NYPD brought in to break up Columbia pro-Hamas protests

Following increasingly violent, disorderly and antisemitic protests, Columbia leadership said that the events “have left us no choice.”

By Mike Wagenheim | | Topics: Antisemitism, America
Anti-Israel camp at Columbia University. Photo: EPA-EFE/SARAH YENESEL
Anti-Israel camp at Columbia University. Photo: EPA-EFE/SARAH YENESEL

After weeks of pro-Hamas demonstrations on the Columbia University featuring calls for genocide against Jews and the taking of two university employees as hostages, university president Minouche Shafik sent a letter on Tuesday to the New York Police Department requesting their help in restoring order.

In response, at least 200 police officers cleared the campus of two encampments on Tuesday night, and removed protestors from an occupied building. Hundreds more officers lined the streets of campus to cut off potential help from other students and agitators.

The SWAT team, riot units and counterrorism unit arrested at least 50 protesters, though the final number was unclear as of press time. As of Monday afternoon, all those participating in the encampments had been suspended from the university, and will face charges of trespassing at a minimum.

Those escorted out of the occupied Hamilton Hall will face burglary charges, according to the NYPD. A Columbia spokesman said they faced expulsion, as well.

There was also the matter of the presence on campus of the wife of Sami al-Arian, who pleaded guilty in 2006 to aiding Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a US-designated terrorist organization. The information about her engagement with protesters reportedly alarmed City Hall.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams claimed earlier on Tuesday that “external actors” were behind the escalated nature of protests at Columbia.

This was the second time the NYPD was invited onto campus amid the protests. An earlier operation led to the arrests of more than 100 students in the West Lawn encampment, but did little to quell the movement.

Jewish students and faculty at Columbia reported increasing harassment from the Hamas-inspired protestors, and a lack of access to parts of campus as a result of the protestors’ actions.

Those caught up at police checkpoints around campus on Tuesday night, unable to break through to the encampments, hurled insults at the police, including a chant of “NYPD, KKK, IOF, you’re all the same.” IOF stands for “Israeli occupation forces,” a pejorative for the Israel Defense Forces.

JNS attempted to speak to several protestors as they left the area on Tuesday night. Most wore keffiyehs and covered their faces with masks.

A man who refused to give his name but identified himself as a sophomore said the police activity on Tuesday was “overkill” and shows how “afraid” university administrators are.

A woman who only gave her name as “Alla” said the university’s leadership caved to “Zionists” and that this “isn’t the end.”

However, the NYPD was asked by Shafik to remain on campus at least through graduation ceremonies on May 17, “to maintain order and ensure encampments are not reestablished.

An NYPD captain, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak with the media, said police leadership stressed they “did not want a riot” on Tuesday night, nor any gratuitous violence “which may lead to images that will generate sympathy for the protestors.”

The police, though, cleared media and practically everyone else out of the encampments, so few independent images of the operation appear to be available.

At one point, JNS overheard a police directive from a blaring radio asking for a drone to fly over the occupied Hamilton Hall before officers entered the facility, in order to make sure there would be no rooftop ambush waiting for them.

Multiple drones could be seen flying some 50-100 feet in the air down Amsterdam Ave. through the heart of the campus, while an IED-proof truck rumbled down the street.

Police appeared to be taking few chances, given the increasingly violent nature of the protests. Those who took over Hamilton Hall overnight on Tuesday trapped two security guards inside. Shafik said in her letter to the NYPD that “we were able to secure their release.”

She added that while it was believed that the group that broke in included students, “it is led by individuals who are not affiliated with the university.” Those who hijacked the building vandalized it, graffitiing the walls and destroying property, according to videos published from those inside.

“The events on campus last night have left us no choice,” wrote Shafik, who lamented that negotiations with the protesters bore no fruit.

One of the protest leaders was widely ridiculed on Tuesday after giving a press conference in which she demanded “humanitarian aid” for the illegal occupiers on campus. Johanna King-Slutsky, reportedly an instructor and doctoral candidate, said that the university should be responsible for feeding the protesters, since they have a campus meal plan.

“Do you want students to die of dehydration and starvation or get severely ill, even if they disagree with you?” asked King-Slutsky. “This is like basic humanitarian aid we’re asking for.”

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