Police arrest dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters at Columbia University

New York police late Tuesday arrested dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters holed up in a tutorial constructing on Columbia University's campus, removing a protest encampment that the Ivy League school had been attempting to break up for nearly two weeks.

Shortly after police moved in, Columbia University President Minouche Shafik released a letter asking police to stay on campus until at the least May 17, two days after graduation, “to maintain order.” and be sure that the camps should not rebuilt.”

Within three hours, the campus had been cleared of protesters, a police spokesman said, adding that there had been “dozens” of arrests.

As the police operation began around 9 p.m. ET, crowds of helmeted law enforcement officials marched on the elite campus in Upper Manhattan, a point of interest of student rallies which have spread to dozens of faculties across the U.S. in recent days to precise their opposition to Israel War in Gaza.

“We’re cleaning it up,” the law enforcement officials shouted.

Soon after, an extended line of officers climbed into Hamilton Hall, a tutorial constructing that protesters had broken into and occupied within the early hours of Tuesday. Police entered through a second-story window using a police vehicle with a ladder.

Students standing outside the hall taunted the police with shouts of “Shame, shame!”

Police were seen loading dozens of detainees onto a bus, each with their hands tied behind their backs with cable ties, as the whole scene was illuminated by flashing red and blue lights from police vehicles.

“Free, free, free Palestine,” chanted demonstrators outside the constructing. Others shouted, “Let the students go.”

“Columbia will be proud of these students in five years,” said Sueda Polat, one among the coed negotiators for Columbia University Apartheid Divest, the coalition of student groups that organized the protests.

She said the scholars posed no threat and called on police to crumple as officers shouted at her and others to back off or leave campus.

Protest demands

The protesters demanded three demands from Colombia: divestment of corporations that support the Israeli government, greater transparency in university funds and amnesty for college students and college disciplined over the protests.

President Shafik said this week that Colombia wouldn’t withdraw from Israel's funds. Instead, it offered to take a position in health and education in Gaza and to make Colombia's direct investments more transparent.

In her letter released Tuesday, Shafik said the Hamilton Hall occupiers had destroyed university grounds and trespassed, and that demonstrators on the camp had been suspended for trespassing. The university had previously warned that students involved within the occupation of Hamilton Hall would face academic expulsion.

The occupation began overnight when protesters broke windows, stormed in and unfurled a banner reading “Hind's Hall,” saying they’d rename the constructing after a six-year-old Palestinian child killed by the Israeli military in Gaza.

The eight-story, neoclassical constructing was the setting for various student professions dates from the Nineteen Sixties.

At a night news conference held a number of hours before the police invasion of Columbia, Mayor Eric Adams and city police officials said the takeover of Hamilton Hall was instigated by “outside agitators” who don’t have any connection to Columbia and law enforcement are known to impress lawlessness.

Police said they based their conclusions partially on escalating tactics by the occupation, including vandalism, using barricades to dam entrances and the destruction of surveillance cameras.

One of the protest's student leaders, Mahmoud Khalil, a Palestinian scholar on the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs, disputed claims that outsiders led the occupation.

“Disruptions on campus have created a threatening environment and a noisy distraction for many of our Jewish students and faculty, affecting teaching, learning and preparation for final exams,” the university said in an announcement Tuesday, before police moved in.

Protest across the country

The Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel by Hamas militants from Gaza and the following Israeli offensive on the Palestinian enclave have sparked the most important wave of U.S. student activism since anti-racism protests in 2020.

Pro-Palestinian protesters also gathered at City College New York in Harlem late Tuesday, and the university directed individuals to depart campus, NYPD Assistant Commissioner Kaz Daughtry said in an X post. Dozens of protesters were arrested, the New York Times reported.

Daughtry also said the university had requested a police presence to assist evict intruders.

The chancellor of the University of California, Los Angeles said late Tuesday that law enforcement was tasked with investigating “recent acts of violence” by a gaggle of protesters and increasing security in the realm.

Many of the demonstrations across the country were greeted by counter-protesters who accused them of fomenting anti-Jewish hatred. The pro-Palestinian side, including Jews who oppose Israeli actions in Gaza, say they’re being unfairly branded as anti-Semites for criticizing the Israeli government and expressing support for human rights.

The topic had previously taken on political undertones the US presidential election In November, Republicans accused some university administrators of turning a blind eye to anti-Semitic rhetoric and harassment.

White House spokesman John Kirby called the occupation of campus buildings “the wrong approach” on Tuesday.

New York Police Department officials had stressed before Tuesday night's raid that officers wouldn’t enter campus unless Columbia administrators asked them to be present, as they did on April 18, when NYPD Officials cleared an earlier camp. More than 100 arrests were made on the time, prompting an outcry from many students and staff.

Dozens of tents pitched on a hedge-lined lawn next to a smaller lawn now planted with tons of of small Israeli flags were rebuilt days later.

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