, Movement for a Democratic Society (MDS) members, faculty from various Pace campuses and union rank and file.
On November 9th some Pace SDS members were detained by Pace security for allegedly fliering on their campus. In what Pace SDS organizers call a pattern of harrassment, the students were written up for posting ‘unapproved flyers’ on school grounds. These students face disciplinary charges and the possibility of expulsion. This arbitrary act on the part of Pace prompted the local SDS chapter to call a press conference and protest – to be held on November 15th. The press conference was held at New York’s City Hall – across Park Row from the Pace Campus. SDS from several NYC chapters attended and the event was documented by a number of Lefty journalists and filmed by New York 1 News (cable). Several members of Pace SDS spoke in turn from the podium as about 25 SDSers stood behind them on the steps of City Hall. Pace University’s Director of Public Information, Chris Cory, was in attendance as well and spoke briefly with journalists.
Following the conference, SDS marched across Park Row to the Pace Campus. The Pace campus features a large courtyard outside of the main entrance. According to Pace the public and private space is delimited by a row of flower pots which parallel Park Row. The students demonstrated on the public side of the imaginary line under the watchful eye of the New York City Police Department who turned out in force, apparently at the behest of anxious Pace administrators. An unusually large number of NYPD senior staff were present including a full Captain, a Community Affairs officer (Moran) from the First Precinct and Lieutenant Louis Turco – well known in activist and labor circles as the leader of the anti-Critical Mass squad (1st Precinct Scooter Detail) and the effort to arrest street vendors in Chinatown. Pace administrators and security flanked the entrance to the school.
SDS conducted a speak out and almost immediately the NYPD moved in to demonstrate their determination to control the event. SDSer and Wobbly John Cronan was approached by P.O. Moran who threatened arrest if a bullhorn was used. In response, SDS read the first amendment to the constitution aloud – without sound amplification. The P.D. backed off, apparently mollified. A number of speakers condemned the arbitrary actions of the Pace administration and expressed outrage at the ongoing violations of the students’ civil rights. Jeffrey Francois, of the Pace University Press (campus news), took the stage to demand freedom of expression on the campus, arguing that “this is not a radical issue!”
Sometime after 4 pm a number of Pace SDS entered the courtyard proper in order to request to speak with Pace officials. As the students demanded to speak with (Pace University) President David Caputo and Dean of Students Marijo O’Grady, Lieutenant Turco ordered the arrest of any SDS members who were in the courtyard – where other Pace students stood, looking on in shock at the militarization of their campus. This reporter observed that a number of students who had previously looked on in silence began chanting “Solidarity, SDS!” Turco and his uniforms cuffed John Cronan, Davey Vacek, Lauren Giaccone and Alexander Cline as Brian Kelly was carried out of the courtyard to a waiting Police van. As the uniforms lifted and carried him to the van Kelly was heard chanting “Free Speech! Free Speech! Free Speech!” Following the arrests police lined Park Row, standing in the street as upset students stood on the public sidewalk shouting that their first amendment rights had been violated – and demanding the release of free speech activists then in custody.
A short time later a number of SDS made their way to the First Precinct to do jail support. At the precinct confusion reigned – initially a Sergeant named Wolfgang informed the vigilers that they could not stand in front of the Precinct. The SDSers crossed Ericsson Place and took up positions along Hudson Square (south). As they banged on buckets and pans, drivers who stopped for the light at Varick St expressed sympathy and support – many expressing the view that arbitrary action on the part of officers working the One was no surprise. “We have no rights at all,” said one motorist. As word spread that 5 SDS were being held more vigilers began arriving. Lieutenant Turco crossed the street and told protesters the PD had set up pens for them on the sidewalk outside the station house. When pressed, Turco acknowledged that the protesters at Hudson Square could remain where they were. A short time later community affairs officer Moran approached the vigilers, asking them to go into the pens as the Square was Port Authority property. Noting the number of SUVs and trucks parked right on the square itself, all sporting NYPD parking permits on their dashboards, the crowd demanded to stay where they were. Moran accepted this and the discussion was over.
As the evening progressed a number of Wobblies came to support the SDSers – in part because two of the arrestees were also Wobblies but also in the great IWW tradition of general defense of working class militants. Similarly, members of the New York Metro Alliance of Anarchists (NYMAA) came out in support of the students. At one point an NLG lawyer appeared and went into the precinct to discover the fate of the arrestees. He reported that 3 would be given desk appearance tickets and 2 transferred to the Tombs, 100 Centre Street, for arraignment. A bit later, the chair of the Pace Sociology Department joined the vigil – getting a very warm reception from his students.
