New York police have cleared Hamilton Hall and the encampment at Columbia University (2024)

Using a tactical vehicle, New York City police enter an upper floor of Hamilton Hall on the Columbia University campus in New York, Tuesday, April 30, 2024, after the building was taken over by protesters earlier in the day. Craig Ruttle/AP hide caption

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Craig Ruttle/AP

Using a tactical vehicle, New York City police enter an upper floor of Hamilton Hall on the Columbia University campus in New York, Tuesday, April 30, 2024, after the building was taken over by protesters earlier in the day.

Craig Ruttle/AP

New York police arrested dozens of people on two campuses Tuesday night after officers cleared out a Columbia University building occupied by protesters.

At Columbia, New York police used a massive armored vehicle to push a bridge into a window of Hamilton Hall, the building demonstrators began occupying the previous night. Officers then streamed over the bridge — quickly retaking the building.

Students and onlookers criticized the overwhelming use of force by police.

"Myself and many other students have just felt horror seeing the swiftness with which the NYPD came and deployed themselves onto our campus," said one Columbia student, who didn't give her name due to concerns about reprisal from the university.

Elsewhere in New York City, police arrested dozens of students at The City College of New York, less than a mile from Columbia.

"These students are putting their lives at risk, they're putting their jobs, their diplomas at risk, because they know they're fighting for something bigger, which is the right to life for Palestinians," said Leena Widdi, a City College graduate who watched the protests and the ensuing police response.

Early Tuesday evening, a large crowd of demonstrators marched from Columbia University to The City College of New York, a school within the City University of New York system. School officials said in a statement that CUNY public safety officers arrested 25 individuals in their initial response, but decided to call in New York police "as the crowd grew in size."

NYPD officers entered campus just before midnight and arrested additional protesters, the statement said. It stressed that the school's actions were taken "in response to specific and repeated acts of violence and vandalism, not in response to peaceful protest."

Campus protests over the Gaza war

Police enter Columbia University's Hamilton Hall amid pro-Palestinian protests

The police action in New York came as the continuing student protests exposed the raw emotions across the country's campuses. In Los Angeles, local news outlets showed clashes between rival protest groups on the UCLA campus that began Tuesday night and spilled into early Wednesday morning. In a post on the social media platform X, formerly called Twitter, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass condemned the violence at UCLA.

In Oregon, Portland State University closed its campus Tuesday after protesters took over a library building.

At Brown University, however, students agreed to end their protest encampment. They took that step after the school said it would hold a vote later this year on possible divestment from Israel.

Columbia says occupation was led by people unaffiliated with university

Columbia officials, meanwhile, said the protesters' occupation of Hamilton Hall was led by outside agitators.

Early Tuesday morning, protesters hid in Hamilton Hall until it closed and let other protesters in. There were two security guards present, who Columbia President Minouche Shafik said the school released from the building.

"We believe that while the group who broke into the building includes students, it is led by individuals who are not affiliated with the University," she wrote in a letter requesting the New York Police Department's assistance.

Protesters then chained the doors, used furniture as barricades and used rope to have people outside the building transfer supplies to them, tactics Rebecca Weiner, NYPD's deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism, said were taught to other participants.

Some of the protesters have been on the New York Police Department's radar for years, Weiner said at a press conference Tuesday.

"I've been saying for days, if not weeks now, that we should have been a peaceful protest," New York City Mayor Eric Adams said. "It has basically been co-opted by professional outside agitators. We were extremely cautious about releasing our intel/information because our goal was to ensure the safety of our students, the faculty, and without any destruction of property."

Adams said he would not let the occupation turn into a "violent spectacle that serves no purpose," and urged parents to contact their children to get them to disperse.

"Maybe some of the students involved don't understand what they are involved in," he said. "We urge those and everyone else violating Columbia's order to leave the area and leave the area now."

Those who entered Hamilton Hall will be charged with burglary in the third degree, criminal mischief and trespassing, while participants who were outside the building will be charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct, NYPD said.

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Police initially were present near the university, but did not yet intervene until Shafik's letter, and asked for them to stay until at least May 17.

"The events on campus last night have left us no choice," Shafik said Tuesday. "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."

NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban said the department has been in contact with Columbia since protesters set up an encampment in support of Palestinians earlier this month.

"The right to protest and speak your mind is critical to our democracy, and the NYPD's job is to protect that right, but we will never tolerate violence, property damage or disruption of emergency services," he said.

NPR's Brian Mann, Jasmine Garsd and Quil Lawrence contributed reporting.

New York police have cleared Hamilton Hall and the encampment at Columbia University (2024)
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