Police Thugs Smash Columbia Gaza Encampment

NYPD, some drawing their guns, violently crushed a peaceful protest against the most heinous violence: Israel’s ongoing genocide.

Columbia University Gaza encampment on April 23, 2024. (ProudFarmerScholar/Wikimedia Commons)

By Jake Johnson
Common Dreams

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-NY) 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.”

Jake Johnson is a staff writer at Common Dreams.

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14 comments for “Police Thugs Smash Columbia Gaza Encampment

  1. Vera Gottlieb
    May 2, 2024 at 04:18

    How reminiscent of Hitler times…How sad.

  2. Ray Peterson
    May 1, 2024 at 18:20

    What to expect from the same NYC police department that
    sodomized Abner Louima with a broom stick handle in 1997?
    Peaceful protest against Palestinian genocide by US/Israeli/
    West power will not be tolerated by the donors to universities,
    and these moguls of money need to be confronted. Shafik
    herself was an International Monetary Fund official, so protecting
    the American military-industrial complex is reflexive.
    Justice and democracy in action won’t be tolerated in Nineteen

  3. Harry Clark
    May 1, 2024 at 16:28

    “Shafik — who is facing mounting calls to resign…”

    Is she? After the first crackdown there were strong statements from Columbia and national AAUP, and talk of a resolution of censure by the university senate, which is most importantly the faculty. Yet after a 500-person Zoom call, rather than a meeting, the resolution only called for a committee to study admin policies.

    • Consortiumnews.com
      May 1, 2024 at 18:30

      Before this police action members of Congress had demanded she resign.

  4. Michael
    May 1, 2024 at 15:59

    They have to be hit where it hurts. Zero enrollment for schools who refuse to divest of war.

  5. Drew Hunkins
    May 1, 2024 at 15:09

    What’s astonishing is that the pretext for the police crackdown last night in NYC is bc of supposed anti-Semitism emanating from the protesters. Apparently the First Amendment means absolutely nothing when the sensitivities and paranoia of pro-Israel zealots comes into play.

    • Rob
      May 1, 2024 at 15:31

      I am with the protesters, but in fairness, the police crackdown is ostensibly to allow the normal functioning of the university, not to protect those with hurt feelings. In reality, however, it is to silence voices of conscience who are justifiably reacting to events in Gaza.

  6. Lois Gagnon
    May 1, 2024 at 15:02

    Universities are showing us they have become tools of empire for the ruling class with a side hustle in education. Education that keeps students in perpetual lifetime debt.

  7. Crazy Anne
    May 1, 2024 at 14:58

    This is not what Democracy looks like.
    This is not what Freedom looks like.

    Yet, Genocide Joe tells us that we must fight our World War for Democracy and Freedom?
    We must risk everything. All the money must go to the military, and we must tighten our belts. We must risk Armageddon. The cause of Democracy and Freedom is just so very important, that we can’t spend money on anything else and we must risk everything including our lives in this cause …. because America has Democracy and Freedom, and this must be defended.

    ‘That’s why they call it the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.’. -George Carlin.

    • Emma M.
      May 1, 2024 at 22:42

      The demos is made up of the people, but the elites don’t consider the proles to be human in the same way they are, and freedom seems to them to mean the freedom to commit genocide and do whatever they want and get away with it while the human animals stay in the zoo where they belong. Sheldon Wolin was right about inverted totalitarianism, they just invert all the old symbols and beliefs, and they really seem to believe in their upside down reality, too.

  8. JoeSixPack
    May 1, 2024 at 14:52

    Ayn Rand by any other name.

    “Shafik was born in Alexandria, Egypt, to Muslim parents who were both educators. Her father was a scientist and wealthy landowner. As a child, she went to Schutz American School. When she was four, the Egyptian government nationalized (brought into public ownership) her father’s property and the family moved to Savannah, Georgia in the mid-1960s…”

    She comes from money. It’s all about money. This is what diversity gets you. Black and Brown people, bombing other Black and Brown people.

  9. Caliman
    May 1, 2024 at 13:44

    Columbia university’s president, Minouche Shafik, is a perfect example of the pointlessness of corporate identity politics version of “diversity,” or 0.1% oligarchy control with a different face.

    An overall faculty strike until she is removed from power seems appropriate.

    • Crazy Anne
      May 1, 2024 at 15:05

      But she’s so Historic!!!!!!

    • Megan
      May 2, 2024 at 02:32

      Agreed, but the students can help make her time there a living hell too. Time to drag a fine tooth comb through her past in search of every hypocritical statement and self-enriching moment in her life. Hound her until she resigns so that the donors running the place and their useful idiots know they have something to fear from several thousand students and faculty.

Comments are closed.