NYPD Arrests Over 300 Protesters in Crackdown on College Campuses

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(Bloomberg) -- New York police officers arrested almost 300 people as they broke up escalating pro-Palestinian protests at two colleges amid an outpouring of anger over the Israel-Hamas war.

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A total of 282 people were arrested, including 119 at Columbia University and the rest at City College of New York, John Chell, chief of patrol at the New York Police Department, told reporters Wednesday. Officials reiterated their view that outside agitators had joined the Columbia protest but said they were still determining how many non-students were arrested.

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“We went in and conducted an operation to allow Columbia University to remove those who have turned the peaceful protest into a place where antisemitism and anti-Israel attitudes were pervasive,” New York Mayor Eric Adams said at a media briefing.

The crackdown capped two weeks of rising tensions at Columbia, punctuated by more than 100 arrests on April 18 and subsequent protests that culminated with the takeover of the school’s Hamilton Hall building. The activists have condemned the Israeli military campaign in Gaza that the Hamas-run health ministry says has left more than 34,000 people dead, and are demanding that the university divest from companies supplying weapons to Israel.

Television broadcasts showed officers surging onto the grounds and entering Hamilton Hall, the latest focal point of the protest, which had been occupied by demonstrators early Tuesday. After the police action, university personnel took down tents and removed supplies from the main encampment, the school newspaper reported.

Columbia President Minouche Shafik asked police to stay on campus through at least May 17, two days after graduation.

Across the country at the University of California at Los Angeles, clashes broke out early Wednesday at a pro-Palestinian encampment after the university declared it unlawful, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The newspaper said a group of counter-demonstrators tried to tear down the barricades surrounding the protest area. Pro-Palestinian protesters later used pepper spray on those demonstrators, it said.

“The violence unfolding this evening at UCLA is absolutely abhorrent and inexcusable,” Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said in a post on X. “LAPD has arrived on campus.”

Later on Wednesday morning, private security guards in windbreakers were guarding many campus buildings, while around 100 uniformed officers from nearby police departments including the LAPD, the LA County Sheriff and the California Highway Patrol surrounded the encampment at Dickson plaza, where the clashes took place overnight.

A handful of pro-Palestinian protesters remained at the encampment and were asking supporters via encrypted messaging apps to send in N95 masks and goggles. The metal barricades were still up.

At Columbia, the student newspaper reported that Provost Angela Olinto said all academic activities on the Morningside Heights campus would be fully remote for the remainder of the semester, including final exams.

Luis Garcia Praslin, a freshman, criticized Shafik’s handling of the protests. He said he was only informed about the police raid a few minutes before it occurred, even though his dorm was next to Hamilton Hall.

“We were left in the dark” he said. He was in his dorm room, but friends of his were stuck outside near the police, which he says put them in danger.

Shafik should never have arrested protesters because it only “spiraled things,” said Garcia Praslin, who wasn’t involved in the protests.

Further uptown, police made arrests outside City College of New York, dispersing protesters and erecting steel barricades in the area. The school is part of the City University of New York system.

Protests have spread to colleges around the country, sparking recriminations and drawing in everyone from students to faculty and donors to politicians. Universities are struggling to handle the increasingly confrontational pro-Palestinian protests amid accusations that they’re not responding strongly enough to antisemitism on campuses.

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, called the protesters “raging lunatics” and commended the NYPD for its crackdown.

“I say remove the encampments immediately, vanquish the radicals and take back our campuses for all of the normal students who want a safe place from which to learn,” he said at an appearance in Wisconsin.

Read more: Arrests at Columbia, Students at Brown to Move: Protest Tracker

In a statement earlier this week, White House spokesman Andrew Bates said, “President Biden respects the right to free expression, but protests must be peaceful and lawful. Forcibly taking over buildings is not peaceful – it is wrong.”

Rebecca Weiner, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, said the police have been concerned about “a change in tactics that presents a concern and a normalization and mainstreaming of rhetoric” associated with terrorism.

Read more: How NYPD Arrests of Columbia University’s Protesters Unfolded

Police warned that the barricaded protesters in Columbia’s Hamilton Hall would face a range of charges including burglary, criminal mischief and trespassing, while those in the encampments would face trespassing and disorderly conduct.

--With assistance from Hadriana Lowenkron, Dayana Mustak, Emily Cadman, Sarah McGregor, Carla Canivete, Kevin Whitelaw, Maxwell Adler, Jennah Haque and Nacha Cattan.

(Updates with Trump, Biden comments in 18th paragraph)

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