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A Long Night Covering Arrests on Campus

HOST, DOMINIC HALL-THOMAS: We’re reporting today, from our studio, and the campus here is pretty much empty. The University gates are locked and access is extremely limited classes, finals, and exams are remote until the end of the semester.

On Tuesday night, at the request of Columbia University President Minouche Shafik, police officers, many in riot gear, cleared pro-Palestinian protestors from the campus. This was the second time police were called onto campus in the last two weeks. How have we gotten to this point? Our reporters Fahima Degia, Desiree Nikfardjam, and Claire Davenport were there. And they join us now. Welcome. Claire, take us through the events leading up to this second police intervention.

CLAIRE DAVENPORT: The protests on campus have been going on for a while now. But things really began to escalate on Sunday when negotiations fell apart after days of talks. The administration said they were not going to divest from Israel, one of the protesters' key demands. They also gave demonstrators an ultimatum: leave their encampment on the university lawn, or face suspension. And then a little after midnight early on Tuesday, protestors took over Hamilton Hall and barricaded themselves inside. 

HALL-THOMAS: For listeners who might not know, why Hamilton Hall?

DAVENPORT: There’s a history of student protestors occupying Hamilton Hall. In 1968, anti-Vietnam war protestors here occupied the same building, and the administration also called in police, with over 700 arrests. And now those protests are something Columbia advertises on the school’s admissions page.

HALL-THOMAS: The President’s office has said that inviting the police on campus again for a second time was because, at least in part, of outside agitators. 

DAVENPORT: Yes - the administration and the Mayor say bringing police on campus was necessary to remove these outsiders. But as of now, they have not released enough evidence to corroborate these claims, and protestors maintain the occupation WAS led by students. 

They also said protestors had broken doors and damaged property - which were acts of destruction, and that the protests have driven hate speech on and around campus. Also, the university had already made it clear they wanted the protestors and the encampment gone by graduation. For weeks now, as we’ve walked to our classes, and this studio we’ve been able to see scaffolding and equipment for the ceremonies stacked up around the tents on the lawn. 

HALL-THOMAS: Desiree, let’s talk about what happened yesterday. Set the scene for us.

DESIREE NIKFARDJAM: Well, following a press conference by NYPD commissioner Edward Caban in the evening, there was a sense that police presence was imminent.

EDWARD CABAN: “Once the university asks for our help, the NYPD will be there ready to assist them.”

As the sun was going down, protestors had linked arms in front of Hamilton Hall, and some of the protestors occupying the building leaned out of the windows on the upper floor to watch. They sang and chanted. A few in front of the building were crying -  quietly. It was calm and quiet. Then we heard the police sirens from Amsterdam before we saw them, and we knew they were about to come in.

HALL-THOMAS: And so, then the police arrived - Fahima, what happened then? 

FAHIMA DEGIA: Police began making arrests. To be clear, the arrests made outside of the campus gates were not necessarily student protestors, but members of the general public. But once police arrived on campus, they quickly removed members of the press, protesters, and legal observers. Some people ended up locked in the dorms. Others were pushed out of the school gates onto Amsterdam Avenue. Hamilton Hall was emptied.

HALL-THOMAS: So what happened to the protesters - the ones who had been occupying Hamilton Hall? 

DEGIA: Well I spoke to some protestors after the who were released. They’d been members of a human chain who’d been guarding the front door of the building. They said police were using aggressive tactics when removing them. Tactics include pushing a protester against a wall, throwing two protesters on the concrete ground, not giving people medical attention when they needed it. Sources told me people were maced and one person fell down the stairs. Over 100 protestors were arrested, and many are still in the process of arraignment. 

HALL-THOMAS: And how did the night end for you all?

DEGIA: Once police had finished making their arrests, getting back onto campus took a while. I didn’t get back in until one-thirty in the morning. I should be clear that I don’t live on campus, but some students who did had to wait in line to get back on, I’d estimate- maybe about an hour. Police were escorting everyone - students and journalists - who wanted to get back onto campus.

NIKFARDJAM: I managed to get back on campus a bit earlier, escorted by police and some journalism faculty. Claire and I saw the encampment being dismantled as we walked back. It took about an hour to clear it. Sanitation trucks had pulled onto campus, and we watched public safety officers throw big trash bags filled with items from the encampment and tents into the trucks. 

HALL-THOMAS: Sounds like a long night. Claire, Fahima, and Desiree, thank you all for your reporting.

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