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Pro-Palestinian protests spread, get more heated as schools' reactions differ

In an extraordinary scene, New York City police officers entered the Columbia University campus Tuesday night after dozens of protesters took over a campus building in New York, barricading the entrances and unfurling a Palestinian flag out a window in the latest escalation of demonstrations against the Israel-Hamas war that have spread to college campuses nationwide.

Officers in riot gear began moving in around 9 p.m. ET after receiving permission from the school to enter. A massive police presence had built up outside the school before officers moved in.  

Several dozen protesters were arrested, police told CBS New York. Flash bangs were used to disorient the protesters as officers made their way inside, but according to police, no tear gas was used.

"We regret that protesters have chosen to escalate the situation through their actions," the university said in a statement Tuesday night. "After the university learned overnight that Hamilton Hall had been occupied, vandalized, and blockaded, we were left with no choice."

The school added that it believes "the group that broke into and occupied the building is led by individuals who are not affiliated with the university."

The NYPD operation drew the ire of Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York, who said in a statement he was "outraged by the level of police presence called upon nonviolent student protestors on Columbia and CCNY's campuses."

In a letter to the NYPD requesting the operation, Columbia University President Minouche Shafik asked that the police department "retain a presence on campus through at least May 17" in order "to maintain order and ensure encampments are not reestablished."

Early Tuesday morning, video footage showed protesters on Columbia's Manhattan campus locking arms in front of Hamilton Hall early Tuesday and carrying furniture and metal barricades to the building, one of several that was occupied during a 1968 civil rights and anti-Vietnam War protest on the campus. Posts on an Instagram page for protest organizers shortly after midnight urged people to protect the encampment and join them at Hamilton Hall.

"An autonomous group reclaimed Hind's Hall, previously known as 'Hamilton Hall,' in honor of Hind Rajab, a martyr murdered at the hands of the genocidal Israeli state at the age of six years old," CU Apartheid Divest posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, early Tuesday.

Columbia University Issues Deadline For Gaza Encampment To Vacate Campus
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators on the Columbia University campus show a banner earlly on April 30, 2024 as they barricade themselves inside Hamilton Hall and name it after a Palestinian child allegedly killed by the Israeli military three months earlier. Alex Kent / Getty Images

The student radio station, WKCR-FM, broadcasted a play-by-play of the hall's takeover, which occurred nearly 12 hours after Monday's 2 p.m. deadline for the protesters to leave an encampment of around 120 tents or face suspension.

In the X post, protesters said they planned to remain at the hall until the university conceded to the CUAD's three demands: divestment, financial transparency and amnesty.

Israel Palestinians Campus Protests
Students with the Gaza solidarity encampment block the entrance of Hamilton Hall at Columbia University after taking it over early on April 30, 2024 in New York. Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine called for the mobilization. Marco Postigo Storel / AP

In a statement Tuesday evening prior to the NYPD operation, Columbia University spokesperson Ben Chang said that "students occupying the building face expulsion."

And in a news conference earlier Tuesday night, New York City Mayor Eric Adams had urged protesters to "leave the area now."

"If you're a parent of a student, please call your child and urge them to leave the area before the situation escalates in any way," he added. "This is for their own safety, and the safety of others."

Columbia junior Jessica Schwalb described the campus to CBS News as "lawless. Utter ancarchy." She said demonstrators in Hamilton Hall "zip-tied the doorhandles together and then broke the windows, bashed the windows with hammers and put these metal bike locks around the door handles. They put the bike lock on the first set of doors is what I saw and then they were bringing tables, the heavy black metal tables from the eating area that's right in front of Hamilton Hall, and had a group of people push them up against the door handles as a barricade and then people were also bringing furniture from Hamilton Hall to barricade inside."

Columbia issued an advisory overnight saying in part: "Early this morning, a group of protesters occupied Hamilton Hall on the Morningside campus. In light of the protest activity on campus, members of the University community who can avoid coming to the Morningside campus today (Tuesday, April 30) should do so; essential personnel should report to work according to university policy."

Hours later, the school it was limiting access to that campus to students who live there and employees who provide essential services to the campus.

Columbia said Tuesday that students who occupied the building overnight face expulsion, and said that "disruptions on campus" had created a "threatening environment for many of our Jewish students and faculty and a noisy distraction that interferes with teaching, learning, and preparing for final exams, and contributes to a hostile environment in violation of Title VI." 

