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Students Protest Militarization at CUNY and War Criminal David Petraeus’ New Position

By Sharmin Hossain


In a political reality where the Senate Foreign Policy committee approves U.S. military intervention in Syria; where we uncover thousands of Iraqi children born with deformities as a result of U.S. chemical weapon attacks; and where the continuous illegal detainment of over 160 Muslim brothers at Guantanamo Bay is sanctioned; the City University of New York (CUNY) is witnessing rampant militarization in line with broader agendas of U.S. terrorism. On September 9th, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director David Petraeus — who also formerly headed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) International Security Assistance Force for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and co-wrote the Counterinsurgency Field Manual — began a new job as an adjunct professor at City University of New York (CUNY) Macaulay Honors College.

Students, professors, and communities of people who are continuously impacted by U.S. imperialism overseas and the illegal occupation of Third World nations mobilized to protest the war criminal’s appointment. After learning about Petraeus’ presence at a Macaulay Honors fundraiser that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and CNN correspondent Fareed Zakaria were also expected to attend, students planned a demonstration outside. Those who were demonstrating were met with violence and repression by the NYPD. Six CUNY students were brutally assaulted by plain clothed NYPD officers and arrested on falsified charges.  

“One, two, three, four! Defeat U.S. imperialist war! Five, six, seven, eight, Petraeus out, we won’t wait!” protesters screamed. Outside the well-guarded doors and heavy security of the Macaulay Honors College, students demonstrated in sheer disgust at university administrators who have invited a war criminal along with the Army Senior Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) onto campuses. CUNY ousted ROTC back in 1971, when student activists organized against American involvement in Vietnam and the military program. As tuition rises, and more students of low income backgrounds and communities of imperialized peoples are marginalized from the CUNY system, CUNY’s decision to invite army recruiters to speak to the multitudes of pro-military sentiment is appalling. The university released a statement ignoring the brutal assault on students, while acting to protect Petraeus’ position at the university. CUNY students in the Ad Hoc Committee Against Militarization of CUNY are committed to fighting the charges against the CUNY 6, and to justice being served in a situation where the NYPD violently repressed a peaceful protest. CUNY student organizers are also concerned about fighting the overwhelming tide of privatization at the largest public university system in the country, alongside the rampant violation of students rights by NYPD.

The CUNY protesters who have been met with violence and their allies are strategizing ways to build an intersectional movement addressing the increasing presence of the NYPD on their campuses. They are opposing military recruiters who are moving in during a critical political moment when the threat of war with Syria still stands, and continuous drone warfare besieges communities in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The increasing militarization of CUNY is clearly reflected on campus: in Army and Navy “missile command” and “air warfare” representatives’ participation in a City College of New York conference on “Automatic Target Sensing,” and in the fact that arms manufacturers Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed Martin are significant backers for CCNY’s $198 million Advanced Science Research Center.

Students organizing with the Ad-Hoc Committee Against the Militarization of CUNY spoke up against a culture of militarization and the rampant dismissal of the needs of communities of color by targeting Professor Petraeus’ class. This method was used as a means of mass mobilization and exposure, with the goal of driving out Petraeus and the ROTC. The ROTC program is targeting campuses with some of the highest rates of people of color: Medgar Evers College, City College, and York College. When David Petraeus left his first class last Monday, he was met with dignified students who were outraged by his silence and desensitized attitude towards the atrocities he has committed. Communities of poor people of color have been and will continue to be attacked by the U.S. military — whether it’s chemical weapons in Fallujah, or the Atlacatl Batallion in El Salvador where Petraeus carried out one of the most notorious mass extermination missions of Central America’s dirty wars, the El Mozote Massacre — students have a right to protest war criminals and are demanding, at the least, the dismissal of a criminal who is currently walking the streets free of charge.

Organizers at CUNY are demanding that Petraeus be tried for the brutal genocide of Afghan, Iraqi, and Latin American peoples, and that CUNY as an institution stand up against imperialism and U.S. terrorism. We demand war criminals and the ROTC be ousted now. The anti-war movement in America is needed now more than ever. The conversations around Syria and the threat of yet another Middle Eastern war, the drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia, and the threat of further militarization at the Mexican border are reaching a fever pitch. Organizers and activists must join the common struggle against destructive U.S. foreign policy. Resisting imperialism and an elite culture that thrives off of the war machine and the murder of innocent civilians overseas should be a part of our organizing efforts.

In order to address the growing militarization of our schools — for example, the NYPD spying on young Muslim students and young Black and brown bodies being subject to illegal stops and frisks — we must protest. Even if it means standing up against a violent police state. Join or start the conversation at your own schools, and let’s build an intersectional movement that unites communities of victims of war and their allies to resist U.S. imperialism. Speak back to talking heads for their endorsement of state sanctioned terrorism. Not in our name and not on our campus.

Follow Sharmin on Twitter @SharminUltraa.

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Sharmin Hossain

South Asian womanist, coffee enthusiast, radical educator and anti-Islamophobe.

Catch up with me @SharminUltraa.




higher education


September 25, 2013

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