By Colin Morgan
On October 22, 2014,CUNY students rallied in front of the Lehman College bookstore in an effort to raise awareness of police brutality and racism.
The rally attracted a small crowd of students, many of whom were holding up signs relating to police brutality, the Michael Brown shooting, and immigration issues. Members from several student groups, including the Lehman College Dream Team and Students for Justice in Palestine, spoke about various issues plaguing immigrants and minorities. The demonstrators were enthusiastic, vigorously chanting and yelling messages such as, “Undocumented? Unafraid!”, and were also attentive to each speaker. Several passers-by took notice or joined the crowd.
The rally was organized by the Dream Team in collaboration with the Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee (RSCC).The Dream Team student group has a presence in several CUNY colleges, and their aim is to raise awareness about the issues minorities and immigrants face with the police and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“Families are separated every single day,” said Dream Team member, Janet Perez. “The policing of our communities has hut our communities so bad. We live in fear of being deported. That is why today we’re making a stand, making a command to stop the policing of communities [and to] stop the ICE.”
In a post-rally interview, Perez said, “ICE police officers were working in conjunction with the local police officers, so at any given moment if you got arrested and went to the precinct, they could have given you up to the ICE officers.”
Several students at the rally shared their experiences about their encounters with the police and ICE. Perez, who was once arrested for civil disobedience in 2012, said, “As I looked back at my brother, he’s 9 years old, he was telling me, crying, ‘Janet, why did you get arrested? Why? That could’ve separated our families!’ […] Every day, my family, at any given moment could be arrested, deported, or separated. That’s what a broken family looks like.”
Lehman Dream Team member Christian Peruyero, recounted several experiences with racism from the police on the Lehman College campus. “Just going home late, I would get stopped by the cops, and they’re like, ‘What do you have?’ and I’m like, ‘I have books in my book bag.’ And they’re like, ‘Books…’ and I say, ‘Look, it’s books.’ They’ve done this several times, the same officers. It’s like, c’mon, you’re just picking on me? They just want to keep the population scared.”
The rally ended with a statement from Lehman College alumnus and Dream Team member Percy Luján, “Even if you are not undocumented, you’re still faced with brutality in the form of policing and in the form of incarceration. Your families can still be divided, and you still face the violence that the state commits against you.”
Other issues discussed included Muslim communities being spied on by the NYPD and the mass incarceration of black and brown people. City College sophomore and Education Officer for the RSCC Tafadar Sourov, mentioned that the goal of the rally was to connect the discussed issues “to show how, at the end of the day, you have a large mass of the people being oppressed by a ruling class, and [to show how] the cops are serving clearly not the people, but the ruling class.”
“It’s not just an issue of immigrants, but of all facets of society and all people,” Peruyero added. “We can all work on this issue happening in our communities. [The police] don’t protect and serve the community and the people, they protect and serve the wealthy, the rich, and the elites.”
On the same date, many other schools across the country conducted rallies and marches with the same goals of stopping police brutality. Notably, many students and student groups attended a New York City march from Union Square to Times Square.
Many of these events are recognized or organized by an organization called The October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation. The coalition’s first march was in Union Square in 1996, and since then, they have held marches to raise awareness every year, expanding around the country.