Outpouring of Support at CUNY Defeats Prosecution Demand for Prison Time


In Bronx Criminal Court Tuesday morning, Hostos Community College student leader Miguel Malo was sentenced to probation and community service instead of prison. As Miguel walked out of the court room, he was surrounded and joyfully embraced by scores of supporters who had come out to show solidarity with him. Gathering across the street afterwards, they gathered in front of a banner proclaiming, “Miguel Malo Is Innocent – CUNY Is Not a Prison.” They ended with a vigorous chant, “¡Miguel Malo, inocente – y libre!”

More than 1,300 students, faculty and staff at the City University of New York had signed petitions saying “Miguel Malo should not spend one day in jail.” Close to 100 letters to the court were sent by CUNY professors and others asking that he not be imprisoned. The University Faculty Senate voted (by 60 to 1) to ask that he not be jailed. And while three years probation is onerous, Miguel is not behind bars today. This is a direct result of the mobilization of support at Hostos and other CUNY campuses. Miguel Malo is walking the streets of New York this afternoon because the people he defended came out to defend him.

During the presentations in the sentencing hearing, the prosecution asked for 30 days’ jail time in order to “punish the criminal.” Miguel’s attorney, Karen Funk, pointed to the overwhelming support for Miguel at the City University, including a crowd waiting outside in the corridor. Judge Catherine Bartlett delivered a long lecture against “violence” and said she was “leaning to incarcerate” Miguel, but that she had “taken into account” the numerous letters, petitions, and the fact that Miguel was already performing community service, at a Bronx agency, Part of the Solution (POTS), where he has been serving food to 250 homeless and needy people a day.

Miguel Malo was arrested in August 2001 for the “crime” of holding up a sign protesting cuts and fee hikes in bilingual and English as a second language (ESL) programs at Hostos, a college that was set up to service Spanish-speaking residents of New York City. He was then charged with assaulting the campus “peace officers” who in fact brutally assaulted him. After four years, well over 50 court appearances and two trials (the first ended in a mistrial), the vindictive prosecution was able to win a conviction October 24, on bogus charges of “reckless assault” and disorderly conduct – but they were unable to send him to jail.

The Bronx District Attorney’s office and City University chiefs doubtless figured that with the guilty verdict, the case would be over. Instead, the opposite occurred. Letters poured in from faculty and students concerned not only that sending Miguel to jail would ruin his life, but also about the consequences of his imprisonment for everyone at CUNY. The message that people who protest could end up doing time in Riker’s Island would certainly chill the exercise of free speech and make a mockery of “academic freedom.” Indeed, the purpose of the vindictive prosecution, which cost tens of thousands of dollars, was to criminalize protest

Speaking at the rally afterwards, spokesmen for CUNY Action to Defend Miguel Malo emphasized that while we were able to beat back the concerted drive to imprison Miguel Malo, it would be light-minded to consider this a complete victory. This is a “capitalist injustice system” which last night executed Tookie Williams, the death row prisoner at San Quentin, because he dedicated his book, Life in Prison, to Nelson Mandela, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Malcolm X, Assata Shakur, George Jackson and other class-war prisoners. It is a system in which the killer cops who gunned down African immigrants Amadou Diallo and Ousmane Zongo go free.

The persecution of Miguel Malo has been part of a generalized offensive against immigrants and minorities, as the unionized immigrant workers understood who repeatedly came out to defend him at protests over the last several years. It is part of escalating repression that is part of parcel of the U.S.’ “war on terror” whose purpose is to terrorize the world into submission to U.S. dictates. As one protester’s sign declared, “War on Iraq, CUNY under attack.” Thus the fight to defend Miguel must be part of a broader fight for all the oppressed.

For more information, call Office: (212) 460-0983 Cell: (917) 520-5368