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Cops crack down at Columbia after N.Y.U. as Gaza protests roil campuses

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | April came to a close at Columbia University with the sound of zip ties being snapped onto wrists, as police cracked down on Gaza protesters on campus. More than 100 were arrested, both inside the occupied Hamilton Hall and at the entrenched tent city encampment on the central quad. The same night, cops also arrested around as many at CUNY’s Harlem campus.

A week earlier, police quashed a short-lived pro-Palestininian occupation at New York University’s Gould Plaza on W. Fourth Street. Again they arrested more than 100, including a contingent who marched Downtown toward Police Headquarters, some toting burning flares.

The Bear armored vehicle approaches Columbia University’s Hamilton Hall the day after protesters occupied the building. (NYPD)
Police enter Hamilton Hall via the Bear’s ramp. (NYPD)

Inspired by Columbia’s Gaza tent city, similar encampments have sprouted up on college campuses across the nation, from M.I.T. to U.S.C. and Berkeley to Ohio State. Locally, students also pitched tents in the New School University’s main building.

The protesters have been demanding their schools divest from businesses with ties to Israel, among other things. N.Y.U. protesters want the school to shutter its Tel Aviv branch.

However, college administrators and police charge that the protests have been infiltrated by “outside agitators,” as in nonstudents who are allegedly known to try to stir up unrest.

A protester gives the finger to a police videographer as protesters in the Gaza tent city prepare for the police to make arrests. (NYPD)
An officer brandishes a weapon as police methodically make their way through Hamilton Hall toward the protesters inside. (NYPD)

In the case of the Gould Plaza occupation, N.Y.U. spokesperson John Beckman said the school became increasingly concerned over “professional agitators” in the mix at the outdoor space, technically a public plaza that anyone can enter.

“This development dramatically changed the situation,” Beckman said. “We witnessed disorderly, disruptive and antagonizing behavior that has interfered with the safety and security of our community, and that demonstrated how quickly a demonstration can get out of control or people can get hurt.”

After the police action, faculty at N.Y.U.’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study voted “no confidence” in President Linda G. Mills for the university having called in the cops on the occupation.

However, the school’s board of trustees, for its part, promptly affirmed its “complete confidence” in Mills, N.Y.U.’s first-ever female president.

A chalkboard with some principles of the occupiers. (NYPD)
Protesters at the tents lock arms as police make arrests. (NYPD)
Police stamp down the empty tents after the “liberated zone” was cleared of protesters. (NYPD)

In a statement, Evan Chesler, the N.Y.U. board chairperson, said, “On behalf of the board of trustees, I want to express our complete confidence in and full support of President Linda G. Mills and her efforts to keep the campus safe and sustain N.Y.U.’s academic enterprise.”

In addition, the two bodies that represent full-time faculty in the school’s University Senate — the executive committee of the Tenured and Tenure-track Faculty Senators Council and the steering committee of the Contract Continuing Faculty Senators Council — also showed support for Mills.

“The TFSC Executive Committee and the CFSC Steering Committee wish to reaffirm our faith in Linda Mills’ leadership of N.Y.U.,” they said in a statement. “Although some of us agree with the decision to call in the police on the night of April 22 and others disagree, we affirm our overall confidence in her leadership in this time of unprecedented challenges to higher education.”

Police walked an arrested protester toward a police bus to take him to be processed and arraigned. (NYPD)

Meanwhile, N.Y.U. students recently started a new occupation outside the university’s Paulson Center that, as of May 1, had endured for five days.

Wayne Conti, the owner of Mercer Street Books, across the street, said, “They’re on the Greene Street side [of the Paulson Center] off of Bleecker. They are themselves checking ID, so no non-N.Y.U. student can get in.”

Columbia’s Gaza encampment, meanwhile, was longer lasting, first popping up on April 17 when school President Minouche Shafik was in Washington, D.C., testifying about addressing anti-Semitism on campus. The very next day, police cleared out the encampment — though students quickly reestablished it.

The situation escalated, though, when protesters broke into and occupied Columbia’s Hamilton Hall on the night of April 30. Speaking the following evening, as police massed outside the Morningside Heights campus, Mayor Adams and top police brass charged that the protest at the Ivy League school had been infiltrated by hardcore outside agitators.

“I have been saying for days, if not weeks now, that what should have been a peaceful protest, it has basically been co-opted by professionals outside agitators,” Adams declared.

Mayor Adams accused “outside agitators” of infiltrating the Gaza campus protests. (NYPDNews / Twitter)

Police released a video showing an older woman muttering alongside a circle of students angrily chanting outside Hamilton Hall, with a superimposed red arrow pointing at her and her name captioned — Lisa Fithian. According to news reports, Fithian, 63, is a longtime anti-Israel activist with numerous arrests.

“We will always protect the right to protest, but we must balance that right with the right to keep students, the school and our city safe,” Adams said. “We cannot and will not allow what should be a peaceful gathering to turn into a violent spectacle that serves no purpose. We cannot wait till this situation becomes even more serious,” he said, adding ominously, “This must end now.”

Police specifically said that militant black bloc-style protesters — who dress all in black with their faces masked — had infiltrated the occupation.

Adams and police officials said Columbia had not yet asked them to clear the campus — despite all the officers being assembled outside.

Kaz Daughtry, deputy police commissioner for operations, left, raises the American flag on a pole at City College where protesters had flown the Palestinian flag. Police cleared out protesters and made arrests at both Columbia and City College in Harlem on the night of April 30. (NYPD)

Yet, soon afterward, hordes of police swarmed into the school. Using a heavily armored Bear truck, sporting a ramp on top, they gained access to Hamilton Hall via a second-floor window. They found their way to where the occupiers — many hiding their faces behind keffiyehs and masks — were holed up, and arrested them.

