Hundreds Rally for Divestment & to Reject Intimidation by CSI Public Safety

Students and professors from the College of Staten Island (CSI) rallied with support from Staten Islanders and the broader CUNY community on Tuesday, May 28.

Hundreds Rally for Divestment & to Reject Intimidation by CSI Public Safety
Rally-goers at the Rally for Gaza at the College of Staten Island (Plea for the Fifth, 2024)

Approximately 200 protestors gathered at the main gate to the College of Staten Island, calling out CUNY's obstinance to demands for divestment by students and their families, as well as the actions of CSI Public Safety towards civil disobedience at the Commencement Ceremony. Attendees included members of College of Staten Island Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Peace Action Staten Island, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, and Staten Island 4 Palestine.

During the College of Staten Island's May 23 Commencement, graduates and their families walked out of the ceremony in support of Palestine, and against CUNY’s complicity in the genocide of Palestinians. The CSI students' five demands were:

  • CUNY to divest its $8.5 million from weapons and surveillance technology
  • CUNY to institute an academic boycott of Israeli universities
  • CUNY to end the repression and retaliation of pro-Palestine CUNY students and workers, and express solidarity with the Palestinian resistance struggle
  • CUNY to demilitarize its campuses
  • CUNY to return to being a fully funded, tuition-free people’s CUNY that offers a fair contract to all of its workers.

The five demands echoed those that have arisen across the CUNY system. The rally's endorsers reflected the Citywide sentiment including Not in our Name CUNY - a coalition of anti-Zionist Jewish students, staff, faculty, and alumni - as well as FIT SJP, Lehman College SJP, John Jay College SJP, City Tech SJP, Cornell University SJP, Brooklyn College Muslim Students Association (MSA), City Tech MSA, Queens College MSA, CUNY for Palestine, Within Our Lifetime, and the Palestine Solidarity Alliance of Hunter College.

In response to the walkout led by graduates and their families, at least two CUNY staff - including a public safety officer - began menacing and verbally intimidating students and families.

In the first, and more infamous of the two, Public Safety Officer Sgt. Donald Girard 281 appears on video. A Commencement attendee, as they record, shouts "You support genocide," and Sgt. Girard responds "Yes, I do." In case there was ambiguity, Girard adds "I support killing all you guys, how about that?" As the crowd begins to shame Girard for their avowed support for murder of graduates and their families, Girard tells a commencement attendee to "Fuck his mother."

The second staff member, Joseph D'Alessandro, appeared on video verbally intimidating and physically assaulting students and their families. D'Alessandro is recorded telling Abdullah Akl - the Advocacy Director of the Muslim American Society Staten Island Chapter and member of Within Our Lifetime - to "Get Off [his] Campus!" D'Alessandro then assaults a second attendee, knocking a phone from their hand stating, "Jerk Offs, that is what you are - ruining a fucking graduation." D'Alessandro then attempts on video to trip attendees as they walk out.

CSI President Lynch released a statement the following day that purported to be clear by condemning one officer's language, while not actually providing clarity on where the College stands in response to the five student demands that were the proximate event leading up to this hate speech and intimidation by staff. The NY Daily News later confirmed Girard's language led to his suspension, pending an investigation. President Lynch's Office did not respond to Plea for the Fifth when asked why Sgt Girard's language resulted simply in a suspension and not termination. The Office also did not respond when asked what counseling or support services would be provided to Palestinians, Arab Americans, and Muslims on campus when Sgt Girard returns to campus so that they feel safe from him.

As of publishing, it appears Joseph D'Alessandro has escaped any repercussions for his intimidation and ethnocentric speech to students and families. CSI and the President's Office did not respond to Plea for the Fifth's inquiry as to whether he would.

Rally goers demonstrated they were wholly unsatisfied with CSI's inaction. In video included below, protestors are calling out Donald Girard and Timothy Lynch by name, as well as CSI and Public Safety.