Other protesters who did not occupy the building but remained on the school's encampment are facing suspension and are restricted from "all academic and recreational spaces," while senior-year students "will be ineligible to graduate," the school said. 

"We made it very clear yesterday that the work of the University cannot be endlessly interrupted by protesters who violate the rules. Continuing to do so will be met with clear consequences," the school said in a statement. "Protesters have chosen to escalate to an untenable situation - vandalizing property, breaking doors and windows, and blockading entrances - and we are following through with the consequences we outlined yesterday."

The big picture

Universities across the U.S. are grappling with how to clear out encampments as commencement ceremonies approach, with some continuing negotiations and others turning to force and ultimatums that have resulted in clashes with police.

Dozens of people were arrested Monday during protests at universities in Texas, Utah and Virginia, while Columbia said hours before the takeover of Hamilton Hall that it had started suspending students.

Demonstrators are sparring over the Israel-Hamas war and its mounting death toll, and the number of arrests at campuses nationwide is approaching 1,000 as the final days of class wrap up. The outcry is forcing colleges to reckon with their financial ties to Israel as well as their support for free speech. Some Jewish students say the protests have veered into antisemitism and made them afraid to set foot on campus.

The plight of students who have been arrested has become a central part of protests, with the students and a growing number of faculty demanding amnesty for protesters. At issue is whether the suspensions and legal records will follow students through their adult lives.

Schools taking various approaches

On Tuesday morning, arrests were reported at several schools. Christopher Ludwig Eisgruber, the president of Princeton University, said in a letter to students that 13 people had been arrested on Tuesday following "an incident at Clio Hall." Students had attempted a sit-in at the building, according to the school's alumni publication

Eisgruber said that those arrested included five undergraduates, six graduate students, a postdoctoral researcher and "one person not affiliated with the University." All 13 have "received summonses for trespassing" and have been banned from campus, Eisgruber said. The students will face university discipline, he said, which may "extend to suspension or expulsion." 

At UNC Chapel Hill, a total of 36 people were detained Tuesday morning, the school said in a statement. Thirty of those — including 10 students and 20 people "not affiliated with the university" — were cited at the scene for trespassing and released. The other six were transported to the Orange County Magistrates Office, where they were also charged with trespassing.  

The move came after university officials told protesters they must leave their encampment by 6 a.m. All 30 people had refused to leave, and they "attempted to block the UNC Police vehicles by standing in front of them and throwing items at officers," according to a statement from the university. Protesters also attempted to "forcibly enter" a building by "pushing officers and refusing to comply with requests" from campus police and facility managers. 

Meanwhile, nine people were arrested at the University of Florida, according to campus officials. It's not clear what charges those people face. 

"This is not complicated: The University of Florida is not a daycare, and we do not treat protesters like children — they knew the rules, they broke the rules, and they'll face the consequences," said university spokesman Steve Orlando, emphasizing that protesters had been warned multiple times that they could exercise free speech and free assembly but could not engage in "clearly prohibited activities." 

That follows a series of arrests on Monday as colleges struggle with how to respond to the swell of protests on campuses nationwide. The University of Texas at Austin said in a statement Tuesday that 79 people were arrested Monday, 45 of which "had no affiliation with UT Austin."

The confrontation was an escalation on the 53,000-student campus in the state's capital, where more than 50 protesters were arrested last week.

The school said that the arrest numbers "validate our concern that much of the disruption on campus over the past week has been orchestrated by people from outside the university, including groups with ties to escalating protests at other universities around the country."

Guns, large rocks, bricks, steel-enforced wood planks, mallets and chains are among the objects that have been seized from protesters, the school said. 

"Staff have been physically assaulted and threatened, and police have been headbutted and hit with horse excrement, while their police cars have had tires slashed with knives," the statement said. 

Also on Monday, dozens of officers in riot gear at the University of Utah sought to break up an encampment outside the university president's office that went up in the afternoon. Police dragged students off by their hands and feet, snapping the poles holding up tents and zip-tying those who refused to disperse. Seventeen people were arrested. The university says it's against code to camp overnight on school property and that the students were given several warnings to disperse before police were called in.

These protests and others - including in Canada and Europe - grew out of Columbia's early demonstrations that have continued. 

On Monday, student activists at Columbia defied the 2 p.m. deadline to leave their encampment. Instead, hundreds of protesters remained. A handful of counter-demonstrators waved Israeli flags, and one held a sign reading, "Where are the anti-Hamas chants?"

