More than 100 arrested after NYPD cops in riot gear storm Columbia University, clear protests (2024)

What to Know

  • The NYPD moved in late Tuesday to clear protesters from Columbia University's occupied Hamilton Hall and an encampment on the school's lawn, donning riot uniforms and tactical gear to make entry
  • 3 injuries were reported; Police said 109 people were arrested, including around 40 in the hall. Those in the hall face burglary, criminal mischief and trespassing charges; others face disorderly conduct
  • Hours earlier, officials at all levels of government had called on the protesters to clear out to avoid further escalation; the protesters did not heed their demands and Columbia University said it was "left with no choice" but to call in police as the situation became "untenable"

More than 100 protesters were arrested -- yet few injuries reported -- when NYPD officers in riot gear descended on Columbia University late Tuesday, using tactical strategies to clear the occupied Hamilton Hall and lawn encampment at the request of the college, as anti-war demonstrations at U.S. campuses reached an inflection point.

Dramatic video showed heavily geared officers using a ladder truck and climbing through a window to access the historic hall, known for its role in an anti-Vietnam War protest decades ago, where protesters had barricaded themselves after smashing windows and doors to break in less than 24 hours before.

“They tried to lock us out but the NYPD and the people of the city of New York will never be locked out," said NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban, after officers broke through locked doors and found some entrances blocked by furniture.

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After being requested by the university to step in, police used "flash bangs," or distraction devices, to quell any potential response by the protesters as they moved in. They said tear gas was not used.

"I will say this, the NYPD had a plan," Gov. Kathy Hochul said Wednesday. "They arrived on campus and acted professionally and fairly. It could have been far worse. They managed it in an extremely professional way."

During the arrest of 109 Columbia students, police kept media away, sparking complaints about an edited video released by NYPD brass without sound showing an orderly clearing of Hamilton Hall. Student journalists said they should have been allowed to document the operation.

Breaking down exactly who was arrested and where they come from may take time due to the sheer number ofarrests and because many individuals are being fully-processed compared to just getting a ticket, which is a more common practice during a mass arrest at a protest.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg did not offer much clarity on the cases or charges, other than saying his office would be reviewing the issue.

"As my office does in every instance, in all of our work, we will look carefully at each individual case on our docket and make decisions based on the facts and the law. That will include a thorough review of body cam footage, and interviews with witnesses," said Bragg.

Chopper 4 has a view of Columbia University's lawn the day after a protest encampment was cleared by police.

An FDNY spokesperson tells NBC News three patients were evaluated at Columbia University after police arrived. One was treated and released at the scene; two were taken to a hospital with what were described as minor injuries. It's not clear how the three people were injured, nor is it known if they were affiliated with the university.

Authorities at a news conference Wednesday commended the NYPD for their restraint, which happened as students protesting at UCLA engaged in violence with police working to clear them.

"The NYPD’s precision policing ensured that the operation was organized, calm, and that there were no injuries or violent clashes," Mayor Eric Adams said Wednesday. "There’s nothing peaceful about barricading buildings, destroying property or destroying security cameras. We cannot allow what should be a lawful protest to turn into a violent spectacle that serves no purpose."

New York City Mayor Eric Adams, NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban, and other NYPD officials hold a news conference outlining intel they say shows external actors have co-opted the protests at Columbia University.

Columbia, which had faced backlash for calling in the NYPD as initial protests ratcheted up last month, made the decision to call officers back late Tuesday "with the utmost regret" to dissipate what university officials described had become "a clear and present danger to persons, property and the substantial functioning of the university."

Read the full letter here. A shelter-in-place alert was issued on the campus ahead of and during the operation. On Wednesday, the gates to Columbia were locked to everyone except those who live on campus or are considered essential personnel with car access.

A spokesperson for the university later said what happened inside the hall were "acts of destruction, not political speech. Many students felt uncomfortable and unwelcome because of this disruption."

Roughly 40 to 50 of the approximately 109 people arrested at Columbia Tuesday had been in Hamilton Hall, mostly on the first floor, after an individual hiding in the building was able to let others in, a spokesperson said. The occupying protesters were set to be charged with third-degree burglary, criminal mischief and trespassing. Protesters participating in the encampment on the lawn will be charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct.

