Volume 78 - Number 45 / April 15 -21, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photos by Jefferson Siegel

Around 11 p.m. on Friday, police arrested a demonstrator on 14th St. by the north side of The New School’s building at 65 Fifth Ave., which students had occupied earlier that day. After the arrests, the crowds dispersed.

Second New School occupation ends quickly, as police arrest all

By Jefferson Siegel

Early last Friday morning, for the second time in four months, students dissatisfied with the administration of The New School took over the school’s graduate faculty building on Fifth Ave. However, unlike December’s 32-hour occupation, last week’s occupiers were arrested within hours of entering the building.

In all, 19 students were arrested inside the building, including three from New York University and one each from Hunter and Brooklyn colleges. The remainder were New School students. The three N.Y.U. students had also participated in February’s occupation of the N.Y.U. Kimmel Center cafeteria. 

During the six-hour occupation, three students protesting on the street scuffled with police and were also arrested. All 22 were held overnight in Central Booking. Most were arraigned and released from jail by Saturday night. 

Late Friday night a rally and march in support of the arrestees resulted in three more arrests outside the graduate faculty building, at 65 Fifth Ave. On Saturday night another march resulted in more property damage and another three or four arrests. 

At the rally at Union Square on Friday evening supporting those arrested earlier in the day, New School student Mary Stillwaggon held a sign, calling for all the charges to be dropped.

Anger had been mounting for years among students and faculty of the Greenwich Village university, reaching a boiling point last December when dozens of students occupied a ground-floor cafeteria in the Fifth Ave. building.

Their complaints centered around the policies of school president Bob Kerrey. Specifically, the December occupiers decried the lack of an autonomous space for students, while demanding creation of a socially responsible investing committee. In addition to Kerrey’s resignation, they also called for Jim Murtha, the school’s executive vice president, to step down.

Paul Moore, a philosophy student at the Eugene Lang College of The New School, attended a student meeting with Kerrey last month.

“The most contentious issue was socially responsible investing,” Moore recalled. He was also troubled by a Catch-22 involving the University Student Senate. Moore said participants at the meeting were told the Student Senate couldn’t represent students because it was too new. (An interim Student Senate was formed in 2005 and officially recognized in 2007.) 

Teresa Franco, a New School junior in religious studies, was also at that meeting and found Kerrey unresponsive to student concerns.

“He was a politician the entire time and wouldn’t answer our questions,” she said. 

Last Friday morning the students didn’t have an opportunity to raise any issues. They entered the graduate faculty building just after 5 a.m. Around 6 a.m. a text message blast notified other students and activists of the action and called for support.

A number of students interviewed on the street Friday said they either slept through the text message or decided to wait until later in the morning to participate. 

Shortly after gaining entry, the protesters took a two-way radio from a maintenance worker and then forced him out of the building. After a security guard tried to enter the building while responding to a call from the maintenance worker, a door was slammed on his leg. He was taken to the St. Vincent’s Hospital emergency room for treatment. 

Helmeted police left 65 Fifth Ave. on Friday morning after arresting 19 demonstrators who had mounted a short-lived occupation of the building.

Over the next two hours, police arrived in numbers as the students barricaded themselves inside the ground floor. Several students made their way to the roof, where they hung banners reading, “New School University Is Now Occupied” and “Kerrey and Murtha Resign Now.” At one point, several masked individuals on the roof read demands through a bullhorn to those on the street below. One student marched around on the roof waving a red-and-black anarchist flag.

By 9 a.m., police had closed off Fifth Ave. in front of the building, as well as surrounding streets. Students arriving to support the occupiers were unable to get close. 

“The police kept moving us from one corner to another,” said N.Y.U. junior Sarah Magno, who arrived shortly before 7 a.m. 

Around 10:30 a.m., several students attempted to exit the building from a side door on 14th St. A tape made by Brandon Jourdan, a documentary videographer, shows a half-dozen police officers forcing the door closed. Two officers are seen discharging pepper spray into the doorway. 

In statements released that morning, the police originally discounted reports of the use of pepper spray or tear gas.

Once the video surfaced on the Web, they clarified their position, saying that pepper spray was not used inside the building to end the occupation. 

On Jourdan’s tape, police are seen running east on 14th St. and arresting three people — one of whom an officer had first swiped at with an open hand before the man fell to the ground.

A second video on The New School Free Press Web site, shot by Brooklyn College student Chris McCallion, shows several people raising metal barricades and pushing them in the direction of police before the arrests.

