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

NYPD officers in riot gear break into a building at Columbia University, where pro-Palestinian students are barricaded inside a building and have set up an encampment, in New York City on April 30, 2024.
Kena Betancur / AFP/Getty Images
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AFP/Getty Images
NYPD officers in riot gear break into a building at Columbia University, where pro-Palestinian students are barricaded inside a building and have set up an encampment, in New York City on April 30, 2024.

Updated April 30, 2024 at 22:33 PM ET

New York police entered Hamilton Hall at Columbia University to end a student-led occupation of the building late Tuesday after Columbia University said it was left "with no choice."

A steady stream of officers entered through a second story window using an New York Police Department armored vehicle with a mechanized drawbridge.

Pro-Palestinian protesters took over the central campus building on Monday, after the school asked them to voluntarily disperse from an encampment.

The school confirmed in a statement Tuesday that police arrived a little after 9 p.m. after Columbia President Minouche Shafik submitted a written request to the NYPDto help remove every protester from Hamilton Hall and all campus encampments.

New York police surrounded Columbia University and activists put out calls for more protestors on social media as the chaotic pro-Palestinian demonstrations on campus appeared to reach a turning point late Tuesday.
Brian Mann / NPR
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NPR
New York police surrounded Columbia University and activists put out calls for more protestors on social media as the chaotic pro-Palestinian demonstrations on campus appeared to reach a turning point late Tuesday.
NYPD officers in riot gear march onto Columbia University campus, where pro-Palestinian students are barricaded inside a building and have set up an encampment, in New York City on April 30, 2024.
Kena Betancur / AFP/Getty Images
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AFP/Getty Images
NYPD officers in riot gear march onto Columbia University campus, where pro-Palestinian students are barricaded inside a building and have set up an encampment, in New York City on April 30, 2024.
NYPD officers arrest students at Columbia University in New York City on April 30, 2024.
Charly Triballeau / AFP/Getty Images
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AFP/Getty Images
NYPD officers arrest students at Columbia University in New York City on April 30, 2024.
Members of the New York Police Department strategic response team load arrested protesters from Columbia University onto a bus, Tuesday, April 30, 2024, in New York.
Julius Motal / AP
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AP
Members of the New York Police Department strategic response team load arrested protesters from Columbia University onto a bus, Tuesday, April 30, 2024, in New York.

"We believe that the group that broke into and occupied the building is led by individuals who are not affiliated with the University. Sadly, this dangerous decision followed more than a week of what had been productive discussions with representatives of the West Lawn encampment," the statement from the university spokesman said.

The statement continued, "The decision to reach out to the NYPD was in response to the actions of the protesters, not the cause they are championing. We have made it clear that the life of campus cannot be endlessly interrupted by protesters who violate the rules and the law."

NYPD officers in riot gear march onto Columbia University campus, where pro-Palestinian students are barricaded inside a building and have set up an encampment, in New York City on April 30, 2024.
Kena Betancur / AFP/Getty Images
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AFP/Getty Images
NYPD officers in riot gear march onto Columbia University campus, where pro-Palestinian students are barricaded inside a building and have set up an encampment, in New York City on April 30, 2024.

Before entering Hamilton Hall, some NYPD officers seen in riot gear and carrying zip tie handcuffs blocked off sections of Broadway near the Columbia Morningside campus.

Members of the Columbia University Apartheid Divest group said on Instagram that students outside in front of Hamilton Hall were being arrested and escorted onto buses. An NYPD bus was seen whisking away protesters as crowds looked on.

The tensions are one snapshot of protests erupting at college campuses across the U.S. The students are calling for universities to sell off their investments in companies that have businesses or investments in Israel because of the country's invasion of Gaza.

The Israel-Hamas war has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health, while Israel says some 1,200 Israelis were killed by Hamas in an assault last October. Israel says Hamas is still holding 133 hostages.

Columbia has started suspending the students who have refused to leave and they now face expulsion.

Police maintain a cordon around Columbia University where students barricaded themselves as they continue to protest in support of Palestinians.
Brian Mann / NPR
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NPR
Police maintain a cordon around Columbia University where students barricaded themselves as they continue to protest in support of Palestinians.
Police maintain a cordon around Columbia University where students barricaded themselves as they continue to protest in support of Palestinians.
Brian Mann / NPR
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NPR
Police maintain a cordon around Columbia University where students barricaded themselves as they continue to protest in support of Palestinians.

In announcing the disciplinary actions, the school saidearlier Tuesday that the protesters "have chosen to escalate to an untenable situation."

