Cuomo campaign orders student protesters threatened with pepper spray
NEW PALTZ — Students trying to protest during Gov. Andrew Cuomo's visit to SUNY New Paltz Tuesday were threatened with pepper spray and forced to back away from the building where the governor was speaking.
And college President Donald Christian is OK with that. Cuomo's office ordered the move, he said.
Cuomo's office said they were looking into the matter but had not responded with a statement as of early Thursday evening.
Nadia Alirahi, 21, a student senator and member of the student association, said about 15 to 20 students from NYPIRG and Democracy Matters wanted to protest outside the Student Union Building where Cuomo was to make an announcement of a $10 million state grant to the school. The students were opposed to fracking among other grievances.
Wait, I thought Cuomo was opposed to fracking?
In the video, the group appears calm and the officer is as well, at first. But he becomes increasingly authoritative when asked why they can't move closer. Alirahi argues with the officer that there's nothing in the student handbook that says they can't get closer.
At one point, the officer does seem sympathetic, but doesn't allow them to get closer.
"This is what my orders are," the officer says at one point. He later says "it's not like I wanted to do this."
Christian said no one's free speech rights were violated because protesters were allowed to demonstrate, but the school was exercising its right to "regulate time and place."
That's funny. I thought speech was supposed to be "free," not "regulated." Did I not get the memo?
The campus police "were following the professional judgement of the governor's security detail," Christian said.
"Professional judgement"... Oh, right [nods vigorously].
[C]ollege President Donald Christian said he thought the officer was justified to threaten the protesters with pepper spray because they "repeatedly ignored their requests" to move back to the designated protest zone.
"They were continuing to advance despite his repeated requests," Christian said. "One of the fundamental pieces here is that we have to protect safety and order."
Victoria Kossover, a lawyer retained by the Student Association to give legal advice to students, said the area where students wanted to protest had hosted other demonstrations in the past.
"As long as there was a legal purpose to the demonstration, I don't think the university police should have interfered," Kossover said.
Cintron said he felt being moved away to a "free speech zone" was unfair.
Another college administrator who ought to get the axe.... And this whole "free speech zone" nonsense has to go.