While the university didn't call police to roust the demonstrators, school spokesperson Ben Chang said suspensions had started but could provide few details. Protest organizers said they were not aware of any suspensions as of Monday evening.

Columbia's handling of the demonstrations also has prompted federal complaints. A class-action lawsuit on behalf of Jewish students alleges a breach of contract by Columbia, claiming the university failed to maintain a safe learning environment, despite policies and promises. It also challenges the move away from in-person classes and seeks quick court action requiring Columbia to provide security for the students.

Meanwhile, a legal group representing pro-Palestinian students is urging the U.S. Department of Education's civil rights office to investigate Columbia's compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for how they have been treated.

A university spokesperson declined to comment on the complaints.

Not all universities have responded to the protests with arrests.    

In a rare case, Northwestern University said it reached an agreement with students and faculty who represent the majority of protesters on its campus near Chicago. It allows peaceful demonstrations through the June 1 end of spring classes and in exchange, requires removal of all tents except one for aid, and restricts the demonstration area to allow only students, faculty and staff unless the university approves otherwise.

At the University of Southern California, organizers of a large encampment sat down with university President Carol Folt for about 90 minutes on Monday. Folt declined to discuss details but said she heard the concerns of protesters and talks would continue Tuesday. 

Protests at USC have also been spurred by the university's decision to refuse to allow the valedictorian, who has publicly supported Palestinians, to make a commencement speech, citing nonspecific security concerns for their rare decision. Administrators then scrapped the keynote speech by filmmaker Jon M. Chu, who is an alumnus, and declined to award any honorary degrees. The university has since canceled its main graduation event. 

In a social media post Tuesday night, Folt said that a swastika had been found "drawn on our campus."

"I condemn any antisemitic symbols, or any form of hate speech against anyone," Folt said. "Clearly it was drawn there just to incite even more anger at a time that is so painful for our community." 

Folt said the swastika had been removed and an investigation was underway. 

Security was tightened Tuesday at the University of California, Los Angeles, a day after UCLA officials said there were "physical altercations" between dueling factions of protesters.

Mary Osako, vice chancellor for UCLA Strategic Communications, said in a Tuesday statement that anyone involved in blocking classroom access could face expulsion or suspension.

A weeklong occupation of the administration building at the California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, ended about 3 a.m. Tuesday, when dozens of police officers wearing helmets and wielding batons cleared protesters from campus. The university said 32 people were arrested, including 13 students, one faculty member and 18 non-students.

A group of demonstrators showed up at the jail later Tuesday, waving Palestinian flags as they rallied for their release.

Administrators elsewhere tried to salvage their commencements and several have ordered the clearing of encampments in recent days. When those efforts have failed, officials threatened discipline, including suspension, and possible arrest.

The University of Connecticut initially attempted to work with protest organizers, the school said in a statement, including sharing guidelines with organizers about what behavior was and was not permissible. Some at the school's protests "violated those guidelines by erecting tents" and using amplified sound, the school said. About 20 tents had been erected on the campus as of Monday. The group was warned "multiple times over a period of days" that the tents had to be taken down, the school said, though protestors could continue to "be in the space and exercise their free speech rights." 

UConn police addressed the protesters four times on Tuesday morning, the university said. The group "again repeatedly ignored directives." Police then "entered the site to remove the tents and tarps, and to arrest those who refused compliance," the university said. The school sadi more information, including on the number of arrests and charges, would be provided later. 

Students have dug in their heels at other high-profile universities, with standoffs continuing at Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, Yale and others.

Police in riot gear at Virginia Commonwealth University sought to break up an encampment there late Monday and clashed with protesters.

CBS New Orelans affiliate WWL-TV reports that a few hundred demonstrators marched in the city before skirmishes started with police from several different jurisdictions as some demonstrators tried to pitch tents on the Tulane campus. Six people were arrested.

CBS New York says Rutgers University students set up an encampment at the school's New Brunswick, New Jersey campus on Monday after first holding a rally and then marching to the location.

Students and community members marched into the University of New Mexico Student Union building and set up tents on the second floor — the latest in a multi-day protest held on the campus, according to CBS Albuquerque affiliate KRQE-TV. The station's crew on site said protesters graffitied the inside of the building. New Mexico State Police said they were assisting campus police in handling the demonstration.

And hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters set up a new tent encampment Monday at the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus after staging a march on the campus, the StarTribune reports, as the demonstration there entered its second week Earlier in the day, the university said it would close 12 buildings in anticipation of the protest.

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