NYPD officers in riot gear march onto the Columbia University campus

NYPD officers in riot gear march onto the Columbia University campus on April 30, 2024.

(Photo: Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images)

'All Because Columbia Refuses to Divest': Police Storm Campus, Violently Arrest Dozens

"The U.S. government and institutions like Columbia are showing that they would rather brutalize students than divest from apartheid and genocide."

Hundreds of New York City police officers descended on Columbia University Tuesday night to arrest dozens of pro-Palestinian student protesters and dismantle a Gaza solidarity encampment that inspired campus protests across the United States, with demonstrators calling on their schools to divest from companies profiting off Israel's devastating war.

Police, some wearing riot gear, entered Columbia's campus at the request of the university's president, Minouche Shafik, who authorized the NYPD to "clear all individuals from Hamilton Hall and all campus encampments."

Video footage shows officers entering a campus building that students occupied hours earlier, renaming it "Hind's Hall" after a 6-year-old girl who was killed by Israeli forces earlier this year. The Columbia Daily Spectator, the university's student newspaper, reported that "as they entered the building, officers threw down the metal and wooden tables barricading the doors and shattered the glass on the leftmost doors of Hamilton to enter with shields in hand."

"Several officers drew their guns, according to footage posted by NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Operations Kaz Daughtry," the newspaper added. "At around 9:37 pm, officers led dozens of protesters out the entrance of Hamilton. The protesters' hands were zip-tied behind their backs. The arrested individuals chanted, 'Free, free Palestine' as they were led away from the building."

Other footage shows NYPD officers forcing their way through students who locked arms in front of the occupied campus building. One cop is seen kneeing a student on the ground.

Students reported that police used tear gas, which is banned in war, on demonstrators.

"Tonight, my university called in a militarized police force—armed in riot gear, with guns drawn, deploying weapons banned under international law—to attack teenagers," Lea Salim, a student member of Jewish Voice for Peace-Columbia/Barnard, said in a statement. "All because Columbia refuses to divest from the Israeli military and its genocidal campaign on the people of Gaza."

As police set up barricades around the perimeter of the campus, onlookers gathered and chanted, "Let the students go!" in solidarity with the arrested demonstrators.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) said he was "outraged" by the police presence at both Columbia and the City College of New York, writing on social media that the "militarization of college campuses, extensive police presence, and arrest of hundreds of students are in direct opposition to the role of education as a cornerstone of our democracy."

"I call upon the Columbia administration to stop this dangerous escalation before it leads to further harm," Bowman added, "and allow the faculty back onto campus so that all parties can collectively come to a solution that centers humanity over hate."

In a letter to the New York City Police Department on Tuesday, Shafik—who is facing mounting calls to resign—requested that officers maintain a presence on Columbia's campus "through at least May 17, 2024 to maintain order and ensure encampments are not reestablished."

The police crackdown on Columbia students is part of a broader wave of repression against campus protests that have emerged across the country in recent weeks as Israel's assault on and forced starvation of Gaza civilians continues with no end in sight.

Police actions, approved by the leaders of some universities and cheered on by right-wing government officials, have drawn international rebukes. In a statement Tuesday, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said he is "concerned that some of law enforcement actions across a series of universities appear disproportionate in their impacts."

"U.S. universities have a strong, historic tradition of student activism, strident debate and freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, "Türk said. "It must be clear that legitimate exercises of the freedom of expression cannot be conflated with incitement to violence and hatred."

Observers were quick to note the parallels between the police crackdown on civil rights and anti-war protests at Columbia in 1968 and Tuesday's raid.

Stefanie Fox, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, said in response to the police invasion of Columbia Tuesday that "the U.S. has funded and supported the Israeli government's oppression of Palestinians for decades, with private institutions across the country profiting from the same."

Organizers have specifically demanded that Columbia divest its nearly $14 billion endowment from Caterpillar, Hyundai Heavy Industries, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Elbit Systems, Mekorot, Hapoalim, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin.

"These students are saying: enough," said Fox. "As Prime Minister Netanyahu prepares to launch a ground invasion on Rafah—now home to one million displaced Palestinians—the U.S. government and institutions like Columbia are showing that they would rather brutalize students than divest from apartheid and genocide."

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.