HARLEM — City College campus police used pepper spray and arrested one person when a protest over the closure of a student center turned rowdy Thursday afternoon.
Students were protesting the sudden Sunday morning closure of the Guillermo Morales/Assata Shakur Student and Community Center on the third floor of the North Academic Center at 138th Street and Convent Avenue.
City College officials released a statement saying that a man not enrolled in the college, used his child as a shield in an attempt to push past public safety officers and enter the Administration Building.
"Subsequently, the nonstudent along with a group of people rushed across the street to enter the North Academic Center building from the Amsterdam Avenue side. A door was pulled from the hinge, causing the situation to become unsafe," the college statement reads.
That man, whose name was not released, was arrested for endangering the welfare of a minor, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Another person was cited for disorderly conduct.
"City College continues to respect peaceful protests while maintaining safety," the statement read.
Student leaders Glenda Ullauri and Tafadar Sourov disputed that characterization of events, saying the man, who is an alumnus of City College, was retreating with his toddler when campus police moved aggressively toward him with barricades.
"It was completely unwarranted. It's horrible that they would put the child in danger," said Ullauri, 22, a senior at the college and part of Sisters Circle Collective, one of at least 35 student and community groups that used the space.
"They say we were making the situation unsafe but they brought the barricades and the pepper spray," added Ullauri.
Sourov, 19, a sophomore at City College and member of the Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee, said students are concerned the level of force used against them will rise.
"It shows why a lot of students have been protesting about the militarization of CUNY," Sourov said citing recent protests over the hiring of retired Gen. and former CIA director David Petraeus as a visiting professor.
The Morales/Shakur space was given to students following the 1989 protests over tuition hikes. It is named for Morales, a Puerto Rican separatist who lost his fingers and an eye when a bomb he was making exploded, and Shakur, a member of the Black Liberation Army formerly known as Joanne Chesimard, who was convicted in the 1973 shooting death of a New Jersey state trooper.
Without warning, City College reclaimed the space early Sunday, the week of midterm exams. School officials say they took the space to expand the City College Careers and Professional Development Institute.
In 2006, the college removed a sign with the name of the center after complaints.
"That center was were I and my friends went to socialize do homework and do political organizing. We feel like a piece of us has been ripped out," said Sourov.
Deidra W. Hill, City College's vice president for communications and marketing, said there is no signed agreement regarding the space and that the college does not "provide space to students in perpetuity"
Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, a student leader during those 1989 protests, has called on City College to restore the space.
Ullauri said students don't plan to stop until the student space is returned.
"Now we know what they are capable of," said Ullauri. "But this will only make us fight harder."