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Columbia University protests continue for 4th day after more than 100 arrested

Pro-Palestinian demonstrations at Columbia University continue for 4th straight day
Pro-Palestinian demonstrations at Columbia University continue for 4th straight day 00:26

NEW YORK -- Tensions are high at Columbia University over the Israel-Hamas war and the school's response to ongoing protests on campus. 

School administrators have restricted campus access to students and staff with university IDs.

Saturday marked the fourth day of pro-Palestinian demonstrations at the school. A large group of pro-Palestinian protesters gathered outside the university gates, while inside, students were back out on the main lawn.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators have been occupying the lawn for several days. Video from overhead showed protesters sprawling on sleeping bags and mats Friday, with banners and Palestinian flags laid out around them. They are demanding a ceasefire in Gaza and for the university to divest from Israel.

The NYPD arrested more than 100 people Thursday at the encampment they set up on the main lawn, as demonstrations continued on and off the school's campus in Upper Manhattan. 

"I didn't think there was a safety concern at all, because they were actually passing out food to everybody coming by, they were really interacting. It was really nice to see, actually, the community coming together on both sides," one student told CBS New York. 

Shai Davidai, an assistant professor at the school, says Jewish students have felt threatened since Oct. 7 and the arrests just show "all of the student organizers, all of the radicals, they're all in there right now."

Right now, the NYPD has barricaded areas outside the university, but they say they have not entered and do not plan on entering the campus Friday. No violence has been reported.

School officials have warned unauthorized protests will lead to more suspensions, but students say they won't back down.

The conflict has spread beyond campus, impacting those in the neighboring community. One man who lives in the area was putting up flyers of those taken hostage by Hamas, trying to put the focus back on them.

More than 100 protesters arrested

Police monitored activities near campus for most of the day Thursday and made some arrests before confronting students at the makeshift tent city. Officers in riot gear shut down the street at 114th Street and Broadway with seven correctional buses, and then removed students from the encampment. 

"We were walking around different parts of campus to occupy that space and demand that our voices be heard," one Columbia student said. "And when I showed up, everybody had already been arrested." 

"One by one, these cops got each of the encampment protesters sitting down and standing up and put them in zip ties and walked them," another student said. "It's a very difficult time for a lot of people. I think it's unfortunate that it's come down to this." 

"Clearly, as you see, the school does not have any effort to help protect the students who are peacefully protesting," pro-Palestinian protester and student Jin Hookky said.

Students were detained on the buses before being taken to the precinct. The vast majority of the 113 people arrested were given summonses for trespassing.

"New Yorkers have every right to express their sorrow, but that heartbreak does not give you the right to harass others, to spread hate," Mayor Eric Adams said.

Demonstrations at the school's main entrance continued throughout the day and into the night, leading, at times, to violent confrontations with counter-protesters and, subsequently, more arrests.

University President Shafik addresses protests, arrests

In a letter, Columbia University President Minouche Shafik asked the NYPD to move in, writing "I have determined that the encampment and related disruptions pose a clear and present danger to the substantial functioning of the University." 

"With great regret, we request the NYPD's help to remove these individuals," she wrote.

Shafik said all university students participating in the encampment are being suspended. 

"I regret that all of these attempts to resolve the situation were rejected by the students involved. As a result, NYPD officers are now on campus and the process of clearing the encampment is underway," Shafik wrote in the statement to the Columbia community

The students were warned to leave the encampment by 9 p.m. Wednesday, Shafik wrote. 

"Columbia is committed to allowing members of our community to engage in political expression – within established rules and with respect for the safety of all," Shafik wrote. 

Rep. Ilhan Omar's daughter suspended

A protester is taken into custody during dueling demonstrations between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel supporters outside of Columbia University in Manhattan on April 18, 2024 CBS2

Barnard College suspended three students, including Isra Hirsi, the daughter of Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, for participating in the protests. Hirsi said on social media she and others at the encampment would continue protesting until their demands are met. 

Demonstrations started on Wednesday before administrators locked down campus amid dueling protests between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel groups. Police said one person was arrested. 

Protests intensified Thursday morning and more arrests were made as small pro-Palestinian demonstrations took place outside Columbia's campus gates.

Some demonstrators expressed discontent with how police handled the situation.

"There was no point of ever working with the police. Like every single step of the way, they were escalating it," a protester named Selena said.

 According to protesters, police started detaining them for blocking the entrance to the subway, which they said was not the case.

"Not allowing us to exercise any of our rights," Selena said.

Protests continue after Columbia's president testifies

Demonstrations began when Shafik testified Wednesday on Capitol Hill, where she was accused of failing to discipline students for antisemitic rhetoric.

In her testimony, Shafik said reconciling students' right to free speech with the rights of Jewish students to learn in an environment free from discrimination has been a central challenge on campus since Oct. 7.

"Coming on the heels of the heavy-handed pressure from Congress to clamp down on student protests that's critical of Israel and being so excessive, calling in the police, it raises concerns about Columbia's commitment to free speech on campus," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

"I think when a huge majority of Jewish students are saying we feel uncomfortable, we experience antisemitism, those concerns should be taken seriously," student Natan Rosenbaum said.

"I had to move to a different dorm because the harassment was getting really bad," said a Columbia student who says she supports Israel.

On the other side, there's criticism Shafik has gone too far.

"They care more about their shareholders than the students. For this entire year, I have not felt any type of safety, and they claim that they are doing this under the guise of safety," Columbia student Kimberly Boatena said.

"Our goal is not to be against Jewish people. Our goal is simply to say we don't agree with what Israel, the government of Israel, is doing in the Middle East," Hookky said.

The NYPD says it will continue to work closely with the school for the rest of the semester if the administration again reports to police that their rules are being violated.

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