VANGUARD INCARCERATED PRESS: Columbia Pro-Palestinian Protesters Arrested

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By D. Razor Babb

New York police were called onto the Manhattan campus of Columbia University to clear pro-Palestinian protesters from Hamilton Hall after activists had taken over that building early Tuesday, April 30th. Three hundred protesters from Columbia and nearby New York City College were taken into custody. It has been two weeks since protests at Columbia sparked college campus demonstrations nationwide. New York City Mayor Eric Adams says non-student “professional outside agitators” were responsible for moving peaceful protests into the unlawful occupation of Hamilton Hall.

That building, which opened in 1907, has a history of being seized by protesters. In 1968 students barricaded themselves inside in protest of the Vietnam War and racial inequity. After a weeklong occupation, police gained access through underground tunnels, trampled and beat protesters with nightsticks, and arrested over 700. In May 1968, Hamilton Hall was occupied again, police cleared the building within 10 hours.

In 1972, antiwar protestors barricaded inside the hall and were cleared out after a week with no arrests or injuries. The university stated that students would be prosecuted for trespassing. In 1985 protesters locked themselves inside Hamilton Hall for three weeks in opposition to the South African apartheid, demanding university divestiture from companies doing business with South Africa. In 1992, Hamilton Hall was blockaded for less than a day in opposition to turning Audubon Theater and Ballroom, the site of the assassination of Malcolm X, into a biomedical research complex. In 1996, students engaged in a hunger strike and 100 protesters occupied Hamilton Hall for four days demanding the creation of an ethnic studies department at Columbia.

Columbia president Dr. Nemat Shafik testified before a congressional committee on April 17th about antisemitism on the Columbia campus amid tensions over pro-Palestinian protests. While Shafik was in Washington demonstrators established a tent encampment on Columbia’s main quad and demanded divestiture from companies doing business with Israel. In a letter to police Shafik declared the peaceful protests to be a “clear and present danger” to substantial functioning of the university. Police in riot gear arrived, arresting 108 protesters. Others moved to another lawn encampment. Two weeks later with negotiations breaking down and student protesters being suspended, a group of demonstrators smashed a window at Hamilton Hall and gained access. Following the request for police action, Shafik stated, “We regret that protesters have chosen to escalate the situation … we were left with no choice.” Tuesday night hundreds of police entered the campus, cleared the encampment, and entered Hamilton Hall. The hall was cleared without violence.

Some student protesters face suspension or expulsion, and some have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit. Over 1,000 protesters have been arrested nationwide.

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