An Injury to One Is An Injury to All
No. 3, November 2005
Outrage at CUNY Over Frame-Up Verdict
Miguel Malo Is Innocent!
On October 24, Miguel Malo was convicted in Bronx Criminal Court on trumped-up charges of “reckless assault” and disorderly conduct. Miguel is the Hostos College student leader arrested in August 2001 for holding up a sign protesting cuts and fee hikes in bilingual and English as a second language (ESL) programs. He was falsely accused of assaulting campus “peace officers” who in fact brutally assaulted him. Although the first is a misdemeanor and the second a violation, Miguel faces up to a year in prison. This outrageous verdict has stirred up a hornet’s nest of opposition on campuses around New York City. Letters have been pouring in to the judge saying, “Miguel Malo must not go to jail!”
The Internationalist Clubs of Hostos and Hunter Colleges and the Revolutionary Reconstruction Club at Bronx Community College, in conjunction with the Internationalist Group have played a leading role in defending Miguel Malo over the last several years. Although his arrest predates the imperialist war on (and colonial occupation of) Iraq and Afghanistan, the heavy-duty repression against him is part and parcel of the war drive. The persecution of Miguel not only is a sign of worse to come at the City University of New York (CUNY), the fight to defend him is one of most important struggles against an escalating crackdown on campuses nationwide.
Hostos Community College student leader Miguel Malo (right) was arrested for defending CUNY students. Now we must defend him.
For more than four years, top CUNY administrators have been trying to make an example out of Miguel. The Bronx District Attorney “threw the book” at him, with an avalanche of bogus accusations. Malo has had to show up in court more than 50 times. Twice they have put him through a week-long trial on the same frame-up charges. By coming down hard on him, they hope to intimidate other protesters. Last March, CUNY security used the same methods against demonstrators protesting the presence of military recruiters at City College as they did against Miguel: bring in big squads of campus cops and security guards, aggressively attack and brutalize the protesters, then accuse them of “assaulting” the cops.
The CUNY tops and Bronx D.A. must have figured that once they got a conviction of Miguel in their rigged trial it would all be over. But the exact opposite has happened. The day after the verdict, some 50 supporters came out in a driving rain to a press conference/protest in front of Hostos. Participants held up placards spelling out “MIGUEL MALO IS INNOCENT.” Speakers from CUNY faculty, students and staff emphasized that the vendetta against Miguel could hit everyone, that his fight is everyone’s fight. “¡Todos somos Miguel!” (We are all Miguel!) they chanted. The protest was covered by NY1 Noticias TV, which also interviewed Miguel.
CUNY students are now circulating a petition demanding that Miguel must not spend a single day in jail. Already, hundreds of signatures have been gathered. Meanwhile, faculty members at Hostos and other campuses are writing letters to the judge asking that he not be imprisoned. The letters are eloquent and moving testimony to a student leader who is being victimized for standing up for immigrant students struggling to gain a college education. They also drive home that jailing Miguel Malo bodes ill for the right to free speech and any conception of “academic freedom” at CUNY and elsewhere.
Sentencing is scheduled for December 13 at Bronx County Criminal Court (215 E. 161st Street). CUNY Action to Defend Miguel Malo, a united-front defense group, is urging supporters of Miguel and all defenders of democratic rights to attend the hearing to show the tremendous support he continues to have at City University, even after the frame-up verdict. The CUNY Internationalist Clubs are going all-out to protest this blatant capitalist injustice. We urge others to do the same. “CUNY Is Not a Prison!” says the banner of the Hostos Internationalist Club. Miguel Malo must not spend another day in jail!
Frame-Up Charges, A Rigged Trial, What’s Next?
The trial proceedings took place before a packed courtroom filled with Miguel’s supporters. This is the second trial that Malo, the former president of the Hostos Student Senate, has endured. (The first, in December 2003, ended in a mistrial.) After the verdict was read, the prosecutor vindictively demanded that bail be set at $3,000, later reduced to $500. This move, virtually unheard-of in campus protest cases, indicates that the prosecution intends to call for Malo to be jailed. His supporters posted bail, and he was freed some hours later. Miguel stated that he would appeal.
News of the verdict caused consternation among professors and students throughout the City University. The Hostos Student Senate, Hostos College Senate, Hostos chapter of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC – the faculty union) as well as the University Faculty Senate, University Student Senate, student governments on ten campuses and CUNY-wide PSC – indeed, virtually every representative body at CUNY – had all called, repeatedly, for the charges to be dropped. Many pointed out that the ominous verdict is a declaration of war on City University students, faculty and staff. Its purpose is to criminalize protest at CUNY.
