Since entering the City College of New York in 2003, I have taken great interest in researching the culture and history of the surrounding neighborhood and the campus itself. Stumbling upon the Guillermo Morales-Assata Shakur Student and Community Center, I wanted to learn who these figures were and why a student center was named after them. I researched the two names and was startled to find out that they were federal fugitives, officially designated as terrorists.
Born as Joanne Chesimard, Shakur is an alumna of CCNY and was an organizer in the Black Liberation Army. Among her early acts include the armed robbery of a Brooklyn church in September of 1972. Shakur was convicted of murdering New Jersey highway trooper Werner Foerster in May 1973 during a routine traffic stop, when her car was pulled over for a broken tail light. While patting down fellow passenger Clark Squire, Foerster detected gun clips and ordered Chesimard to raise her arms. Instead, Foerster was fired upon and killed. Because Chesimard was convicted by an all-white jury, many African-Americans and political radicals viewed the trial as unjust and biased against Chesimard. Not waiting to file for appeal, she fled from prison in 1979 with the help of armed accomplices, eventually making her way to Cuba as a guest of Fidel Castro.
Guillermo Morales shares a similar history of using violence to justify his political agenda. As the chief bomb maker of the terror group FALN (Armed Forces of National Liberation), Morales took credit for bombing a number of Manhattan office buildings in the 1970s in order to promote Puerto Rican independence. Unfortunately for Morales, most Puerto Rican voters disagreed with his violent campaign and voted to remain a US commonwealth. In 1978, Morales accidentally blew up his hands while making a bomb in his Queens home. Sentenced to 89 years imprisonment, he fled from Bellevue Hospital while being fitted with prosthetic hands. Morales eventually reached Cuba via Mexico.
When I approached members of the Student Liberation Action Movement (SLAM), which runs the student center, I was told that Morales and Shakur were revolutionaries and heroes for the black and Hispanic communities, and that there was no way that the sign promoting their names was going to be removed. This student group acquired their own room on campus following a 1989 campus takeover by radical students protesting tuition hikes. In an agreement with the administration, the room became a “student and community center.” Nowhere in the agreement was there mention of how this center got the name Morales-Shakur. Likewise, in the student government, I ran into a wall of opposition. I was told that removing the name was impossible, and that faculty members sympathetic to SLAM would prevent any possibility of a debate on the merits of Morales and Shakur being honored.
Though the room claims to be a “student and community center,” it is in reality run by a fringe leftist student group. Posters demanding freedom for convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, reparations for African-Americans, and the end of the "Zionist Occupation" are prominently displayed within this room. While SLAM is proud to own a small piece of the campus, any talk about military recruiters or restoring the ROTC to the campus results in noisy demonstrations. The leftists jealously guard their monopoly on campus politics. As a taxpayer, I felt that the student center should represent all students, including those with conservative political views. When I hung up posters condemning Ms. Shakur, they were immediately torn down by SLAM members.
Most students at CCNY are busy studying and working to engage in campus politics, and as a result are not aware who Morales and Shakur are. Even the college president, Dr. Gregory H. Williams, confessed to not knowing who these two individuals were. I then took my case to the media by writing a letter to the New York Daily News, which published my letter on December 12, 2006. The letter complained about the fact that CCNY has a student center named after two convicted terrorists, and that there wasn’t much that could be done to change the names. The next day, reporters from the newspaper visited my campus to interview SLAM members and me. Looking at the tense exchange of words between the reporters and the radical activists, CCNY spokeswoman Mary Lou Edmondson warned me, “You know, we will be getting plenty of angry phone calls from alumni, threatening to withdraw their donations.” I responded that maybe if the college was aware of who its student center was named after, this controversy wouldn’t have happened. Among the upset alumni who contacted the college was CUNY chancellor Matthew Goldstein, who ordered President Williams to remove the sign immediately. Facing a well-organized lobby of leftist students and faculty, I doubted that the sign would be taken down.
The next day, the campus was visited by reporters from Fox, ABC, CBS, and the New York Times. Feeling that they were treated unfairly by the media, SLAM members began a campaign of mud-slinging against my name. Threatening blogs began to appear, labeling me as a racist and fascist, comparing me to Pat Buchanan and white supremacists. The blogs blamed the media for taking attention off police brutality in order to focus on Assata Shakur. In the leftists’ twisted sense of justice, while police brutality is evil, killing cops makes someone a revolutionary hero. SLAM leaders Igwe Williams and Rodolfo Leyton took their smear campaign a step further by focusing on my identity as a Zionist. Pointing to my position as the former president of the CCNY Hillel, I was blamed for “supporting the oppression of the Palestinian people.” But maybe these individuals are the real racists for applying a double standard towards Israel while ignoring the human rights violations of the Castro regime in Cuba, which is sheltering Morales and Shakur.
Within four days of my letter being published, the sign was removed by the college from the door of the student center. Since then, SLAM has vowed to sue to restore the sign and has waged an aggressive campaign to persuade students that Shakur and Morales were framed by the government. In spite of the intimidation, I am proud to attend CCNY as it continues its renaissance. I urge all concerned students, faculty, and alumni to take a closer look at the political landscape of their colleges, and help ensure diversity of political opinion on campus against the monopolistic tactics of the radical Left.
Sergey Kadinsky was born in Latvia and is a senior at CCNY, where he majors in journalism and political science. He is a staff writer at the Campus newspaper and an active leader in the campus Jewish community. His blog is www.xanga.com/mazeartist.