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‘This must end now’: Mayor says Columbia Gaza protest ‘co-opted’ by outside agitators

BY THE VILLAGE SUN | Mayor Adams Tuesday evening accused the ongoing Columbia Gaza protest that has paralyzed the Uptown campus of being “co-opted by professional agitators.” And he warned their parents to urge the student protesters, for their safety, to “leave the area…before the situation escalates.”

The mayor’s remarks came a day after student protesters broke into and occupied the school’s Hamilton Hall.

“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. “We were extremely cautious about releasing our intel information because our goal was to ensure the safety of our students, the faculty and without any destruction of property.

“Tonight, we’re here to show you some examples of these external actors who have no — no — affiliation with Columbia University, as well as some of our other educational facilities,” he continued. “They are actively creating serious public safety issues at these protests. Maybe some of the students involved don’t understand what they are involved in. We urge those and everyone else violating Columbia’s order to leave the area [to] leave the area now. If you are a parent or guardian of a student, please call your child and urge them to leave the area before the situation escalates in any way. This is for their own safety and for the safety of others. These external actors are obviously not students, and their presence on campus is a violation of Columbia’s clearly stated policy.”

Pro-Palestinian protesters clustered around Columbia’s campus entrance. (Photo by Paul DeRienzo)

The Mayor’s Office released a video showing a group of young protesters angrily chanting, “One, 2, 3, 4, occupation no more! Five, 6, 7, 8, Israel is a terrorist state!” Titled “Confirmed Professional Protester Present at Columbia University,” the video pans to their side where it identifies an older woman by name.

Adams described the woman as “an outside agitator with a history of escalating situations and trying to create chaos. … They’re not here to promote peace or unity or allow a peaceful displaying of one’s voice, but they’re here to create discord and divisiveness,” he accused. “That is why I’m urging every student and every protestor to walk away from this situation now and continue your advocacy through other means.

“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 continued. “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. This must end now,” he said, ominously.

Police Commissioner Edward Caban said, “Over the past two weeks or so, this has been a dynamic, evolving situation, and we have been in contact with university officials from the beginning. Again, we are talking about private property, so decisions on what to do on that property are up to the university.

“With that being said, what we saw last night and into today is not acceptable,” the top cop stated. “Furthermore, and this is very important, as the mayor has said, we are seeing professional external actors getting involved in these protests, including in the occupation of a university building. These people are not Columbia students. They are not affiliated with the university, and they are working to escalate the situation. We are seeing the tactics changing in a way that’s endangering public safety. These once-peaceful protests are being exploited by professional outside agitators, and the safety of all students, faculty, and staff are now a concern.

“As we’ve said, once the university asks for our help, the N.Y.P.D. will be there ready to assist them,” Caban asserted. “Finally, to the parents, and I say this as a father of a college student myself, be aware of where your children are. Be aware of what they’re involved in. If you don’t know, reach out to them. The university and the N.Y.P.D. are taking this situation seriously. You should be taking this situation seriously, too.”

Police cleared an encampment of Gaza protesters out of New York University’s Gould Plaza on April 22. (Photo by Paul DeRienzo)

Rebecca Weiner, the Police Department’s deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, referred to “a really concerning escalation of activity associated with campus protests broadly, and in particular with Columbia University over the past 24 hours. This escalation presents a real threat to public safety.”

Weiner said the ongoing protests “have been and are being influenced by external actors who are unaffiliated with universities, some of whom have been known to our department and others for many years for their dangerous, disruptive and at times criminal activity associated with protests for years. This is not about what’s happening overseas. It’s not about the last seven months. It’s about a very different commitment to, at times, violent protest activity as an occupation.

“A number of university partners have reported to us in New York and also across the country that significant portions of their protester populations are unaffiliated with their schools,” Weiner stated. “They haven’t got a right to be on campus and this violates university policies. Most importantly, it presents dangers to students and to the whole university communities where it’s happening.

“Second, we see an escalation in tactics,” she continued. “When we see what we saw last night… . We think these tactics are a result of guidance that’s being given to students from some of these external actors. We see individuals in black bloc [all-black clothing, faces covered] attire scaling buildings, breaking into windows, barricades being made out of furniture, or being dragged from the lawn into Hamilton Hall, cameras that have been destroyed. There’s only one reason to destroy a camera. It’s certainly not something anyone is taught to do in school. De-arresting tactics being encouraged, property destruction, signs being fortified into shields, reports of physical altercations between individuals and other forms of intimidation. This has gone to the next level and we have real cause for concern.

“I want to point out that this is an escalation that, while it began last night at Columbia, we do expect it to continue beyond one building on one campus, but to other protests, to other universities, potentially to other cities,” she said. “We are in constant dialogue with Columbia University officials, as well as other partners. We are, as always, fully prepared to respond. We want to reiterate that our priority is and always will be public safety for all.

Weiner referred to two students who were trying to prevent Hamilton Hall from being broken into “being intimidated by some others,” as well as others “making a barrier to be dragged into Hamilton Hall.”

“Again, the black bloc attire is something that we’ve seen in protest activity for quite some time,” she said. “Again, people unaffiliated with the school who are assisting in allowing them entry. Some training sessions that are occurring within the encampment itself. … You can see quite obviously that this is a public safety concern for the students themselves, for the protesters themselves, for anybody else on campus. The broken windows, more barricades, human beings chained together to try to prevent entry into the buildings.

“That is why we are urging people to take this opportunity to leave Hamilton Hall,” she stressed.

Police said, if police were to go onto the campus and make arrests, that protesters unaffiliated with the university would likely at least be charged with trespassing. Other charges could involve property destruction and vandalism.

Kaz Daughtry, the Police Department’s deputy commissioner of operations, clarified, more specifically, “For the individuals that are inside of Hamilton Hall, they will be charged with burglary in the third degree, criminal mischief and trespassing. For the individuals that are in the encampments outside, they will be charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct.”

Deputy Commissioner Weiner said some of the outsiders have been involved “at these protests over the years, whether it was Occupy Wall Street, the Autonomous Zone in 2020, other protests around the country, Stop Cop City in Atlanta — so individuals who are familiar.”

At the moment, though, police say Columbia’s administration has not asked them yet to take any action on the campus.

Police Commissioner Caban said, “We’re in constant dialogue with the officials at Columbia University. Right now, there is no timetable [for police action]. We have no letters from them. We are here ready to assist them whenever they need our help.”

Police were unable to say how many alleged outside agitators they think may currently be inside Hamilton Hall since police are not on the campus and the protesters have disabled the building’s security cameras.

Meanwhile, Columbia’s commencement ceremony is scheduled for Wed., May 15.

Deputy Commissioner Daughtry said, “As soon as the university reaches out to us, we’re more than willing and able to help them. … We’re going to treat them just like when we went into N.Y.U. [and] when we went into Columbia the first time. There was no incidents. Our officers went in there and performed admirably, as they were under attack by bottles, chairs, tables. We expect that. However, Police Commissioner Caban’s Police Department is ready to take action when needed.”

One Comment

  1. Starship Trooper Starship Trooper May 1, 2024

    The real question for this story is….


    i challenge the Village Sun…to follow up

    How many of the people arrested will be let go by

    Alvin Bragg?…

    The question is a serious one

    And Begs to be asked

    Will the Village Sun follow up for their readers?

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