The prosecution of Miguel Malo was an abomination. In the summations, Malo’s attorney Karen Funk ripped apart the concoctions presented by the state. The prosecution pretended that 5’1" Miguel dragged a burly 5’11", 200-lb. campus cop 25 feet across the floor, supposedly threw himself face-first against a wall, then slid down the wall, landed face-down, flipped over onto his back, looked the officer in the eye, kicked him in the groin, then did it again. The campus cop supposedly only noticed this a half hour later, instead of immediately doubling over in pain. Medical tests on him at Lincoln Hospital turned up negative, showing no evidence of any injury whatsoever. This scenario is not only unbelievable, attorney Funk stressed, it is impossible.
Miguel was accused of violating a “public safety announcement” issued by the head of Hostos College security, Arnaldo Bernabe, banning any assembly inside the campus. Neither Miguel nor any other student or faculty ever saw this announcement at the time, and there is no such thing as an “assembly” of one person. Hostos professor Gerald Meyer testified that the atrium where Miguel was arrested was the “Times Square” of Hostos, where students and faculty traditionally handed out flyers and disseminated information. This is precisely what CUNY authorities want to suppress with the aid of the courts.
A student witness, Aneudis Perez, testified that, contrary to the prosecution’s ludicrous story, eight to ten campus security personnel surrounded Miguel, threw him to the ground, one cop putting his knee in Miguel’s back, and dragged him off the floor. The arrest team, one of three that Bernabe had hidden in order to pounce on demonstrators, included members of CUNY’s paramilitary “SAFE” team. Miguel simply held up a sign and began handing out flyers against cutbacks in bilingual classes and the imposition of a $300 fee for ESL workshops. “They were only interested in arresting Miguel,” Perez said. A photograph taken immediately after he was released from custody showed Miguel’s back covered with welts.
During the trial, the prosecutor sought to intimidate the jury and observers, with six armed police and court officers who stood by menacingly. Three of Miguel’s supporters were ejected. Experienced lawyers remarked they had never seen such a naked display of police power in such a tiny courtroom. The prosecution presented the case as a loyalty test. To believe Miguel Malo, the assistant district attorney argued, one would have to believe that the campus cop and head of security are “complete and utter liars.” In fact, the prosecution’s story was a total fabrication.
Amid an orgy of baiting, the prosecutor made it clear that the purpose was to stifle protest. “This is about a political agenda,” she repeated, sneering at Malo and those who protested in August 2001 as people whose “priorities are not correct” and who seek to “change policy...by any means necessary.” The prosecution ludicrously claimed that Miguel Malo wanted to get arrested. “He was trying to create chaos.... They had a lawyer on call... This is what they wanted to happen.” So now contacting a lawyer is taken as a sign of criminal intent! Yet the only chaos was caused by the brutal arrest. And today Miguel faces up to a year behind bars.
Testimony during the trial revealed new and ominous aspects of the incident. Hostos security called in the CUNY paramilitary squad because they had received a “memo” about a possible demonstration. Just before the events of 15 August 2001, in turns out, CUNY security deputy chief John McKee came to Hostos, and with Bernabe decided to ban protest inside the campus. The prosecutor said that McKee was on the scene and observed everything, evidently lurking in the background during the arrest. Indicating the high priority given to the legal vendetta against Malo, Bronx D.A. Robert Johnson showed up in the courtroom on the first day of testimony.
So the entire crackdown on protest at Hostos Community College came straight from the top, from CUNY security central, which has increasingly imposed police-state security measures, particularly on heavily minority campuses like Hostos. Now Hostos security chief Bernabe claimed in testimony that college authorities could “dictate” what protest would be allowed and where. Students and faculty should demand to know more about this sinister operation. Who sent the memo? Who authorized the protest ban?
Ever since CUNY security guards were turned into “peace officers” following the protests and building takeovers over budget cuts in 1991, and elite “SAFE Teams” (riot squads) were set up after the huge 1995 protests against a whopping tuition hike, “security” at City University has been aimed at persecuting student activists. The heads of CUNY security have been brought in from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and lately from the FBI Anti-Terrorism Task Force. Miguel Malo is their target today; tomorrow...
Anti-Immigrant Offensive at CUNY
In August 2001, the CUNY “peace officers” were on a rampage, but they were not “out of control.” In fact, they were tightly controlled. College authorities had vowed not to be embarrassed again as they were that May when hundreds of students sat in at the president’s office protesting cutbacks. CUNY security geared up for mass demonstrations, banning protests and flooding the campus with dozens of campus cops from the paramilitary SAFE team. Instead they found one student, Miguel Malo, standing outside the third floor cafeteria with a sign and some flyers. He was arrested to justify their overkill, and because he was protesting policies that amounted to a purge of immigrant students ordered directly by the CUNY chancellor’s office.
