On the Ground at the NYPD Raid on the City College Gaza Solidarity Encampment

New York Focus was on the scene as cops shoved, kettled, and chased students at City College, the second campus where the NYPD razed a Gaza solidarity encampment Tuesday.

Chris Gelardi   ·   May 2, 2024
NYPD officers in front of the City College gates. Protesters drop a Palestinian flag behind them.
NYPD officers stand in front of the gates at City College on April 30, 2024. | Chris Gelardi

As Israeli bombs pounded the city of Rafah in southern Gaza on Tuesday ahead of a planned ground invasion, New York City Police Department brass stood at the center of the quad at the City College of New York’s Harlem campus. The department had just raided a Gaza solidarity encampment there, arresting over 170 students, faculty, and supporters. The police officials snatched a Palestinian flag flying from a pole at the center of the quad — ripping it in the process — and threw it to the ground.

A deputy police commissioner posted a video of cops raising an American flag in its place. “An incredible scene and proud moment,” he called it.

New York Focus was on the scene as cops shoved, kettled, and chased students at City College, the second campus where the NYPD razed a protest encampment Tuesday. Last week, as national news outlets trained their focus roughly 20 blocks downtown, on demonstrations at Columbia University, students at City College erected the camp to protest the Israeli war and siege on Gaza, which has killed at least 34,000 people and led to mass starvation. They demanded that the City University of New York system disclose and divest from all of its financial ties to Israel.

For five days, the City College encampment attracted students and faculty, many of whom slept there. Tents and flags covered the green, as did hand-painted signs denouncing the war. Donated food and supplies kept participants fed, as organizers facilitated teach-ins, encampment assemblies, prayer, and activities for faculty members’ children.

“It was one of the most beautiful and incredible displays of solidarity I’ve seen,” said Yael, a CUNY Graduate Center student who gave only their first name, praising the organizers’ emphasis on keeping attention focused on the US-backed assault on Gaza.

Then, the NYPD rolled in.

Earlier on Tuesday, City College demonstrators attempted to extend the protest occupation into an administrative building. Police kicked them out, pepper spraying students and journalists, and erected barricades around the quad to kettle participants inside. According to organizers, City College administration then announced that the encampment had roughly 12 hours — until 6 AM — to disperse.

The encampment grew quiet as demonstrators monitored updates about their compatriots at Columbia, where the NYPD had just launched a massive raid on a protest encampment. (Read New York Focus’s dispatches from Columbia here.)

“People were bracing themselves,” said Leon Orlov-Sullivan, editor-in-chief of City College’s The Campus magazine. “There were lots of reports that all the police officers who were at Columbia were coming north.”

A police bus outside City College of New York on April 30, 2024.
A police bus outside City College of New York on April 30, 2024. | Chris Gelardi

During Tuesday night's police raid on the City College of New York, The Campus magazine editor-in-chief Leon Orlov-Sullivan read the names and badge numbers of 25 officers present over a livestream. According to public databases for complaints and overtime pay, 11 of the officers have a combined 23 complaints, though few were substantiated by the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

There's a good chance their presence was expensive: During the 2023 fiscal year, 20 of the 25 officers collected a total of more than $270,000 in overtime pay.

Izhar Hussain, a police officer in the 112th Precinct who was present that night, has five complaints against him, including two allegations of excessive force. In 2023, he earned $18,407 in overtime pay.

Marc Loyola, an officer in the 111th Precinct, has three complaints filed against him, including a substantiated 2016 complaint for excessive force. He earned $6,240 in overtime pay last year.

Raymond Williams, a detective specialist from the 112th Precinct, is named in four different lawsuits brought by civilians, with a total settlement amount of $140,000. In a 2012 case, Williams and other officers are alleged to have stomped on, hit, and kicked an individual who they had handcuffed. Williams was also suspended in 2018 for filming a video of his groin with another officer’s body cam, according to the New York Post.

Another officer at the protest, Benjamin Chen of the 115th Precinct, received more than $40,000 in overtime pay last fiscal year. Bianca Fortis

By 11 PM, it became clear that those reports were accurate. Outside campus, CUNY students and supporters gathered at the front entrance, linking arms to create a barrier between a growing hoard of cops and the locked gate. Some held signs: “Teachers for a free Palestine,” “Hunter [College] students say: Defend pro-Palestinian protestors.” Their chants accused city officials of “supporting genocide” in Gaza, where Israeli bombardment has reduced all of the strip’s dozen universities to rubble.

