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Columbia, City College protests lead to nearly 300 arrests. NYC mayor blames "movement to radicalize young people."

Columbia protest thwarted, but others pop up around New York City
Columbia protest thwarted, but others pop up around New York City 09:35

NEW YORK -- Columbia University called in the NYPD and cleared protesters from campus Tuesday, nearly two weeks after demonstrators set up a pro-Palestinian encampment on the school's main lawn. 

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said approximately 300 people were arrested when police responded to protests at Columbia and nearby City College of New York. The NYPD's latest count has 282 total arrests, with 109 at Columbia and 173 at City College. It's unclear how many of the arrests were students. 

"There is a movement to radicalize young people, and I'm not going to wait until it's done and all of a sudden acknowledge the existence of it," Adams said Wednesday, as he continued to blame "outside agitators" for escalating the situation. "This is a global problem that young people are being influenced by those who are professionals at radicalizing our children.

"We're proud to say they have been removed from the campus," the mayor added. "While those who broke into the building did include students, they were led by people who were not affiliated with the university."

NYPD enters Columbia and Hamilton Hall

APTOPIX Israel Palestinians Campus Protests
New York City police enter an upper floor of Hamilton Hall on the Columbia University campus using a tactical vehicle, in New York Tuesday, April 30, 2024, after a building was taken over by protesters earlier Tuesday. Craig Ruttle / AP

Columbia President Dr. Minouche Shafik called police to campus after two weeks of talks with protesters. Officers arrested dozens of people, who the university said had occupied Hamilton Hall.

"Once I became aware of the outside agitators who were part of this operation, as Columbia mentioned in their letter and their request with the New York City Police Department, it was clear we had to take appropriate actions," Adams said earlier Wednesday in an interview with "CBS Mornings," though he declined to go into specifics about those agitators.

During a later news conference, the mayor held up the letter from Columbia officials asking for help. There was also a moment of drama as NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban showed off one of the lock chains used to barricade Hamilton Hall, which he said further explained why it was necessary for the police to storm the building.

Officials said the lock chain was one of many protesters used throughout the building to keep people out.

"They tried to lock us out. NYPD and the people of the city of New York will never be locked out," Caban said.

A swarm of police started assembling outside the school at around 9 p.m. Some entered campus on foot, while others used a large vehicle with an extended ramp to enter the building through a second-floor window. They pried open the doors, cleared furniture that had been stacked in stairwells, and used flashbangs to disorient the protesters.

Officials found other evidence of the demonstrators' tactics, including a flyer with a map of protests. Police later tried to explain why they knew the students were getting outside aid from agitators.

"The black block attire, the breaking windows, breaking doors, the vandalism property destruction, the barricading, the make-shift weapons that we recovered in the encampment," said Rebecca Weiner, the NYPD's deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism. "That change in tactics, combined with the presence of known individuals on campus in the lead-up to what happened in Hamilton Hall, is why we had a real elevated concern around public safety."

Gov. Kathy Hochul backed the NYPD.

"When that protest devolves into violence, vandalism, destruction of property, even harassment, it's a sign a line has been crossed," Hochul said.

In the end, Hamilton Hall was cleared, and two encampments on the lawn were dismantled.

"The events on campus last night have left us no choice. With the support of the University's Trustees, I have determined that the building occupation, the encampments, and related disruptions pose a clear and present danger to persons, property, and the substantial functioning of the University and require the use of emergency authority to protect persons and property," the president wrote in her letter to police.

"With the utmost regret, we request the NYPD's help to clear all individuals from Hamilton Hall and all campus encampments. As part of this process, we understand that the NYPD plans to use its LRAD technology to inform participants in the encampments that they must disperse."

Columbia's president asked the NYPD to maintain a presence on campus until May 17, two days after the school's commencement, to make sure the encampments are not re-established.

Fellow college protesters show their support  

Protesters and their supporters moved to One Police Plaza overnight, where they waited for their fellow demonstrators to be released. As CBS New York's Natalie Duddridge reported, they cheered each time someone came out, and the mood appeared to be celebratory, with food, supplies and music.

One protester from City College said it took several hours to be processed before he was charged with trespassing.

"They did not listen, they proceeded with the arrests even though I complied with their orders to exit the campus," he told Duddridge. "These are the marks from the zip-ties from how tight they were, bruising here. And this is because they pulled me down from an elevated surface."

Columbia's president: "I am sorry we reached this point" 

Shafik released a new statement Wednesday morning, after the police raid went down. She said the occupation of Hamilton Hall meant "tensions on our campus rose to new heights," calling it a "drastic escalation." 

"I know I speak for many members of our community in saying that this turn of events has filled me with deep sadness. I am sorry we reached this point," she wrote. 

Shafik said she called in the NYPD because "my first responsibility is safety." She also lauded Columbia's history of campus protests and activism.

"But students and outside activists breaking Hamilton Hall doors, mistreating our Public Safety officers and maintenance staff, and damaging property are acts of destruction, not political speech. Many students have also felt uncomfortable and unwelcome because of the disruption and antisemitic comments made by some individuals, especially in the protests that have persistently mobilized outside our gates," she wrote.

Students divided over Columbia protests 

Students at Columbia are very much divided over the school's decision to call in police. Some said they felt safe this entire time and that it was unnecessary, but others believe it shouldn't have taken this many days.

While students reacted differently to the show of force, there was widespread disappointment in university leadership.

"If they had used adequate police force to stop a second encampment from being built, then we wouldn't even be here today. So I think it's good to take whatever preventative measure needs to be taken," Barnard sophomore Lily Zuckerman said. 

"I'm horrified at what our university has done. It's not OK under any circumstance to send that many police onto campus," Columbia senior Masha Sokolova said. 

CAIR-NY denounces decision to call in the NYPD

The Council on American-Islamic Relations' New York chapter is denouncing the decision to bring in the police. 

"It is sad but not surprising that Columbia University and CCNY officials would rather unleash the NYPD on their own students than simply meet their demand to divest from the Israeli government and its genocide in Gaza. Like the students who engaged in civil disobedience to protest the Vietnam War and apartheid in South Africa, these anti-genocide students are on the right side of history,"  CAIR-NY Executive Director Afaf Nasher said. "Students are empathizing with Palestinian youth who are brutally denied their futures. In contrast, our American colleges are aligning themselves with terrorizing Palestinian children. Instead of joining students calling for an end to war profiteering, our universities are profiting from ethnic-based massacres."

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