Before Miguel Malo was tackled and handcuffed on August 15, three other students had already been arrested. One was a Hunter student who was arrested as he was leaving for asking the name of the officer who refused to let him enter the building. A second was arrested for holding up a sign, saying “Stop Arresting Our Students. Let Them Exercise The First Amendment of the Constitution.” A third was arrested for asking why the second was arrested. The next day, a member of the University Faculty Senate Executive Committee was arrested for trying to enter Hostos. The head of the Professional Staff Congress was threatened with arrest should she try to enter.
It is important to understand that the persecution of Miguel Malo is no isolated event. The vendetta against Miguel is part of a broader attack on immigrants’ rights, and of the drive to regiment universities and American society in general for imperialist war. The elimination of ESL and bilingual courses, which Miguel was protesting, is part of an anti-immigrant reaction that intensified in the war hysteria after the 11 September 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. But it didn’t begin then.
At City University, there has been a relentless push by reactionary sectors to undo “open admissions” ever since it was instituted in 1969 following a militant occupation of CCNY by black and Latino students. Once everyone with a New York City high school diploma, or its equivalent, had a right to attend city colleges, they were transformed from lily-white institutions into a university with a majority of black, Latino and Asian students. This irked the racist elitists, who tried to shut down two community colleges (Hostos and Medgar Evers) created for the Hispanic and black populations of New York (see “The Fight to Keep Hostos Open,” page 4).
Simultaneously, tuition was introduced in the mid-1970s in city colleges which had been free for more than a century. By continually jacking up tuition, CUNY trustees, the city and state governments managed to get rid of thousands of poor and minority students. Now they want to institute yearly tuition increases (see article, page 2).
By the late 1990s, the elitists were on the warpath to eliminate the last vestiges of open admissions. Immigrants were their prime targets. In 1997, more than 100 prospective graduates at the originally bilingual (Spanish-English) Hostos Community College were denied a degree by springing a last-minute punitive exam on them. Two years later the Board of Trustees under chairman Benno Schmidt (acting as hatchet man for NYC Republican mayor Rudolph Giuliani), required all students entering four-year colleges to pass an English test. In addition, 18,000 students from families receiving welfare payments were forced to drop out as part of the slave labor “workfare” program instituted by the Democratic administration of Bill Clinton.
Political appointees from the Giuliani administration were installed as heads of various colleges in the 18-campus CUNY system. The Board of Trustees was stacked with right-wing reactionaries so that by 2004 it looked like a Bush II remake of Nixon’s Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). In the Spring of 2001, the administration of Hostos (staffed by flunkeys of Giuliani ally Herman Badillo) moved to axe the few remaining Spanish-language programs. Bilingual mathematics and other courses were eliminated, and a $300 fee for ESL workshops was sprung on students at the last minute. This was what Miguel Malo was protesting.
Since Miguel’s arrest virtually all bilingual courses have been eliminated. English-language instruction for non-native English speakers has been relegated to non-credit programs, and the enrollment of Hostos has shrunk substantially, as intended. Now they want to “finish the job” by locking up the student leader who had the courage to protest this racist anti-immigrant purge. Miguel Malo stood up for immigrant students, we must stand up for him!
The CUNY Internationalist Clubs fight for full open admissions, so that any high school graduate has the right to attend City University; for the elimination of tuition (and the provision of a living stipend to enable low-income students to attend); for the abolition of the Board of Trustees, and for student/teacher/worker control of the university. We also demand full citizenship rights for all immigrants.
Imperialist War Abroad Means Police-State Repression “At Home”
outside Bronx Criminal Court, 25 September 2003, demanding charges
against Miguel Malo be dropped. Mounting repression at City University
is directly linked to bipartisan U.S. imperialist war on Afghanistan
The persecution of Miguel Malo is also intimately connected to the imperialist war on Iraq and Afghanistan, which is also a war on working people, minorities, the poor and minorities in the United States. Demonstrators at protests in defense of Miguel have repeatedly chanted, “War on Iraq, CUNY under attack!” The U.S.’ terrorist “war on terror” directly impinged on Miguel’s case as his second lawyer, renowned radical civil liberties lawyer Lynne Stewart, was no longer able to defend him after being convicted last February in a frame-up prosecution of providing material aid to terrorism by defending a client for whom she was the court-appointed attorney. Stewart now faces up to 30 years in jail, while the right to a lawyer is gravely threatened.