Pro-Palestinian student protesters sit on the front steps of Hamilton Hall at Columbia University in New York City on April 30, the morning after protesters took over the college building.
Emily Byrski / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Pro-Palestinian student protesters sit on the front steps of Hamilton Hall at Columbia University in New York City on April 30, the morning after protesters took over the college building.

Two prominent New York Democrats, U.S. Reps. Jerry Nadler and Adriano Espailla, called on the school to "move quickly and swiftly to remove the students who have engaged in unlawful activity."

They wrote in a shared statement that the students are entitled to free speech, but criticized recent actions of the demonstrations at Columbia.

On the other side of the U.S., students broke into the library at Portland State University in Oregon, triggering a campus-wide shutdown.

Many such demonstrations continue with no end in sight, but administrations at Northwestern University and Brown University managed to strike deals with protesters that included agreements to examine the schools' investments.

A gate that has been a main access point into Columbia University's Morningside campus was locked Tuesday morning, as the school restricted access to only those students who live on the campus, and essential workers.
Brian Mann / NPR
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NPR
A gate that has been a main access point into Columbia University's Morningside campus was locked Tuesday morning, as the school restricted access to only those students who live on the campus, and essential workers.

Campuses see big protests across the U.S.

In Oregon, Portland State University closed its campus on Tuesday, after demonstrators took over the school's library. The protesters broke into the Branford Price Millar Library during the night, Oregon Public Broadcasting reports.

Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt's office said his position is that "the actions taking place have crossed into criminal behavior, and we will prosecute."

Earlier on Tuesday at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, police arrested demonstrators who refused to shut down a "Gaza Solidarity Encampment" protest that began at the Polk Place quad on campus Friday.

Students work on assignments and listen to organizers as they sit inside the encampment protest in Polk Place on University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, N.C., on Monday.
Makiya Seminera / AP
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AP
Students work on assignments and listen to organizers as they sit inside the encampment protest in Polk Place on University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, N.C., on Monday.

Police detained some 30 protesters and moved them elsewhere on campus, according to student newspaper The Daily Tar Heel, which says six people in the group were arrested. Video posted on Instagram by the school's chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine showed UNC police chief Brian James informing protesters that they were trespassing, as they chanted, "We will not stop, we will not rest."

UNC interim Chancellor Lee Roberts and Provost Christopher Clemens sent a letter early Tuesday ordering protesters to dismantle the camp and leave, threatening arrests and potential expulsion.

On Monday, police arrested nearly 80 people protesting in support of Palestinians at the University of Texas at Austin after demonstrators set up an encampment on the south lawn, according to member station KUT.

"Police and troopers in riot gear surrounded the protesters and made arrests," KUT reports.

UT Austin says that protesters "escalated by becoming physically and verbally combative" when approached, adding that it moved against the encampment because demonstrators' tents violated school rules. The arrests were for trespassing or disorderly conduct, it said.

The Palestine Solidarity Committee in Austin, a group organizing protests, condemned school president Jay Hartzell's administration for "yet again calling police to violently suppress students" — a reference to dozens of arrests made last Wednesday.

Along with its demands related to Israel and the Palestinians, the group says Hartzell — who has Gov. Greg Abbott's support — must resign. The group says it plans to hold another demonstration on Wednesday at noon, local time.

Student protesters react to the news that Brown University has agreed to hear a divestment proposal as they camp near the entrance to Hamilton Hall on the campus of Columbia University, Tuesday, in New York.
Mary Altaffer / AP
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AP
Student protesters react to the news that Brown University has agreed to hear a divestment proposal as they camp near the entrance to Hamilton Hall on the campus of Columbia University, Tuesday, in New York.

Northwestern and Brown reach agreements with protesters

This week Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and, as of Tuesday, Brown University in Rhode Island reached deals with student protesters to deescalate the demonstrations.

Brown President Christina Paxson shared details on the agreement in a campus-wide message on Tuesday.

"The devastation and loss of life in the Middle East has prompted many to call for meaningful change, while also raising real issues about how best to accomplish this," Paxson wrote. "Brown has always prided itself on resolving differences through dialog, debate and listening to each other."

Students of the Brown Divest Coalition set up an unauthorized encampment on the school's College Green on April 24, according to the university. With this new deal to deescalate protests, the students have agreed to end the encampment by 5 p.m. Tuesday. Additionally, they will refrain from any further actions "that would violate Brown's conduct code" through the end of the school year, including Commencement and Reunion Weekend.

In return, the school said it would invite five students to meet with five members of the Corporation of Brown University, the University's governing body that includes a Board of Trustees and a Board of Fellows, in May. The students will be allowed to hold a presentation on why Brown's endowment should divest from "companies enabling and profiting from the genocide in Gaza," the agreement stated.

