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Police clear protestors from Columbia’s Hamilton Hall after college seeks help


NEW YORK (AP) — Police officers carrying zip ties and riot shields stormed a Columbia University building being occupied by pro-Palestinian protesters, streaming in through a window late Tuesday and arresting dozens of people.

The protesters had seized the administration building, known as Hamilton Hall, more than 20 hours earlier in a major escalation as demonstrations against the Israel-Hamas war spread on college campuses nationwide.

A police bus loaded with protesters arrested at Columbia University departs an entrance to the campus on 114th Street, Tuesday, April 30, 2024, in New York. After entering the campus, a contingent of police officers approached Hamilton Hall, the administration building that student protesters began occupying in the morning. (AP Photo/Julius Motal)

A police bus loaded with protesters arrested at Columbia University departs an entrance to the campus on 114th Street, Tuesday, April 30, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Julius Motal)

As light rain falls, New York City police officers take people into custody near the Columbia University campus in New York, Tuesday, April 30, 2024, after a building taken over by protesters earlier in the day was cleared, along with a tent encampment. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

As light rain falls, New York City police officers take people into custody near the Columbia University campus in New York, Tuesday, April 30, 2024, after a building taken over by protesters earlier in the day was cleared, along with a tent encampment. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

A statement released by a Columbia spokesperson said officers entered the campus after the university requested help. A tent encampment on the school’s grounds began nearly two weeks ago to protest the Israel-Hamas war.

“After the University learned overnight that Hamilton Hall had been occupied, vandalized, and blockaded, we were left with no choice,” the school said. “The decision to reach out to the NYPD was in response to the actions of the protesters, not the cause they are championing. We have made it clear that the life of campus cannot be endlessly interrupted by protesters who violate the rules and the law.”

NYPD spokesman Carlos Nieves said he had no immediate reports of any injuries following the melee. The arrests — where protesters had shrugged off an earlier ultimatum to abandon the encampment Monday or be suspended — unfolded as other universities stepped up efforts to end the protests.

Just blocks away at The City College of New York, demonstrators were in a standoff with police outside the public college’s main gate. Video posted on social media by news reporters on the scene late Tuesday showed officers hauling some people to the ground and shoving others as they cleared people from the street and sidewalks. An encampment at the public college, part of the City University of New York system, has been going since Thursday.

Police have swept through other campuses across the U.S. over the last two weeks, leading to confrontations and more than 1,000 arrests nationwide. In rarer instances, university officials and protest leaders struck agreements to restrict the disruption to campus life and upcoming commencement ceremonies.

Columbia’s police action happened on the 56th anniversary of a similar move to quash an occupation of Hamilton Hall by students protesting racism and the Vietnam War.

The police department earlier Tuesday said officers wouldn’t enter the grounds without the college administration’s request or an imminent emergency. Now, law enforcement will be there through May 17, the end of the university’s commencement events.

Fabien Lugo, a first-year accounting student who said he was not involved in the protests, said he opposed the university’s decision to call in police.

“They’ve shut down everything. This is too intense,” he said. “It feels like more of an escalation than a de-escalation.”

What to know about student protests

In a letter to senior NYPD officials, Columbia President Minouche Shafik said the administration was making the request that police remove protesters from the occupied building and a nearby tent encampment “with the utmost regret.”

Shafik also leaned into the idea, first put forward by New York City Mayor Eric Adams earlier in the day, that the group that occupied Hamilton was “led by individuals who are not affiliated with the university.”

Members of the New York Police Department strategic response team move towards an entrance to Columbia University, Tuesday, April 30, 2024, in New York. After entering the campus, a contingent of police officers approached Hamilton Hall, the administration building that student protesters began occupying in the morning. (AP Photo/Julius Motal)

Members of the New York Police Department strategic response team move towards an entrance to Columbia University, Tuesday, April 30, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Julius Motal)

New York City police officers take people into custody near the Columbia University campus in New York Tuesday, April 30, 2024, after a building taken over by protesters earlier in the day was cleared, along with a tent encampment. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

New York City police officers take people into custody near the Columbia University campus in New York Tuesday, April 30, 2024, after a building taken over by protesters earlier in the day was cleared, along with a tent encampment. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Neither provided specific evidence to back up that contention, which was disputed by protest organizers and participants.

NYPD officials made similar claims about “outside agitators” during the huge, grassroots demonstrations against racial injustice that erupted across the city after the death of George Floyd in 2020. In some instances, top police officials falsely labeled peaceful marches organized by well-known neighborhood activists as the work of violent extremists.

Before officers arrived at Columbia, the White House condemned the standoffs there and at California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, where protesters had occupied two buildings until officers with batons intervened overnight and arrested 25 people. Officials estimated the northern California campus’ total damage to be upwards of $1 million.

President Joe Biden believes students occupying an academic building is “absolutely the wrong approach,” and “not an example of peaceful protest,” said National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby.

Later, former President Donald Trump called into Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News Channel to comment on Columbia’s turmoil as live footage of police clearing Hamilton Hall aired. Trump praised the officers.

“But it should never have gotten to this,” he told Hannity. “And they should have done it a lot sooner than before they took over the building because it would have been a lot easier if they were in tents rather than a building. And tremendous damage done, too.”

Other colleges have sought to negotiate agreements with the demonstrators in the hopes of having peaceful commencement ceremonies. As cease-fire negotiations appeared to gain steam, it wasn’t clear whether those talks would inspire an easing of protests.

The nationwide campus protests began at Columbia in response to Israel’s offensive in Gaza after Hamas launched a deadly attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7. Militants killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages. Vowing to stamp out Hamas, Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, according to the local health ministry.

Israel and its supporters have branded the university protests as antisemitic, while Israel’s critics say it uses those allegations to silence opposition. Although some protesters have been caught on camera making antisemitic remarks or violent threats, organizers of the protests, some of whom are Jewish, say it is a peaceful movement aimed at defending Palestinian rights and protesting the war.

On Columbia’s campus, protesters first set up a tent encampment almost two weeks ago. The school sent in police to clear the tents the following day, arresting more than 100 people, only for the students to return – and inspire a wave of similar encampments at campuses across the country.

Negotiations between the protesters and the college came to a standstill in recent days, and the school set a deadline for the activists to abandon the tent encampment Monday afternoon or be suspended.

Instead, protesters defied the ultimatum and took over Hamilton Hall early Tuesday, carrying in furniture and metal barricades. The demonstrators dubbed the building Hind’s Hall, honoring a young girl who was killed in Gaza under Israeli fire, and issued demands for divestment, financial transparency and amnesty.

The Columbia University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors said faculty’s efforts to help defuse the situation have been repeatedly ignored by the university’s administration despite school statutes that require consultation.

Ilana Lewkovitch, a self-described “leftist Zionist” student at Columbia, said it’s been hard to concentrate on school for weeks, amid calls for Zionists to die or leave campus. Her exams have been punctuated with chants of “say it loud, say it clear, we want Zionists out of here” in the background, she said.

Lewkovitch, who identifies as Jewish and studied at Columbia’s Tel Aviv campus, said she wished the current pro-Palestinian protests were more open to people like her who criticize Israel’s war policies but believe there should be an Israeli state.

___

Dazio reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press journalists around the country contributed to this report, including Cedar Attanasio, Jonathan Mattise, Colleen Long, Karen Matthews, Jim Vertuno, Hannah Schoenbaum, Sarah Brumfield, Christopher Weber, Carolyn Thompson, Dave Collins, Makiya Seminera, Philip Marcelo and Corey Williams.





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