Unmarked police cars, paddy wagons, and an NYPD bus rushed to City College. Hundreds of officers wearing helmets and wielding batons — including members of counterterrorism units and the notorious Strategic Response Group — took over the street.

Officers formed lines outside the front gate. With batons and barricades, they pushed students and tore apart the human chain. A Staten Island-based SRG officer ripped one demonstrator from the group, and others took keffiyeh-clad adolescents to the ground. Rounds of tug-of-war ensued as screams filled the air.

Across the street, supporters formed another protest group — and faced their own police aggression. Using batons, cops pushed them down the street, out of view of the front gate.

“I ended up on the ground at least three times,” said Yael. “There were elderly people there who were falling into other people. They were crushing us into each other.”

The cops took roughly half an hour to arrest or push away most of the demonstrators stationed in front of the gate to campus. “They outnumbered us,” said City College student Marlene McKinney.

Then, despite the college’s 6 AM dispersal deadline, the NYPD broke through the gate. A crowd of cops marched toward the encampment occupants, who had linked arms at the pole with the Palestinian flag. “It felt like a military force was descending on the encampment,” Orlov-Sullivan said.

NYPD officers wearing riot gear with their masks up stand outside City College of New York.
NYPD officers in riot gear outside City College. | Chris Gelardi

The NYPD refused reporters access to campus as officers destroyed the encampment and, according to Orlov-Sullivan, threw students to the ground. (“Use your zoom,” an officer told New York Focus, gesturing to a camera.) The department did bring its own cameras, recording material for a dramatic five-minute action montage of what it portrays as officers’ tactical valor.

Cops escorted arrestees out of the campus. Dozens of police officers remained on the street, so Orlov-Sullivan, broadcasting live on Instagram, read out some of their badge numbers.

The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.

As they waited to board a Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus that would take them to police headquarters, the zip-tied protesters chanted for a free Palestine.

A police officer in a white shirt at night with a Palestinian flag flying behind him and an MTA bus on the right side of the frame
A police officer moves through a crowd followed by an MTA bus outside City College. | Chris Gelardi

In a press conference Wednesday morning, New York City Mayor Eric Adams and NYPD officials portrayed the raids as a way to curb the growing student protest movement against the Israeli onslaught.

“Places of education, when done right and not in a fascist way, give people tools and power to resist, and they’re deeply fearful of that,” said Yael.

City officials repeatedly claimed that the protests were “led” by “professional” “outside agitators.” Reporters, including from New York Focus, have asked the city and the NYPD multiple times for details about non-students and faculty arrested at the encampments.

A CNN reporter tweeted on Thursday that per the NYPD, 134 of the 282 people arrested at City College and Columbia were not “affiliated” with either school. The figures include people arrested both outside and within the gates at the two universities, and the definition of “affiliated” is unclear. City College students pointed out that while access to the campus was restricted while the encampment was present, most days, the space is billed as open and inclusive to the community.

“It’s a very public area, it’s public-funded,” said McKinney. “When it’s warm outside, you’ll usually see people who aren’t students.”

“I don’t think it’s true,” said Orlov-Sullivan, referring to the outside agitators theory. “Even if there is such a thing as somebody who is fully outside of the City College of New York community.”

As the police repeated claims of outsiders, they also neglected to acknowledge the protesters’ stated motivation: the war on Gaza.

Instead, Rebecca Weiner, head of the NYPD’s intelligence and counterterrorism arms — which have historically trained with the Israeli Defense Forces — expressed alarm about a “normalization” of movements “associated with terrorism” among students.

“There is a movement to radicalize young people,” Adams echoed during the Wednesday press conference. “I’m not going to allow that to happen.”

That morning, students at Fordham University launched their own protest encampment, the first in the city outside of Manhattan, another of the dozens across the country.

And that evening, students held rallies, attended by hundreds of people, at Columbia and City College.

Maia Hibbett and Bianca Fortis contributed reporting.

Chris Gelardi is a reporter for New York Focus investigating the state’s criminal-legal system. His work has appeared in more than a dozen other outlets, most frequently The Nation, The Intercept, and The Appeal. He is a past recipient of awards from Columbia… more
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