The vigil continued as activists and organizers shouted and drummed. At 10 PM Sergeant Wolfgang crossed the street to demand the vigilers stop banging on pots or face arrest for “unreasonable noise”. Although the militants were not amused by this they did comply as the 1st has a history of arbitrary arrest (especially Turco and his scooter cops who comprise the Critical Mass detail). Sometime after 1 AM three arrestees were given their DATs and released. At 11 AM the following day the remaining two arrestees, Brian Kelly and John Cronan, were arraigned and charged with Obstructing Governmental Administration (OGA – a class A misdemeanor) and disorderly conduct (failure to obey a lawful order). They were released on their own recognizance and have a trial date of December 21 at 9 AM (100 Centre). The three DATed organizers have arraignments on December 12th at 9 AM, also at 100 Centre. They are charged with failure to obey a lawful order (240.20 (6)).
Response to the actions of the Pace Administration and NYPD was swift. The progressive community, labor and Pace faculty and staff have all issued statements. At Pace, emergency meetings of faculty have been called on both the Pleasantville campus and the Pace Law School campus. Faculty are circulating petitions and planning protests in defense of the students. A Pace Law professor has offered to represent the students.
Roger Salerno, professor of Sociology at Pace said: “The arrest of protesting Pace students on Wednesday on Pace property, at the apparant behest of University officials, signals to all of us the contempt that this administration has for peaceful assembly and free speech. Many of us on faculty cannot understand how President Caputo could either allow or encourage the arrest of his own students for exercising their constitutional rights. This arrest comes at a time when the faculty is considering a vote of no confidence in both Caputo and the Board of Trustees.”
For their part Pace SDS has issued a set of demands which include the resignation of Pace President David A. Caputo; an investigation of Pace University and its board of trustees by the New York State Board of Regents; immediate full recognition of Pace SDS by the University; dropping of all charges by the NYPD and Pace – and dismissal of all disciplinary charges by Pace; lastly, Pace SDS has demanded that all attacks on the first amendment rights of Pace students must cease immediately.
The Movement for a Democratic Society (MDS) issued a press release on November 19, demanding Pace accede to the student demands – and, in addition, demanding an apology from President Caputo for his ongoing violations of the civil rights of Pace Students. MDS Co-President Alan Haber offered to meet with Caputo so they might work towards the goal of restoring free speech to the Pace campus. MDS Secretary Thomas Good, father of two, said the young SDSers “gave him hope for the future” and Penelope Rosemont, MDS Co-President called for getting “all cops off campus”.
Labor organizers have also expressed outrage at the Pace Administration and NYPD as well as solidarity with the students.
“Caputo’s decision to call in state forces to quell speech on campus is abhorrent,” said Daniel Gross, an organizer with the Industrial Workers of the World who joined the protest outside the first precinct where the Pace students were imprisoned. “It’s time to show Caputo the door and put an end to the NYPD’s pattern of anti-speech arrests,” he added.
The Pace Transportation Union, part of NYSUT, sent a statement of support to NLN:
The Pace Transportation Union speaks out in support of the Pace students who dare to address the urgent and very legitimate concerns of the student body by standing up to the Administration. They should be allowed to be heard.
We are in total opposition to the severe and unfair actions taken by the University in this case. Once again, Pace Administration is not playing by the rules.
To arrest students for exercising their first amendment rights of free speech when they feel they have no other recourse – is unconscionable. Worse, the course of action taken by the University evidently was pre planned.
Nothing less than the financial health and Pace’s quality of education are at stake here, and it should be in EVERYONE’S best interest to take part in discussions. Only when one side doesn’t wish to dialogue does it resort to these sorts of actions.
It is time for Pace Administration to join the conversation!
Pace has issued a response to the press conference and subsequent arrests. Christopher Cory, Executive Director of Public Information for Pace, sent NLN a statement authored by Neill Blanco, Chairman of the Pace University Board of Trustees. In the statement Blanco cited improvements at Pace attributed to President Caputo. He also indicated that: “Dr. Caputoâ€™s leadership puts Pace at the forefront of the important national conversation currently taking place on accountability in higher education.” Responding to the SDS charge that Caputo’s $700,000 annual salary (and recent $100,000 raise) is excessive, Blanco said: “David Caputo is worth what we pay him.” Blanco seemed to indicate a willingness to address the students’ concerns in some sort of dialogue: “Pace University deserves the best possible discussion by all the members of its community of how to improve the learning and lives of our students. We look forward to continuing conversations on these issues that are vital to the universityâ€™s future.”
Lauren Giaccone and Brian Kelly of Pace SDS (Photo: Thomas Good)
It remains to be seen if Caputo or Blanco will agree to meet with the students or any of their supporters. The Pace SDS organizers are currently being flooded with expressions of solidarity from SDS chapters and members from across the country and they remain committed to the goal of restoring free speech on their campus.
“Pace University can try to silence its students but in the end, actions speak louder than words,” said Lauren Giaccone, one of the Pace Five.
Supporters can sign an online petition: http://www.petitiononline.com/pacesds/petition.html and contact Pace:
Dr. Aniello (Neill) A. Bianco Chairman of the Board of Trustees
C/O Christopher T. Corey, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. David A. Caputo President, Pace University