Police in riot gear enter Columbia University to break up pro-Palestine protests

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Hundreds of New York Police Department officers, many with batons and in riot gear, moved onto Columbia University’s campus on Tuesday evening as student protesters continued a largely peaceful occupation of a campus building in protest of the Israel-Hamas war.

Student protesters barricaded themselves inside Hamilton Hall early Tuesday, escalating after more than a week of a protest encampment in the university’s outdoor common space. 

Police entered the hall through a second floor window at about 9:30 p.m., hours after Columbia ordered students to shelter in place on campus and after NYPD demanded students stay inside their dorms.

Columbia said the decision to call in NYPD was “made to restore safety and order to our community.”

“We regret that protesters have chosen to escalate the situation through their actions,” a university spokesperson wrote. “After the University learned overnight that Hamilton Hall had been occupied, vandalized, and blockaded, we were left with no choice.”

Tensions have built for days at Columbia, the first of hundreds of similar campus protests nationwide against the Biden administration’s response to the Israel-Hamas war. Protests have demanded a cease-fire in the conflict, the end of military aid to Israel, and for their colleges and universities to divest from Israeli interests.

The university spokesperson said that Columbia believes the protesters who occupy Hamilton Hall “are not affiliated with the University.” The campus has been inaccessible to those who are not students or staff for days.

At a press conference earlier Tuesday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) claimed that the protests have been “co-opted,” and urged demonstrators to give up their cause “before the situation escalates.”

“I’m urging every student and every protester to walk away from this situation now and continue your advocacy through other means,” Adams said. “This must end now.”

NYPD Deputy Commissioner Kaz Daughtry added that the protesters inside Hamilton Hall could be charged with burglary, criminal mischief and trespassing, while those protesting outside the university could face charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct.

Rep. Alexandria Ocacio Cortez (D-N.Y.), who met with protesters earlier this week, blasted the mayor and Columbia leadership over its response and the police action.

“If any kid is hurt tonight, responsibility will fall on the mayor and univ presidents. Other leaders and schools have found a safe, de-escalatory path,” she wrote on the social media platform X. “This is the opposite of leadership and endangers public safety. A nightmare in the making. I urge the Mayor to reverse course.”

The Columbia chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) also denounced the police presence, warning of potential violence.

“Columbia faculty have spent the day offering our help to defuse the situation on Columbia’s campus and have been rebuffed or ignored. We have been locked out of our campus and have demanded to be allowed back in, and have been rebuffed or ignored,” the chapter’s executive board wrote in a statement as police assembled outside campus.

“NYPD presence in our neighborhood endangers our entire community. Armed police entering our campus places students and everyone else on campus at risk,” the group continued. “We hold University leadership responsible for the disastrous lapses of judgment that have gotten us to this point.”

The criticism from faculty comes the same day Barnard College’s president faced a vote of no confidence. The Columbia subsidiary’s vote resulted in 77 percent of faculty going against the president, citing the school’s response to protests.

Columbia is at the center of political attention for the protests. The campus has hosted visits from Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-N.Y.) and numerous members of Congress from both sides of the aisle in the last week.

Lawmakers from both parties have called on Columbia University President Minouche Shafik to resign if protests cannot be quickly quelled.

More than a thousand students have been arrested nationwide at similar protests, some of which have featured violent clashes with police and counter-protesters.

While many notable universities have responded to the protests with a police presence, others have allowed the protest encampments to go on undeterred. Brown University announced Tuesday that its protest will end after it agreed to hold a vote of its corporate board on the students’ divestment proposal.

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