By MARTY GOODMAN
NEW YORK-Four persons were arrested and several physically assaulted by campus security and New York Police Department (NYPD) cops at a Feb. 13 conference sponsored by the New York Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition.
The conference had been called to organize support for the mass April 24 march for Mumia in Philadelphia.
Among those injured in the attack was Jennifer Roach, who was thrown to the ground by one of “New York’s finest” after telling cops of her seven-month pregnancy. Another woman, Johanna Fernandez, was kicked in the knee after pleading with cops that she suffered from an existing leg injury.
Those arrested were charged with “disorderly conduct” and released a few hours later with a summons to appear in court March 19.
The assault on the conference, which took place at City College of New York (CCNY), was seen by activists as part of an attempt by cops, particularly the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), to silence those getting out the truth about Mumia’s case.
The attack, little more than a week after the police murder of Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo, came at a time of increased awareness of police brutality in New York. It was covered by The New York Times, El Diario, radio, and at least two TV stations.
At a press conference organized by the Coalition, Jennifer Roach noted that the police “do not want the truth released. They do not want a new trial [for Mumia] because they do not want people to know the daily harassment and brutality of the police, whether in the treatment of Mumia Abu-Jamal or Amadou Diallo.”
Despite the disruption, organizers were able to resume the conference. The gathering attracted some 200 people, although some attendees left out of fear of another police attack.
Speakers included Pam Africa, of International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal; Michael Warren and attorney Safiya Bukari, of the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition; Clark Kissinger of Refuse and Resist; and Manning Marable, director of the Center for African American Research at Columbia University.
The attack began with the arrest of Brian Campbell, a member of the International Socialist Organization (ISO). The arrest was entirely unprovoked, as I and another conference attendee, Thomas Barton, witnessed.
In the middle of a conversation I was having with Campbell, he was approached by campus security Sgt. Devon White, who accused Campbell of “dropping chairs” on an escalator some 15 minutes earlier as he brought more chairs to the conference area.
White then told Campbell to “get out of this building.”
After Campbell protested that he had done nothing and would not leave, White had an undercover NYPD cop handcuff him and place him under arrest. While cuffed, Campbell had his head bashed against a wall, which drew blood.
News of the arrest was quickly relayed to the rest of the conference, which rushed to the scene, surrounding the cops and chanting, “Let him go!” Quickly, Sgt. White radioed for reinforcements, and about one dozen NYPD with nightsticks came within a couple of minutes.
Despite their anger the Mumia supporters remained non-violent. But even so, Campbell and three others were arrested: Craig Webster, who was thrown to the ground by cops, is South African and an organizer for the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union, Local 6; Mark Turner is a CCNY faculty member; and Sherry Wolf is an ISO organizer.
At the police station Wolf was strip searched by a female cop while male cops were present. Wolf, Campbell, and Webster have been banned from the CCNY campus.
The CCNY’s reaction from the beginning of the conference was hostile. Coalition organizers paid CCNY $3000 for the conference yet literature tables of supporting organizations were confined to an area some 200 feet from the conference itself.
In addition, campus security would not permit sales of literature at these tables-absurd since sales of political items on this very political campus is routine.
CCNY maintains a so-called Safe Team among campus security, which is trained by the NYPD Disorder Control Unit The Safe Team keeps a list of campus dissidents and is used to bust demonstrations.
Court action and eyewitness accounts revealed, for example, that a video camera was installed in the ISO office smoke detector, which was linked to Sgt. White-who is on the Safe Team.
Early in the conference, White provocatively ripped down ISO posters without warning.
And he arrested faculty member Turner last May at a demonstration protesting remedial program cutbacks. Several charges of sexual harassment have been made against White.
Although there was a successful student struggle against armed security guards on campus, the NYPD can still come there, but only by permission of the school president or chancellor.
There were orders by the NYPD via walkie-talkie, heard by one activist, for campus security to “stand down” in the heated situation.
That the NYPD came in anyway likely means they were given orders by someone to attack the Mumia supporter. A lawsuit on the attack is planned.