Police clear pro-Palestinian protesters from Columbia University's Hamilton Hall


NEW YORK (AP) — Police with zip ties and riot shields stormed a Columbia University building occupied by pro-Palestinian protesters late Tuesday, pouring in through a window and arresting dozens of people.

NEW YORK (AP) — Police with zip ties and riot shields stormed a Columbia University building occupied by pro-Palestinian protesters late Tuesday, pouring in through a window and arresting dozens of people.

Protesters had taken over the administration building, known as Hamilton Hall, more than 20 hours earlier in a major escalation as demonstrations against the Israel-Hamas war spread to college campuses across the country.

A statement released by a Columbia spokesperson said officers entered campus after the university requested assistance. Almost two weeks ago, a tent camp was set up on the school grounds to protest the war between Israel and Hamas.

“After the university learned overnight that Hamilton Hall had been occupied, vandalized and blockaded, we were left with no other choice,” the school said. “The decision to contact the NYPD was in response to the actions of the protesters and not the cause they are supporting. We have made it clear that life on campus cannot be endlessly disrupted by protesters violating the rules and the law.”

NYPD spokesman Carlos Nieves said he had no immediate reports of injuries following the scuffle. The arrests – in which protesters shrugged off an earlier ultimatum to leave the camp on Monday or be suspended – came as other universities stepped up efforts to end the protests.

Just a few blocks away, at the City College of New York, protesters got into a confrontation with police outside the public college's main gate. Video posted on social media late Tuesday by news reporters at the scene showed officers pulling some people to the ground and pushing others as they cleared people from the street and sidewalks. A camp at the public university, which is part of the City University of New York system, has been in operation since Thursday.

Police have searched other campuses across the U.S. in the past two weeks, leading to confrontations and more than 1,000 arrests across the country. In rarer cases, university officials and protest leaders agreed to limit disruptions to campus life and upcoming commencement ceremonies.

The police action in Columbia came on the 56th anniversary of a similar attempt to prevent the occupation of Hamilton Hall by students protesting racism and the Vietnam War.

Police said earlier Tuesday that officers would not enter the grounds without a request from college administrators or an urgent emergency. Now law enforcement will be on site until May 17, the end of the university's commencement events.

Fabien Lugo, a first-year accounting student who said he was not involved in the protests, rejected the university's decision to call police.

“They closed everything. It’s too intense,” he said. “It feels more like an escalation than a de-escalation.”

In a letter to senior NYPD officials, Colombian President Minouche Shafik said it was “with the greatest regret” that the government asked police to remove protesters from the occupied building and a nearby tent camp.

Shafik also echoed the idea first raised by New York City Mayor Eric Adams earlier in the day that the group that occupied Hamilton was “led by people not affiliated with the university.”

Neither provided concrete evidence to support this claim, which was disputed by protest organizers and participants.

NYPD officers made similar claims about “outside agitators” during the large grassroots demonstrations against racial injustice that erupted across the city following the death of George Floyd in 2020. In some cases, senior police officials incorrectly characterized peaceful marches organized by well-known neighborhood activists as the work of violent extremists.

Before officers arrived in Columbia, the White House condemned the standoffs there and at California State Polytechnic University in Humboldt, where protesters occupied two buildings until baton-wielding officers intervened overnight and arrested 25 people. Officials estimated total damage to the Northern California campus at over $1 million.

President Joe Biden believes that students occupying an academic building is “absolutely the wrong approach” and “not an example of peaceful protest,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

Later, former President Donald Trump called into Sean Hannity's show on Fox News Channel to comment on the unrest in Colombia as live footage of police evacuating Hamilton Hall aired. Trump praised the officials.

“But it should never have come to this,” he told Hannity. “And they should have done it much earlier than before they took over the building because it would have been much easier if they had been housed in tents instead of a building. And also caused enormous damage.”

Other colleges have tried to negotiate agreements with the protesters in hopes of peaceful commencement ceremonies. As ceasefire negotiations appeared to be gaining momentum, it was not clear whether these talks would lead to a easing of protests.

The nationwide campus protests began in Columbia in response to the Israeli offensive in Gaza after Hamas launched a deadly attack on southern Israel on October 7. Militants killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took about 250 hostages. Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip as part of its pledge to eradicate Hamas, according to the local health ministry.

Israel and its supporters have branded the university protests as anti-Semitic, while Israel's critics say it is using those accusations to silence the opposition. Although some protesters have been caught on camera making anti-Semitic statements or violent threats, organizers of the protests, some of whom are Jewish, say it is a peaceful movement aimed at defending the rights of Palestinians and to protest against the war.

Protesters first set up a tent camp on Columbia's campus almost two weeks ago. The next day, the school sent police to clear the tents and arrested more than 100 people, only for students to return – sparking a wave of similar encampments on campuses across the country.

Negotiations between the protesters and the university have stalled in recent days, and the school gave the activists a deadline to leave the camp on Monday afternoon or face suspension.

Instead, protesters defied the ultimatum and occupied Hamilton Hall early Tuesday, bringing in furniture and metal barricades. Protesters named the building Hind's Hall, in honor of a young girl killed under Israeli fire in Gaza, and demanded divestment, financial transparency and amnesty.

The Columbia University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors said faculty efforts to help defuse the situation were repeatedly ignored by university leadership, despite school bylaws requiring consultation.

Ilana Lewkovitch, a self-described “left-wing Zionist” student at Columbia University, said it had been difficult to concentrate on school for weeks while Zionists were being asked to die or leave campus. Her exams were interrupted in the background with chants of “Say it loud, say it clearly, we want the Zionists out of here,” she said.

Lewkovitch, who identifies as Jewish and studied at Columbia's Tel Aviv campus, said she wishes the current pro-Palestinian protests were more open to people like her, who criticize Israel's war policies but believe there is an Israeli state should.


Dazio reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press journalists across the country contributed to this report, including Cedar Attanasio, Jonathan Mattise, Colleen Long, Karen Matthews, Jim Vertuno, Hannah Schoenbaum, Sarah Brumfield, Christopher Weber, Carolyn Thompson, Dave Collins, Makiya Seminera, Philip Marcelo and Corey Williams.

Jake Offenhartz, Joseph B. Frederick and Stefanie Dazio, The Associated Press