Imperialist wars have always been accompanied by an assault on civil liberties. During World War I, leftist opponents of the war such as Socialist Party leader Eugene Debs and the revolutionary syndicalists of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW – known as the “Wobblies”) were thrown into jail by the hundreds. In World War II, 28 leaders of the then-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party and of the Minneapolis Teamster locals that they led were prosecuted and jailed for “sedition” under the anti-communist Smith Act because of their revolutionary opposition to the second imperialist world war. During the Korean War, as the anti-Soviet Cold War was getting underway, the leadership of the Communist Party was jailed and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of CP members lost their jobs.
Immediately after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, City University general counsel Frederick Schaffer decreed that undocumented immigrants would henceforth be treated as foreign students, even if they had lived in New York for years. This meant more than doubling their tuition with the effect of driving thousands of students out of school. The Internationalist Group took the lead in organizing protest against this immigrant-bashing measure, calling a united-front protest of several hundred in November 2001. Due to the outcry, state law was later changed to partially roll back this immigrant-bashing measure.
Since 2003, the U.S. war on Iraq has deeply affected colleges and universities across the country. The government has sought to enlist academia in its program for “war without end.” When in 2004 an attempt was made to establish a Homeland Security program at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, we exposed this abomination. An article (“Abu Ghraib 101 at BMCC? ‘Fatherland Security’ Hits CUNY”) was published in Revolution No. 2 (October 2004) detailing the sinister program. This article was widely reproduced as faculty and students at BMCC raised an uproar. In the face of this outcry, the program was eventually shelved (see article, p. 11).
Currently, the escalation of repression at City University has focused on suppressing protests against military recruiters. As the U.S. runs up against manpower shortages for its colonial occupation of Iraq, falling recruitment rates have led the Pentagon to seek to entice students to enlist in the military. At Bronx Community College, the Revolutionary Reconstruction Club managed to keep military recruiters off campus for an entire month last Spring, driving off Army, Marines, Air Force teams and then holding a united-front protest jointly endorsed by the Christian Club, the Muslim Club, the Cheerleading Club and faculty members.
At City College, however, three students and a staff worker were arrested last March for protesting the presence of military recruiters at CCNY. The administration came down particularly hard on the staff employee arrested, Carol Lang, who is still being victimized, now facing a second suspension in addition to loss of pay. Carol has joined in protests for Miguel and attended his trial, while CUNY Action to Defend Miguel Malo has joined in efforts in defense of Lang.
All Out December 13: Miguel Malo Must Not Go to Jail!
In the flood of letters that have been sent to Judge Catherine Bartlett asking that Miguel not be sentenced to prison, many have emphasized his struggle to improve education at Hostos and City University. One noted that in the Fall of 2001, shortly after his arrest, Miguel and another Hostos student were joint plaintiffs in a suit against the City of New York to recover $19 million that had been withheld from community colleges by the Giuliani administration. This cutback violated a law that had been enacted to ensure that community colleges didn’t get shortchanged in hardball budget negotiations.
As a result of that suit, Malo and Rivera v. Giuliani et al., roughly $11 million was restored. The Hostos PSC chairwoman issued a leaflet titled “Hostos Heroes” saying, “Miguel deserves our deepest gratitude, not jail time.” As one faculty member remarked, usually when someone gets millions of dollars for CUNY they name a building after them. But not in Miguel’s case.
Letters from faculty and staff on behalf of Miguel show an acute awareness of what sending him to prison would portend for CUNY. A retired professor of history wrote: “I have a vivid memory of intimidation of students in the 1950s, when I was enrolled in City College, now also part of CUNY. Dissent was viewd as treason then, at a time when presumed traitors, like the Rosenbergs, were actually executed. We are not at such a stage now, but I fear that Miguel Malo’s treatment could be an early sign of a similar danger.”
From Hostos College itself at least 20 letters were sent to the judge. One professor quoted Martin Niemöller, Martin Luther King Jr. and cited the case of Rosa Parks (“arrested, convicted and fined $10.00, plus $4.00 in court costs”). “I personally know Mr. Miguel Malo,” the professor wrote. “He is a gentle person who tried to express issues that others were not able to express for themselves.”
If Miguel Malo is sentenced to prison, there should be a storm of protest from students, faculty and staff of the City University, as well as from working people, immigrants and all defenders of democratic rights. The guilty verdict is already an outrage, a jail sentence would compound the injustice. CUNY should be shut down by mass action over such an abomination.
The CUNY Internationalist Clubs insist, along with many hundreds of others at the City University of New York, that Miguel Malo is innocent. Those who have committed a despicable crime are the CUNY administration, the Bronx District Attorney and the capitalist courts. They have given Miguel the same treatment they always give to those who fight injustice.
out December 13 – Miguel Malo must not go to jail!
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