"As far as the burglary, that is a serious charge.That is a felony charge. That's not a misdemeanor. The other two are misdemeanor charges," said Michael Bachner, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor

A crowd had gathered in Chinatown near the intersection of Mott Street and Worth Street on Wednesday, greeting the protesters who had been processed and released from the nearby courthouse and NYPD headquarters. Some of those arrested and charged spoke to the media after their release.

"I was playing the drum on the sidewalk and police started fast approaching," said Fernando Bobis, an arrested protester. "I was jumped on by two officers. My hands were forced behind me and zip-tied viciously tight."

NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban spoke about the police department's actions at Columbia University and City College overnight to remove protesters and break up encampments.

It's not clear how many of those arrested at Columbia were students. Some may face expulsion. The mayor said evidence indicated that "outside agitators" co-opted the protest seeking to "radicalize" students, and were largely responsible for the escalation. However, faculty supporters of the protesters said that was not the case, and that it was largely student-driven.

"I know there are those who will say the majority were students. You don’t have to be a majority to influence and co-opt an operation," said Adams.

Adams later said in an interview with MSNBC that two people arrested — one of whom he said has a husband previously arrested on terrorism charges — were not CUNY students, but may have led to the "escalation of tactics." A school spokesperson said it was believed that the students inside the building were "led by outside individuals."

Other students who refused to comply with university policy on Tuesday and over the course of the weeks-long protests faced suspension, meaning their college IDs will be deactivated and they would not be able to finish the semester as finals wrap up this week. A university spokesperson said they could not provide specific numbers on expulsions or suspensions as of Wednesday evening, but said "all participants in the encampments are suspended and not permitted on university property."

The school asked police to remain on campus through May 17 to ensure additional encampments do not pop up and to maintain order. Graduation is scheduled for May 15.

Restrictions limiting access to Columbia to one entry point -- at 116th Street and Amsterdam -- and essential personnel and dorm-dwelling students were implemented early Tuesday in response to the protests and remain in effect for now.

Anti-war protests escalate in NYC, elsewhere

What happened at Columbia Tuesday night was preventable, officials have said.

Earlier in the evening, Adams and NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban made an impassioned plea to Columbia protesters to vacate Hamilton Hall "before the situation escalates" further.

That news conference followed similar calls to action from New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and from the White House, which condemned the escalation earlier Tuesday.

"President Biden respects the right to free expression, but protests must be peaceful and lawful," a statement said. "Forcibly taking over buildings is not peaceful – it is wrong."

PHOTOS: Columbia University student protesters take over Hamilton Hall

Police have swept through campuses across the U.S. over the last two weeks in response to protests calling on universities tostop doing business with Israelor companies that support thewar in Gaza. There have been confrontations and more than 1,000 arrests. In rarer instances, university officials and protest leadersstruck agreementsto restrict the disruption to campus life and upcoming commencement ceremonies.

City College of New York joined the fray Tuesday night, as cops responded to a protest at the Hamilton Heights campus. School officials said protesters were interfering with safety and security, noting that there had been a series of "violent" incidents in the past week and mentioned a "significant inclusion of unaffiliated individuals."

Police said 173 people were arrested as NYPD secured the area just before midnight. The college says it will operate remotely until further notice, with two weeks left of classes. Just like at Columbia, gates at City College were locked on Wednesday with barriers in place.

In a statement, CUNY encampment leaders said protesters stood their ground and were "viciously attacked" by officers. Police said Wednesday morning there were no violent clashes or injuries.

"If you were at City College and you saw the bottles the garbage cans being thrown at officers, these officers showed a lot of control," Mayor Adams said, adding he thought it was "despicable that schools will allow another country’s flag to fly in our country," a reference to a video shared on NYPD's Instagram showing officers replacing a Palestinian flag with an American flag.

The nationwide campus protests began at Columbia in response to Israel’s offensive in Gaza after Hamas launched a deadly attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7. Militants killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages. Vowing to stamp out Hamas, Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, according to the Health Ministry there.

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Ascease-fire negotiationsappeared to gain steam, it wasn’t clear whether those talks would lead to an easing of protests.

Israel and its supporters have branded the university protests as antisemitic, while Israel’s critics say it uses those allegations to silence opposition. Although some protesters have been caught on camera making antisemitic remarks or violent threats, organizers of the protests, some of whom are Jewish, say it is a peaceful movement aimed at defending Palestinian rights and protesting the war.

More than 100 arrested after NYPD cops in riot gear storm Columbia University, clear protests (2024)
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