Campus protests: 282 arrested at Columbia University, City College of New York

NEW YORK — Police arrested more than 280 people Tuesday night at Columbia University and the City College of New York as the nation sees rising tensions over anti-war protests on college campuses.

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The New York Police Department said 173 people were arrested at City College and 109 at Columbia University. It was not immediately clear how many of those arrested were students.

No injuries were reported.

Police officers in riot gear descended on the college campuses late Tuesday after getting requests from the schools. At City College, protesters were seen lighting flares under a gothic arch on campus and tried to take over an administrative building, WCBS-TV and The New York Times reported. At Columbia, authorities cleared a group that had begun occupying a school building — Hamilton Hall — earlier in the day. In a letter to the NYPD, university President Minouche Shafik said the group was “led by individuals who are not affiliated with the University” and that they had vandalized property.

On Tuesday night, police used an armored vehicle to push a bridge into a window at Hamilton Hall, giving dozens of officers access to the building, NPR reported. Authorities also deployed flash-bang grenades to breach Hamilton Hall. Shafik asked the NYPD to keep officers at Columbia until at least May 17, two days after the school’s commencement, “to maintain order and ensure encampments are not reestablished.”

Mayor Eric Adams praised police for their response, saying officers “should be proud” of themselves.

“Police officers showed a great level of discipline to not allow this to evolved into an out-of-control situation,” he said.

However, some questioned or criticized the responses, including a lead student negotiator for protesters at Columbia.

“This is a movement that asks Columbia to divest its investments from the companies that are fueling the war in Gaza right now,” Mahmoud Khalil, a second-year graduate student at the university, told CNN. He added, “I’m very confident that students will continue this movement even after all this brutality against them.”

Leena Widdi, a City College graduate who watched the protests and the response from police, told NPR, “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.”

On Wednesday, Adams blamed “outside agitators” for coopting the protest movement and radicalizing students.

“This is a global problem,” he said at a news conference. “You people are bineg influenced by those who are professionals at radicalizing our children, and I’m not going to allow that to happen as the mayor of the City of New York.”

Authorities did not identify a group behind the alleged radicalization, saying only that it involved people known for attending protests and “doing training around” tactics including breaking windows, destroying property and barricading buildings.

Jonas Du, the editor-in-chief of a Columbia student magazine, told CNN that regardless of any outside involvement, protests on campus have been fueled by students.

“It wouldn’t have gotten to (this) extent without the of the student organizations here,” he said.

Students at colleges nationwide have staged protests since war broke out between Israel and Gaza in October.

Since Hamas launched an attack on Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people — mostly civilians — Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, according to The Associated Press. Israel and its supporters have attacked the protests as antisemitic while its detractors have accused Israel of using the label to silence opposition, the news agency reported.