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Massive NYPD presence clears pro-Palestine student protesters at Columbia

Hannah Getahun   

Massive NYPD presence clears pro-Palestine student protesters at Columbia
  • New York Police Department officers in riot gear entered Columbia University's Hamilton Hall.
  • Dozens of protesters were taken by police into busses in zip ties, The New York Times reported.

New York Police Department officers in riot gear entered Columbia University's Hamilton Hall Tuesday evening, which had been occupied by protesters for roughly 20 hours, according to multiple news reports.

According to The New York Times, the NYPD entered the building using a makeshift bridge that allowed them to climb into the second-story window. CNN reported that the NYPD said it had used "distraction devices" to disperse students but denied reports that tear gas was deployed.

Dozens of protesters were taken by police into busses in zip ties, and as they were being bussed away, many chanted, "Free Palestine," the Times reported.

The university announced later in the evening that the building had been cleared of protesters and that "heightened activity" had concluded, per the Times.

Videos from student groups on the scene show protesters being pushed off campus by police. The Washington Post reported that some police entered the hall with guns drawn.

The university requested that students shelter in place before police entered the campus building.

Student groups had been demonstrating on campus for days, setting up tents and camping out at the Ivy League University to protest Israel's war on Gaza. Demands for the protest included that the university cut financial ties to Israel.

The university's $13.6 billion endowment includes investments in several weapons manufacturers and tech companies that do business with the Israeli government, which the student coalition Columbia University Apartheid Divest described as profiting "from Israeli apartheid, genocide, and military occupation of Palestine," CNN reported.

On Tuesday, protesters entered Hamilton Hall, a humanities building on the university's Morningside Heights campus, and barricaded themselves indoors.

Columbia announced in a statement that students who occupied Hamilton Hall will face expulsion, while students who participated in encampments and refused to leave at the university's direction will face suspension.

Columbia University, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine, and the NYPD did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Business Insider.

Columbia released a statement Tuesday evening saying it gave the NYPD the green light to enter the campus and disperse student protesters.

"We regret that protesters have chosen to escalate the situation through their actions," adding, "We made the decision, early in the morning, that this was a law enforcement matter, and that the NYPD were best positioned to determine and execute an appropriate response."

The school also said the protesters had been "led by individuals who are not affiliated with the University."

In a live broadcast, reporters at Columbia student news station WKCR noted that only Columbia ID holders could be on campus and questioned the university's security.

Columbia's President Minouche Shafik requested in a letter to the NYPD that the police maintain a presence on campus until May 17 to shut down any future encampments.

At least two New York representatives spoke out against Columbia's decision to let NYPD forcibly remove students from Hamilton Hall.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman said he was "outraged by the level of police presence called upon nonviolent student protestors" at Columbia and The City College of New York — another New York institution with students staging a similar encampment.

"As an educator who has first hand experience with the over-policing of our schools, this is personal to me," Bowman posted on X.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said that if students were hurt by the NYPD, the responsibility would fall on the university president and New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who expressed support for ending the encampments at Columbia University.

"Other leaders and schools have found a safe, de-escalatory path. This is the opposite of leadership and endangers public safety. A nightmare in the making," Ocasio-Cortez wrote on X.

Bowman and Ocasio-Cortez did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mass detentions spark comparisons to previous protests

History is repeating itself, users on X are saying after journalists pointed out that 56 years ago on this exact date, Columbia University deployed police onto the campus to disperse peaceful student protesters in Hamilton Hall.

Per an archival issue of the Columbia Daily Spectator on the university's website, on Tuesday, April 30, 1968, NYPD police officers arrested over 700 people on Columbia's campus who protested against anti-Black racism and the Vietnam War.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.