A video provided by the Police Department of helmet-wearing officers pouring into the building includes a glimpse of a chalkboard in one classroom scrawled with a list of insurgent and military credos from the likes of Mao and Sun Tzu: “Attack when your enemy is weak and you are strong,” “Political power comes from the barrel of a gun” and “The countryside surrounds the city.”

Making more arrests, police also cleared the outside tent city encampment.

Both N.Y.U. and Columbia have their commencements coming up on May 15.

Earlier, on April 22, Congressmember Dan Goldman and three other House members toured Columbia and held a press conference decrying heightened anti-Semitism on the campus, saying Jewish students were being made to feel unsafe.

Congressmember Dan Goldman, center, led House colleagues on a tour of Columbia’s campus on April 22, declaring afterward that anti-Semitism was rampant there and that Jewish students were feeling harassed and intimidated. (Dan Goldman’s Office / Facebook)

Goldman, who represents Downtown Manhattan’s District 10, said the Morningside Heights school, at that time — a few days after police had cleared out the encampment the first time — still had a “massive encampment of tents and other students who seemed to be camped out.” He said protesters had been “burning Israeli flags, calling for the bombing of Tel Aviv and calling for Oct. 7 over and over again” — acts he condemned as “unacceptable.”

The freshman pol also called unacceptable Columbia having to take the step that day of making classes virtual due to the escalating situation on campus.

As for the tent encampment — and whether Columbia would allow it to stay — Goldman asserted, “There is no right to a specific place to make a statement or for free speech. There are reasonable time, place and manner restrictions under the First Amendment that must be adhered to.”

However, radical attorney Stanley Cohen slammed the charge of outside agitators inserting themselves into the protests, as well as Goldman’s argument that there are limits on campus free speech.

Radical attorney Stanley Cohen called the accusations of the Columbia protest being hijacked by outside agitators “bulls—t.”

Cohen formerly represented East Village squatters and members of the homeless Tent City in Tompkins Square Park in the 1980s. He is currently representing four Columbia students who were suspended for organizing an unauthorized on-campus “Resistance 101” meeting in March that featured a member of a U.S.-designated Palestinian terrorist organization.

“Yeah, the Martians that came down from the Planet Krypton,” he scoffed at the claim of outside agitators insinuating themselves at Columbia. “There’s been a lot of rhetoric, a lot of B.S. It’s patronizing and dismissive and pejorative pretending that students at top universities need to have outsiders to organize and direct them; that these people are too stupid and too detached that they need others to tell them what to do and how to do it. I’m wondering if Karl Marx’s granddaughter was there,” he quipped.

“There’s not a single act of violence by people who took the building. It’s all bulls—, coming from a Black mayor who has no idea that during the battle against Jim Crow, there were arguments that quote ‘Negroes’ were not involved in this — that it was Northern radicals and college students and Jews who were coming down to tell them to get their freedom.”

As for Goldman’s claims of free-speech restrictions, Cohen spat, “F— him! They ‘toured the campus,’” he sneered. “It’s a dog-and-pony show…[posing for] photos. He’s absolutely f—ing wrong! He’s a Zionist lapdog.”

However, on Thursday, the New York Post reported that more than half of the protesters arrested at Columbia and CUNY on April 30 were not affiliated with the schools, and that some are known to be committed anti-Israel protesters.

Also on Thursday, Mayor Adams and Police Commissioner Caban provided more information on the Columbia and CUNY arrestees, releasing pie charts showing that a significant number of them were not students at either school.

According to the mayor and police, many of the campus protesters arrested on April 30 were not actually affiliated with the colleges. (NYPD)

Cohen, who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family near the city in Westchester, has represented members of Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as a son-in-law of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden against terrorism charges. He tipped The Village Sun off that he’s “getting ready to go overseas.”

“I’m going to see some clients that have asked me to meet them in the Middle East,” he said.

Asked for details, he said, “It ain’t about golf.”


  1. JJS JJS May 4, 2024

    It is shocking that Netanyahu’s disgraceful government has seemingly been unmentioned in all the wall to wall rage machine news coverage of these protests. A missed opportunity that many Jews would rightly like to discuss. Don’t forget, he was facing serious corruption charges before October 7. He has created many more terrorists than he’ll ever “destroy.” Winning a battle and losing a war.

  2. Carol Frances Yost Carol Frances Yost May 2, 2024

    I’m against antisemitism, but I do NOT support Israel’s attacks on Gaza. This is not an “Israel-Hamas war,” as the mainstream press likes to label it. There are thousands of innocent civilians, including babies, being killed by Israel. Israel has oppressed the Palestinians right from the beginning. It wants to grab all the land for settlement by Jews only. There’s loads of evidence for this.

    Goldman and the Mayor are creeps. I’m 100% in support of the protesters, and I guess that makes me an “outside agitator.” Ha! BTW, some students are probably older people now getting their degrees. I’m not saying that everybody protesting on campus is a student, but supporters don’t all have to be students.

    Lincoln Anderson, SHAME ON YOU! I’ve tried to get you to see how you’re wrong, but you pay no attention. These protesters are not Hamas supporters.

  3. Barry Drogin Barry Drogin May 2, 2024

    “designated,” not “designed” – I’m pretty sure that, in this case, the terrorist organization wasn’t designed by the US! 🙂

  4. Mark Mark May 2, 2024

    Stanley Cohen more than represents Hamas and Hezbollah. He supports them verbally.

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