The NYPD Descent on Columbia, Told by Student Journalists

The mayor and the police blamed “outside agitators” for campus protests. Student journalists reported what they saw.

Student protesters gather at Columbia's Hamilton Hall or "Hind's Hall," renamed after Hind Rajab, a six-year-old Palestinian girl who was shot to death with paramedics on an IDF-supplied emergency route. On the right, they hang a banner that says "HIND'S HALL." Protesters sit up high on a facade.
Student protesters renamed Columbia's Hamilton Hall "Hind's Hall" after Hind Rajab, a six-year-old Palestinian girl who was shot to death with paramedics on an IDF-supplied emergency route. | Indy Scholtens

In a highly produced, dramatically scored short film about their Tuesday night response to protests at Columbia University and the City College of New York, members of the New York City Police Department point at aerial shots of Columbia’s campus, identify buildings, and stand in the remains of a dismantled Gaza solidarity encampment.

“If you’re thinking about setting up tents anyplace else in the city, think again,” says an officer at the end of the video. “Colleges will reach out to us, and we’ll come there, we’ll strike you, take you to jail like we did over here.”

The NYPD descended on college campuses at the request of college administrators and under the supervision of New York City Mayor Eric Adams. Questioned about the purpose and process of their operation, they argue that the protests — in which students have voiced objections to their universities’ ties to Israel as it bombs, shoots, and starves Palestinian civilians — are unsafe, antisemitic, and run by outsiders looking to sow chaos.

On Wednesday, when New York Focus asked the NYPD if they had arrested any non-students within the encampments, a spokesperson replied with a link to a video of an NYPD press conference in which Adams and police officials declined to provide evidence for the claim. 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 — but the numbers include people arrested both inside and outside campus gates, and the definition of “affiliated” is unclear. At time of publication, the NYPD had not responded to New York Focus’s request for clarity. Members of the press have tested and pushed Adams on the claim, but the police narrative remains murky.

Those who followed along live on WKCR, Columbia’s undergraduate student-run radio station, heard the events from the students’ view as they unfolded, but most of the press was locked out of campus. Many student reporters were treated like outsiders Tuesday night, forced off of their campus and barred from reentry by the NYPD. New York Focus collected their accounts to create a lasting record of what happened. The following photos and narrative dispatches are from graduate student journalists and one recent graduate of the Columbia Journalism School. The authors are reporters who have been on the ground, covering their own community.

A little before noon on Monday, April 29, Columbia’s campus looked calm. A few protesters were sleeping on the stairs in front of Hamilton Hall. A girl with a keffiyeh sat in front of doors barricaded with black metal tables. Behind her, the windows in the doors were shattered.

Tensions on campus had ebbed and flowed over the 14 days of the Gaza solidarity encampment. After the initial arrests of April 18, the question on everyone’s mind was: Are they going to let the NYPD in again? And if so, when? — Indy Scholtens, masters student at the Columbia Journalism School

At 9:43 am on Tuesday, April 30, an email from the university president informed the Columbia community that Morningside campus access was restricted to students who live on campus and certain essential employees.

Deans and faculty members at the Columbia Journalism School had negotiated for a number of graduate student journalists to remain on campus during the day to cover unfolding events. Many roamed outside the walls of Hamilton Hall — or Hind’s Hall, as it was renamed by the pro-Palestinian student protesters who occupied it. They coined it in memory of Hind Rajab, a six-year-old Palestinian girl who had been killed in the ongoing war in her hometown of Gaza City.

At slightly past noon on Tuesday, Hamilton Hall was calm. A small group of student protesters, some draped in blankets, others wearing keffiyehs, sat by a round table in front of the building. Students sent supplies — like a box of Dunkin’ instant coffee — up to the second floor of the building by placing them into a crate, which was raised and lowered using a thick yellow rope.

The rest of the afternoon passed without much incident, save for a press rally outside Hamilton Hall at 2 PM. A few impassioned student protesters addressed the crowd, which consisted mainly of student journalists (from the Columbia Journalism School, the Columbia Spectator, and WKCR), and external press.

Around half-past six, a heightened police presence appeared around Columbia’s campus. Within campus grounds, student protesters began to brace for an NYPD sweep. Columbia’s Students for Justice in Palestine called for the community to “come to 116th and Amsterdam.” — Angelica Ang, masters student at the Columbia Journalism School

A drone flies above a person wearing a keffiyeh and waving a Palestinian flag at Columbia University on April 30, 2024. | Mukta Joshi

After covering the occupation of Hamilton Hall overnight, I left Pulitzer Hall at 5 PM for a short break. The night had been a long vigil for many. Upon leaving, I noticed a drone and a chopper hovering above the hall and the lawns. Palestine supporters had gathered at the college gates on 116th and Amsterdam. As I made my way home, the neighborhood, usually bustling with the carefree laughter of students, bore a different character. I saw NYPD vehicles, ambulances, and trucks lining the streets until 111th and Amsterdam.

An hour later, my friend Arshi texted me, confirming the imminent presence of NYPD on campus.

I hurried back to Hamilton, only to be met with barricades at 116th and Morningside. It was 6:50 PM, and the streets were barricaded. — Uzma Afreen, masters student at the Columbia Journalism School

By 6:30 pm, from the streets outside, it was clear that the police planned to enter campus. They forced reporters, protesters, and members of the public to cross Broadway as police barriers went up along the west side of campus. A black police vehicle with a ladder on the roof — a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle nicknamed “the bear” — was seen moving north of Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus.

