On the evening of April 26, Mumia Abu-Jamal called in to the City University of New York (CUNY) Gaza Solidarity Encampment. CUNY students and workers, as well as our Harlem neighbours, huddled around the flagpole at the centre of the encampment to hear Mumia share a message of solidarity with the protesting students, the people of Gaza, and the thousands of political prisoners held captive in Israeli prisons.

Two days earlier, Mumia had celebrated his 70th birthday in Mahanoy prison in Pennsylvania, where he is currently more than 40 years into a sentence of death by imprisonment. Like many of his comrades in the Black Panther Party, such as Sekou Odinga, Jalil Muntaqim, and Herman Bell, Mumia has spent decades in prison following a political prosecution.

On June 12, 22 protesters from the CUNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment went on trial. Like 13 students arrested at Stanford University for occupying an administrative building, they face felony burglary charges. In my view these blatantly unjust charges, which could see them receive a sentence of up to seven years in prison, are part of a political strategy to repress the movement for Palestinian liberation.

The protesters, known as the CUNY 22, were arrested on April 30, after the New York Police Department (NYPD) were called on to campus to raid the encampment alongside CUNY’s own police force. The two police forces on  campus that night pepper-sprayed protesters and their were reports of  broken bones, and incidents of concussion amongst the protestors.

I believe that  senior authorities at CUNY failed in their duty to protect students and employees by inviting the NYPD to the campus, and bear e responsibility for the violence inflicted on our community on that night, which has led  to the politically motivated charges now faced by the CUNY 22.

Prosecutors have also contributed to the hyper-policing of working-class communities of mixed race by pressing felony charges against the CUNY 22.

From the Stop Line 3 movement in Minnesota to the Stop Cop City movement in Georgia, many prosecutors  use mass felony charges to crush organising, mistakenly believing that they can criminalise movements out of existence, when in reality repression breeds bolder and ever more creative forms of resistance.

Following the violent arrests of the CUNY 22, the New York state also revised its penal code to expand the scope of felony burglary charges, particularly when prosecuting groups. Alongside the increasing use of racketeering charges against protesters and the criminalisation of bail funds, this change in the penal code provides prosecutors with a new tool to repress radical movements.

Taking advantage of the moral panic around shoplifting, in New York the penal code change is being used as a chance to increase the policing, surveillance, and imprisonment of working-class and poor New Yorkers.

The same police force that attacked the CUNY encampment on April 30, and brutalised the Nakba day protest in Brooklyn a few weeks later, regularly harass Black, immigrant, and unhoused people. We must fight back against the escalating repression and criminalisation of our movement. Liberation is collective, meaning that we must tear down all the walls from Rikers to Palestine to the Mexican border. We struggle for the abolition of all settler states from the US to Israel, as well as prisons and police everywhere.

In 1966 James Baldwin wrote that “Harlem is policed like occupied territory”. This remains the case today, and is why the CUNY encampment’s demands include “cops off campus” and the demilitarisation of Harlem. It is no coincidence that the NYPD trains with Israel’s military and has an office in occupied Palestine; the policing of the Black community in Harlem and Palestinians from Gaza to East Jerusalem to Bay Ridge are part of the same system of settler colonial, imperialist, gendered racial capitalism.

The brutality deployed against students at CUNY on April 30 is exactly what police will be trained in at the proposed “Cop City”, a 16-agency compound that will cost at least $225m (but likely much more) to build. This so-called “Cop City” is part of Mayor Eric Adams’s vision for a New York that has thousands of police personnel on the subway and a new multibillion-dollar borough-based jail system, but no weekend library service. This vision, unsurprisingly, also includes massive budget cuts to CUNY.

The CUNY encampment’s five demands (a homage to the five demands of the 1969 student occupation at City College) include a people’s CUNY with free tuition, living wages, and “comprehensive support for students including Metrocards, housing, food, healthcare, and mental health counseling”. The demands also include a call to divest CUNY’s finances from the decades-long occupation of Palestine (just as CUNY divested from apartheid South Africa in 1984), as well as a call to boycott Israeli universities which are foundational institutions in the Zionist project and deeply intertwined with the Israeli military.

Particularly important is the encampment’s third demand, “Solidarity with the Palestine Liberation Struggle: Protect CUNY Students & Workers for expressing solidarity with the Palestine Liberation Struggle.” This demand extends to community members because CUNY is a public university and its movements have always included community participation.

 Elements of the university establishment are pushing a narrative that “outside agitators” had taken over the protests at CUNY, posing a threat to student-employee safety and necessitating NYPD presence on campus. This is a grave insult to countless Black Harlem organisers who have struggled for decades to ensure community control of City College, which according to a 1965 Amsterdam News editorial, once was, “almost as lily white during the day as the campus of the University of Mississippi”.

Over the past eight months, the Israeli military (with the unwavering political, financial, and military support of the US government) has bombed every university in Gaza, murdering thousands of students in a “scholasticide” of horrific proportions. As Israel escalates its genocidal asymmetrical war on Gaza with the invasion of Rafah, we must stand with the CUNY 22 from a place of solidarity with the people of Gaza and the struggle for Palestinian liberation. As a professor at CUNY, I am proud to support the five demands of the Gaza Solidarity Encampment and stand in solidarity with the CUNY 22.

Drop the charges now! Free all political prisoners, free CUNY, and free Palestine!

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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