Tents, flags and other supplies remain at Deering Meadow on Northwestern University's campus in Evanston, Ill. on Tuesday a day after the university and protest organizers announced an agreement which largely ended anti-war demonstrations that have lasted days.
Melissa Perez Winder / AP
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AP
Tents, flags and other supplies remain at Deering Meadow on Northwestern University's campus in Evanston, Ill. on Tuesday a day after the university and protest organizers announced an agreement which largely ended anti-war demonstrations that have lasted days.

Paxson said she will also ask the Advisory Committee on University Resources Management, the panel responsible for reviewing whether Brown's business and investment practices follow ethical and moral standards consistent with the school's goals and values, to provide a recommendation on divestment by Sept. 30, which will then be brought to the Corporation for a vote at its October meeting.

Dozens of tents set up by protesters at Northwestern in Evanston have been removed from the school's Deering Meadow, after a pro-Palestinian coalition agreed to a deal with school leaders on Monday.

Under the agreement, the Northwestern Divestment Coalition can continue to organize limited protests through at least June 1. Protesters who aren't affiliated with the school are also barred from participating.

In return, the school agreed to transparency measures around its investments, to give support to Middle Eastern and Muslim students, and to fund the "full cost of attendance for five Palestinian undergraduates" to attend the school for four years, along with two visiting Palestinian faculty for two years.

The university also said it will look to add more support for Jewish students. It called recent reports of antisemitic and anti-Muslim/Palestinian incidents "unacceptable."

The school said its goal was to "ensure that the violence and escalation we have seen elsewhere does not happen here at Northwestern."

Demonstrators supporting Palestinians in Gaza barricade themselves inside Hamilton Hall on the Columbia University campus on April 30, 56 years after protesters occupied the same building in 1968.
Alex Kent / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Demonstrators supporting Palestinians in Gaza barricade themselves inside Hamilton Hall on the Columbia University campus on April 30, 56 years after protesters occupied the same building in 1968.

Columbia and protesters hit a new impasse on Monday

While demonstrators elsewhere have reached deals with their schools' administrations, campus officials at Columbia have rejected student demands to divest from companies operating in Israel.

So, students entered Hamilton Hall early Tuesday morning, chained and barricaded its doors and have been using a rope system to get supplies from supporters, reported WKCR, the university radio station.

Outside, a crowd cheered as the facade was draped with signs reading "Intifada" and "Hind's Hall" — the latter a reference to Hind Rajab, a young Palestinian girl who was killed in Gaza in January.

The university is now under what amounts to a lockdown of the campus in Manhattan's Morningside Heights, with access restricted to essential-service employees and students who live in residential halls on the campus.

"This building has now been liberated," an Instagram account affiliated with the student group Columbia University Apartheid Divest announced as it posted an image of Hamilton Hall, echoing language used during a 1968 protest.

Columbia students protesting racism against Black people and the Vietnam War were occupying Hamilton Hall and other buildings exactly 56 years ago — on April 30, 1968 — when police violently cleared the campus. More than 700 people were arrested and almost 150 people were injured.

The New York Police Department says it has officers stationed outside the university, but not on school grounds.

Tuesday's campus shutdown was mirrored by one at Barnard College, which is closely affiliated with Columbia.

Columbia's leadership has set several deadlines as it seeks to reach an agreement with demonstrators to end the encampment, as the school said it violates school policies and is a threat to campus safety, a disturbance to Jewish students and students trying to study and sleep.

A Columbia University police officer reacts as multiple demonstrators enter Hamilton Hall in the early hours of Tuesday. The protesters proceeded to barricade themselves inside the academic building.
Alex Kent / Getty Images
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Getty Images
A Columbia University police officer reacts as multiple demonstrators enter Hamilton Hall in the early hours of Tuesday. The protesters proceeded to barricade themselves inside the academic building.

Columbia seeks ways to hold graduation ceremony

Columbia's last day of classes for the spring semester was Monday, marking the start of "reading week," in which students traditionally prepare for looming final exams. Those exams are currently set to begin on Friday, with commencement planned for May 15.

Shafik said on Monday that she wanted the protesters to "disperse voluntarily," urging them to consider that the graduating class of 2024 did not get to have their high school commencement ceremonies in person due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The president also said the school was prepared to allow demonstrations to resume after exams and commencement. But, Shafik added, protesters would need to submit an application at least two days in advance, and protests would be allowed only in designated areas.

Shafik said Columbia has supported protests and vigils that happened earlier in the year, as they were peaceful and didn't disturb campus operations.

But she added the encampment has caused an "unwelcoming environment" and "hostile environment" for Jewish students, and violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlaws discrimination at schools that receive federal funding.

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Ayana Archie
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
Jaclyn Diaz is a reporter on Newshub.
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.