A New York City college has agreed to take down a sign naming a student center after a fugitive terrorist and a Black militant convicted of murdering a police trooper.
For 17 years, the small suite of offices on the City College of New York’s Harlem campus has borne the names of Guillermo Morales, a Puerto Rican separatist involved in a series of bombings in the city in the 1970s, and Assata Shakur, who escaped from prison while serving time for the 1973 killing of a New Jersey State Police trooper.
Radical student groups picked the name after they began using the space following 1989 sit-ins over tuition increases, and the name stuck without interference from college administrators until Tuesday, when the Daily News published a front-page article calling the name “a punch to the gut” to crime and terror victims.
A City College spokeswoman initially defended the students’ right to pick their own name, but on Tuesday the college reversed course.
City University of New York Chancellor Matthew Goldstein wrote to City College President Gregory H. Williams requesting that the “unauthorized and inappropriate” sign over the center’s door be taken down. Only CUNY’s trustees, Goldstein said, have the authority to name college facilities.
By midday, officials at the college said they intended to comply.
“President Williams and the chancellor are in complete agreement about the sign,” City College spokeswoman Mary Lou Edmondson said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “It in no way reflects the college’s or the university’s support for these individuals.”
She didn’t say when the sign would be removed.
Some of the groups that use the Guillermo Morales/Assata Shakur Student and Community Center have said they would explore legal action to stop the school from forcing a name change.
The center’s director, architecture student Rodolfo Leyton, 29, says he believes the college should honor the wishes of the activists who chose the name.
“Both of those people were involved in community struggles,” he says of Morales and Shakur. “The ideals of the students of ‘89 reflected those two people.”
Morales was arrested on bomb-making charges in 1978 after he accidentally blew off all but one finger while handling explosives in a Queens apartment.
During the time Morales was making weapons for the Armed Forces of National Liberation, the group was responsible for dozens of terrorist bomb attacks, including one that killed four people and wounded dozens at the Fraunces Tavern Restaurant in Manhattan in 1975.
Morales escaped from custody in 1979 by climbing out a hospital window. He later was jailed in Mexico for five years and now lives in Cuba.
Shakur, whose birth name was Joanne Chesimard, was convicted of murder in 1973 after a routine traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike escalated into a shootout between police officers and a group of armed militants.
Trooper Werner Foerster was killed. Another trooper was wounded. Shakur was shot twice, and one of her companions was slain.
Shakur broke out of a New Jersey prison with the help of armed accomplices in 1979 and also fled to Cuba. The U.S. government has offered a $1 million reward for her capture.
She claims she never fired a shot during the gun battle, but she has also called for “armed struggle” in the United States against institutionalized racism.
The president of the New Jersey State Troopers Fraternal Association, David Jones, applauded the college’s decision to remove the sign. He has harsh words for the students who consider Morales and Shakur to be heroes.
“How, in the city of New York, with what they went through on 9/11, could anyone in their sick mind try to justify what Willie Morales did at the Fraunces Tavern?” he says. “These are people who are worshipping murderers and criminals.”
— Associated Press
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com