NYPD Arrests Students, Clears Columbia University Campus of Pro-Palestinian Protest Encampment

April 19, 2024
NYPD officers arrested more than 100 Columbia University students Thursday after groups protesting the war in Gaza refused to take down a two-day encampment zone.

NEW YORK — NYPD officers arrested more than 100 Columbia University students Thursday after groups protesting the war in Gaza refused to take down a two-day encampment zone.

Hundreds of cops flooded the campus at the request of the university president, with buses on standby to transport demonstrators downtown for trespassing. Other students, undeterred by the police’s show of force with batons and helmets, continued to chant on the lawn and briefly set up new tents some yards away.

“I regret that all of these attempts to resolve the situation were rejected by the students involved,” university President Minouche Shafik wrote to students, saying she’d provided multiple warnings. “As a result, NYPD officers are now on campus and the process of clearing the encampment is underway.”

Police said at least 108 protesters were taken into custody and processed at NYPD Headquarters, then released with a summons. All were charged with trespassing. Two were also hit with charges for obstructing police from carrying out their jobs.

“Students have a right to free speech,” Mayor Adams said at a press conference after the crackdown, “but do not have a right to violate university policies and disrupt learning on campus.”

The action drew swift criticism from some students and civil rights groups.

“It is disturbing to see a campus move so quickly to arrest students for peacefully expressing their political views within the free-speech zone,” Kristen Shahverdian, program director of campus free speech at PEN America.

The move came the day after Shafik defended the administration’s response to campus antisemitism before Congress. Since her testimony, tensions had been climbing at Columbia amid clashes with the police and student suspensions over the campus encampment.

Students had pledged that the demonstration, a series of green tents called the Gaza Solidarity Encampment, would remain until the university meets their demand to divest Columbia’s finances from companies and institutions that profit from Israel. Signs declared the encampment a “liberated zone,” and demanded “ceasefire now” and “free Palestine,” according to photos shared with the Daily News in the morning.

The demonstration lasted 30 hours, Adams said, until university officials and police intervened.

Shafik in a public letter to the NYPD said more than 100 individuals were occupying the South Lawn when she asked police to move in, and that all participants were unauthorized to be on university property.

Police warned demonstrators through a loudspeaker that those who refused to disperse would be considered trespassing. In zip ties, the students were shuttled away by police wearing helmets to buses stationed around the perimeter of campus.

After the crackdown, protesters gathered nearby to denounce the university’s handling of the situation.

“The police presence and the arrests do not deter us in any way. As challenging as the environment has been on campus for Palestinian students, we realize that this is nothing compared to what people in Gaza are going through,” said Layla Saliba, a Palestinian-American social work student who suffered a spray attack in January.

A premed student said he witnessed one person on the ground who was picked up and zip-tied at the hands and feet.

The arrests he observed were not “superviolent,” he said. “But it obviously wasn’t gentle.”

Cops said 500 students left their classrooms throughout the day to come out to the quad. They remained on the lawns throughout the day, chanting: “Whose campus? Our campus,” “Free Palestine,” and “Disclose, divest. We will not stop, we will not rest.”

Prior to the NYPD moving in, at least three pro-Palestinian students at Columbia University were suspended Thursday, while a handful protesters outside the campus gates were taken into custody earlier, university officials and cops said. The number of suspensions, including the daughter of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), was expected to grow as more students are linked to the encampment.

Student organizers quickly blasted the suspensions in a press release and on social media, which they said means students have lost access to their food, housing and medical center.

“As of a few minutes ago, I received notice from Barnard administration that I had been suspended for my involvement in the illicit solidarity encampment,” Maryam Iqbal said in a clip posted to Instagram.

“I want to make it very clear to Columbia administration and Barnard administration that I refuse to be silenced in my demand for divestment, and I will remain vocally opposed to genocide in Gaza,” said Iqbal, a member of Students for Justice in Palestine, which was kicked off campus in the fall.

Students on Wednesday spent the night in the tents on the lawn, despite the rain. By the morning, Students for Justice in Palestine announced Columbia administrators had agreed to one of their demands to provide financial transparency on investments.

New York Civil Liberties Union, which is in active litigation over the suspension of two Columbia student groups, described the administration’s response as a “significant departure” from past practices.

“Columbia has allowed students to engage in a range of protest activities on campus without calling in the NYPD, including occupying school buildings and the lawn for days at a time,” Donna Lieberman, executive director of NYCLU, said in a statement. “Columbia’s move to send in police so quickly after these demonstrations began chills student expression.”

Lieberman added the NYPD arrested legal observers, whose job it is to monitor police activity and are “well known to the department.”

Hundreds of protesters after the congressional hearing Wednesday gathered on Broadway, with one pro-Palestinian demonstrator arrested for ignoring repeated requests to lower the 15-foot pole for safety reasons, the individual and cops said. Another protester was arrested for assaulting a police officer.

“We are devoid of any fear right now,” the group said in a statement on social media. “We have the student collective mobilizing behind us. And this has given us immense power. We have the control now.”


(With Barry Williams and Tim Balk.)


©2024 New York Daily News. Visit at nydailynews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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