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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

After tense night of arrests, Columbia campus remains closed

Pro-Palestinian protesters rest on the steps leading to Hamilton Hall on the campus of Columbia University in New York hours after after fellow protesters seized the building on Tuesday, April 30, 2024. (Bing Guan/The New York Times)

By Lola Fadulu and Santul Nerkar

Nearly 300 demonstrators at Columbia University and City College were arrested Tuesday night as police officers in riot gear raided the campuses after administrators at the schools requested help, New York Mayor Eric Adams said during a news conference Wednesday.

Officials said 173 people were arrested at City College and 109 were arrested at Columbia. It was still unclear Wednesday how many among the arrested were students and how many had come from outside the schools and were not permitted on campus. But officials said the protest movement was led by “outside agitators.”

“They are attempting to disrupt our city, and we are not going to permit it to happen,” Adams said of the demonstrators.

Police arrived on campus Tuesday night after both schools sent letters requesting help, officials said. “The events on campus have left us no choice,” Minouche Shafik, Columbia’s president, wrote in a letter to a Police Department official Tuesday. The officers will remain on Columbia’s campus until May 17, two days after commencement.

Police officers made arrests and removed banners from Hamilton Hall, a Columbia administrative building that protesters had recently occupied. The building has a history of student takeovers, including one in April 1968 during protests over the Vietnam War. Officials said the building’s doors had been barricaded with vending machines, couches, metal chairs and the demonstrators themselves, who were pushing against the doors and throwing objects.

Wednesday morning, the campus was still closed to everyone except for students who live there and employees who provide essential services. A protest encampment near the building had been cleared, leaving behind square indents where tents had once sat.

Outside the campus gates near Hamilton Hall, the scene resembled what it did before the protests — but with dozens of media members stationed around the gates and across the street, in front of Columbia’s law school.

Students, staff members and others with badges were checking in on both the school’s Amsterdam and Broadway entrances, much like they had during the past week.

Johnny Rosen, a junior studying financial economics at Columbia, said the protests on campus, including the occupation of Hamilton Hall, had been “terrifying.” Rosen, who is Jewish and was out of town for the Passover holiday, said the university hadn’t moved quickly enough to quell the protests.

“I don’t see any other option,” Rosen said of the university’s decision to request police to enter the campus.

Meghnad Bose, a graduate student at Columbia Journalism School, said that as a student and as a reporter covering the protests, he found the last few days to be “tiring.”

“We feel the university could have done better on a number of fronts,” he said.

The arrests come as college administrators across the country are grappling with how to tame a pro-Palestinian protest movement while also protecting free speech and academic freedom. Police officers made arrests early Wednesday on other campuses, including at the University of Arizona and Tulane University in New Orleans. UCLA canceled all classes Wednesday after a night of violent clashes.

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