New York police storm Columbia University again to remove anti-war student protesters; over 100 held

Police blocked media and student journalists from entering the premises of Hamilton Hall while putting the entire campus on a lockdown till the area was cleared

May 01, 2024 12:50 pm | Updated May 02, 2024 06:25 am IST - New York

Dozens of NYPD officers in riot gear swarmed Columbia University on Tuesday and encircled key areas of the campus including the ‘Gaza Solidarity Encampment’.

Dozens of NYPD officers in riot gear swarmed Columbia University on Tuesday and encircled key areas of the campus including the ‘Gaza Solidarity Encampment’. | Photo Credit: Anisha Dutta

A dramatic scene unfolded late April 30 at 9 p.m. as the New York Police Department (NYPD) brought in a military grade vehicle with an extendable ramp to gain entry to a window of Hamilton Hall, the campus building occupied by anti-war student protesters.

According to the NYPD, approximately 300 people were arrested from Columbia University and nearby City College of New York.

Dozens of NYPD officers in riot gear swarmed Columbia University around 9:30 p.m. and encircled key areas of the campus including the ‘Gaza Solidary Encampment’ and the Hamilton Hall that had been occupied by anti-war student protestors. Around midnight the entire encampment had been cleared out by the NYPD.

Also read: Columbia protests LIVE updates

Additional crowds of officers entered campus on foot through the main gate. According to the police, flash bangs were used to disorient the protesters as officers made their way inside Hamilton Hall. The officers blocked media and student journalists from entering the premises of Hamilton Hall while putting the entire campus on lockdown till the area was cleared. The NYPD also threatened those inside Pulitzer Hall where Columbia’s Journalism School resides, including the Dean, Jelani Cobb, to remain inside till “the area was cleared”. The building was inhabited by faculty and student journalists covering the events.

According to the police, at least 109 people were taken into custody Tuesday night from Columbia University, and three encampments dismantled. At least two New York City Department of Correction buses full of protesters were seen being driven away from the school.

One of the student organisers and suspended Barnard College student from Columbia University Maryam said on X that she was among those arrested outside the campus. “ Just got out of jail again after being arrested 12 hours ago, this time for protesting outside the gates of my own campus. I was thrown onto the ground and pinned down by 6 or 7 cops after having my phone knocked out of my hand because the cop got mad I was livestreaming it,” she wrote.

Columbia University said it had called the police to campus for the second time in less than two weeks after Hamilton Hall was “vandalised and blockaded.” 

University president Minouche Shafik has also asked the NYPD to maintain a presence on campus at least till May 17 to prevent further encampments or occupations.

On April 18, Ms. Shafik’s decision to authorise the NYPD’s sweep of the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment”, which led to the arrest of over 100 protesters, had left many community members stunned. Over 100 faculty members from the university on April 22 gathered on the campus for a walkout to condemn the suspension and arrests of students and call for amnesty and protection of academic freedom.

“We called on the NYPD to clear an encampment once,” Ms. Shafik wrote in a statement to the community last Friday co-signed by the co-chairs of Columbia’s board of trustees. “But we all share the view, based on discussions within our community and with outside experts, that to bring back the NYPD at this time would be counterproductive, further inflaming what is happening on campus.”

According to the NYPD, protesters had barricaded the halls with soda machines, chairs and other furniture. Meanwhile student protestors alleged that the NYPD officials turned off their body cameras while entering the building.

Columbia University Apartheid Divest, the coalition organising the encampment protest, said, “Columbia admin and NYPD prevented Columbia’s volunteer student-run EMS service (CUEMS) from treating students injured by police violence on campus. People who called for help on campus were unable to access medical attention.”

Police had set up barricades all around the university’s perimeter earlier Tuesday evening, where more protesters gathered. Protesters outside the campus were heard chanting “shame on you” and “free, free Palestine” as officers made their way inside and led students in handcuffs out.

In her letter to the NYPD, Ms. Shafik wrote, “ As we have discussed, in the early morning of April 30, 2024, a group of individuals entered Hamilton Hall for the purpose of occupying the building. The building was closed at the time the students entered. An individual hid in the building until after it closed and let the other individuals in.”

“There were two security guards inside. We were able to secure their release. We believe that while the group who broke into the building includes students, it is led by individuals who are not affiliated with the University. The individuals who have occupied Hamilton Hall have vandalised university property and are trespassing,” she added.

The move also came shortly after New York Mayor Eric Adams said in a press conference at 6 p.m. that the protest at Columbia University “has basically been co-opted by professional outside agitators” who intend to sow chaos.

In a press conference on Wednesday morning, Mr. Adams said, “Once I became aware of the outside agitators who were part of this operation, as Columbia mentioned in their letter and their request with the New York City Police Department, it was clear we had to take appropriate actions, when our intelligence division identified those who were professionals, well trained.”

An alert sent from the school Tuesday night urged students on the Morningside campus to “shelter in place for your safety due to heightened activity” and “avoid the area until further notice”. On Wednesday morning, the university maintained that the campus will continue to remain restricted.

(Anisha Dutta is a freelance journalist based in New York)

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