Another video posted by the Police Department shows the conclusion of the occupation as task force officers enter the ground-floor lounge area of the building. The 19 occupiers, sitting quietly on the floor, are asked to stand up one at a time. Although the video only runs 2 minutes, it depicts a peaceful end, as one by one, students are arrested and plastic handcuffs are zipped on them.

In a Friday e-mail to The New School community, Kerrey said of the occupiers, “Their claim that this was a simple political protest is false. The university asked the New York Police Department to remove and arrest those who were trespassing on our property.” 

Kerrey’s e-mail said the student occupiers were suspended, pending administrative review. 

Charges filed by police against them included criminal trespassing and criminal mischief.  

Late Friday afternoon the part-time faculty union of The New School and N.Y.U. issued a statement saying, “This protest is symptomatic of the administration’s failure to foster a healthy and democratic educational community.” 

Friday night a rally was organized in Union Square to show support for the arrestees. New School student Andy Folk read a timeline of the morning’s events to a crowd of 150 people. His description of several incidents, including Kerrey’s calling in the police, elicited boos from the crowd. 

Parsons freshman Mary Stillwaggon stood in the crowd holding a sign reading, “Drop the Charges!”  

“This is just another example of Bob Kerrey’s outrageous tactics to assert his authority over the students,” she said.

A member of the school’s Radical Student Union, Stillwaggon denied the R.S.U. had any role in organizing the occupation. In interviews with other R.S.U. and New School in Exile students throughout the day, all denied the groups had any part in organizing the occupation, although some members of each group did participate. 

After several short speeches, the crowd walked out of the square and headed west on 14th St., filling the westbound car lanes. Some in the crowd wore masks or covered their faces with scarves. As they proceeded along 14th St. and then down Sixth Ave., many overturned garbage cans and newspaper boxes. Others grabbed garbage bags and threw them into the path of traffic. At several points along the way, metal barricades that had been used by police earlier in the day for crowd control, were dragged into the street to block traffic. 

As they walked, the marchers chanted, “Occupy everything!” 

At 11 p.m. they arrived in front of Kerrey’s townhouse. As police began penning the marchers in from both sides, the crowd paused momentarily before marching back to Sixth Ave. and turning east onto 12th St. As they walked down the middle of the street, a young man wearing a face mask kicked several side-view mirrors off of parked cars. There was the sound of breaking glass as a car window was shattered. A few in the crowd chanted, “Kerrey, not cars,” but it did not stop the property damage from continuing.  

When the marchers reached Fifth Ave. and began dragging more metal barricades into the street to block traffic, police arrived in force. The crowd began running toward the 65 Fifth Ave. building. Police grabbed two students and chased a third onto 14th St., where she was handcuffed. The remainder of the marchers walked back to Union Square, where they eventually dispersed. 

Late Saturday night, another march through the East Village resulted in additional property damage and arrests. New School student Moore, who attended both marches, said New School students were not involved in the vandalism. 

On Monday night, the Graduate Faculty Student Senate and the Radical Student Union planned meetings in anticipation of a possible walkout or student strike later this week. 

The three-story building occupied by the students had been scheduled to be razed, to be replaced by a 350-foot-tall structure. However, owing to community opposition and the economy, that design was scrapped.

On April 1, Kerrey sent a letter to Village community members, giving an update on the project. Kerrey’s letter said the school’s board of trustees had recently approved starting anew on the schematic design phase for the new building, to come up with a less-ambitious project.

“Given the current economic climate, this building will be ‘as of right’ and on a smaller scale than previously considered,” Kerrey said. “The university will continue to work with Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) as architects. Ongoing consultation with The New School community, including our faculty and students, as well as input from the local community will help inform SOM’s design.”

Asked on Monday if Kerrey is considering resigning in the face of the protests that have been calling for his ouster, Jane Crotty, a New School spokesperson, responded, “He is not.”

A few weeks ago, a student was arrested after writing “Bye Bob” on the outside of Kerrey’s townhouse.

Crotty said whereas the students occupying 65 Fifth Ave. in December had clear demands, this latest occupation was different.

“This was not a legitimate demonstration with demands,” she said. “They had no demands. They broke into the building — it was 5:30 in the morning. We didn’t know who they were. … The maintenance man is an Ecuadorian immigrant close to retirement. Four people picked him up and threw him out of the building. They stole his radio. His English isn’t even that good. He must have been terrified. The security guard was treated for an injured knee at St. Vincent’s. Peaceful demonstrations and teach-ins are one thing. But Bob’s not going to tolerate any vandalism — you can’t. We have 10,000 other students who want an education.”

With reporting by Lincoln Anderson

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