Two white NYPD buses parked a few blocks northwest of campus. The last time the police entered campus, these buses were used to transport arrested students and protesters. On the east side of campus, a crowd of protesters formed on the sidewalk outside Hamilton Hall. Members of the NYPD’s Technical Assistance Response Unit flew drones over the crowd and the occupied building. At around 8 PM, at least three drones with their signature pattern of four green and red flashing lights were visible over the crowd. — Sammy Sussman, 2023 graduate of the Columbia Journalism School with Nada Alanazi, graduate student at the Columbia School of Arts and Sciences

As sunset approached outside Hamilton Hall, a group of student protesters linked arms to form a human chain, protecting additional protesters inside. Protesters renamed the building Hind’s Hall in memory of Hind Rajab, a six-year-old Palestinian girl who was shot to death, along with paramedics dispatched to treat her, on an emergency route the Israeli Defense Forces provided. They asked media to give this death the same attention it gave campus protests.

They held onto each other tightly and sang, “Where you go, I will go, my friend, just like a tree standing by the water, Palestine is watching, we shall not be moved,” and, “While you’re watching, bombs are dropping.” — Fahima Degia, masters student at the Columbia Journalism School

Protesting students lock arms at Columbia University on April 30, 2024. | Mukta Joshi

At 8:19 pm, a campus emergency alert read: “Shelter in place for your safety due to heightened activity on the Morningside campus.” — Indy Scholtens

On the west side, officers with zip ties and helmets began lining up one block south of campus. At least 56 officers were visible by 8:30 PM, with units of 10 to 20 officers periodically crossing the barricade to join the growing crowd.

Around 9:00, an announcement could be heard on many of the officers’ radios: “Start holding the line.” NYPD buses, some with tinted windows, moved through the crowd to make their way toward campus. Protesters booed as the buses passed; reporters filmed the buses and officers before they disappeared behind police barriers. More buses lined up for three blocks further south of the barriers.

From nearby buildings, professors and students joined the crowd outside the barriers. One student asked to take a photo with a physics professor, who responded that it “wasn’t the right time.” — Sammy Sussman with Nada Alanazi

At 9:20 pm, a peaceful atmosphere was disrupted by the clamor of hurried footsteps as people from all parts of campus rushed toward the scene. Some reporters quickly withdrew to the safety of the 114th and Amsterdam gate, while others remained resolute, intent on capturing every detail.

I climbed a nearby pillar for a better view of the unfolding chaos. From this elevated position, I observed the police marching in line toward Hamilton Hall. Despite their orders to “get down,” I hoped to maintain a safe distance to continue recording. But I descended as instructed and rejoined a growing crowd of student journalists and fellow students. The police pushed us back forcefully, ultimately clearing us from the campus grounds as they initiated a raid.

Outside the gates, we found ourselves separated from our belongings and uncertain of the situation unfolding within. Despite emphasizing our status as student journalists to the police, we weren’t allowed back in. Positioned behind iron barricades, we watched as a line of students, hands bound, were escorted onto buses amid chants of “NYPD, KKK, IOF are all the same” from the crowd. — Arshi Qureshi, masters student at the Columbia Journalism School

Police slam a protester again Columbia's gates during an arrest on April 30, 2024. | Mukta Joshi

By 9:30 pm, dozens of NYPD officials had entered via the school’s side gate on 114th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam. They marched along the front facade of the Butler Library, which overlooks the lawns where the first Gaza solidarity encampments were built.

A group of student journalists ran ahead to document the NYPD’s movements as they inched closer to Hamilton Hall.

“You gotta move, don’t stop. Keep going,” ordered the police. — Angelica Ang

Once the police entered, three sources said, they kettled student journalists, legal observers, and medics into the John Jay and Wallach residential buildings near Hamilton Hall. Officers pushed half the people on the scene into John Jay and locked them inside.

In front of Hamilton Hall, the sources said, police pushed a protester against a wall, threw two onto the concrete ground, maced others, and denied medical attention to those who needed it. Police pushed someone who rolled down the stairs. — Fahima Degia

The officers started to disperse around the encampment. Some were already moving toward Hamilton Hall. Officers spread over the camp, their flashlights out, looking for protesters. “Search each and every one of them,” one shouted. I stood on the sundial in the middle of campus, taking pictures.

After the police had cleared the camp, I wanted to charge my phone to keep reporting, but I couldn’t enter Pulitzer Hall. The police stood between me and the deans of the journalism school, until Dean Jelani Cobb spoke to the officers, and we were let through. From the fifth floor of the journalism school, I photographed the police moving toward Hamilton Hall around 9.30 PM. I watched them arrest the protesters in front of the building. Press was pushed out. — Indy Scholtens

Police march arrested protesters at Columbia University on April 30, 2024.
Police march arrested protesters at Columbia University on April 30, 2024. | Mukta Joshi

Not far from where I stood, a group of eight students stood at the entrance to the undergraduate admissions office. The police marched in and pushed their way through into the hall.

Meanwhile, a contingent of NYPD officers undertook a thorough search of the tents dotting the encampment on the west lawn, dismantling the temporary abodes and seizing the belongings of students.

While the arrests were being made, a student, supported by crutches, stood before the cops in front of Hamilton and chanted slogans along with a few peers. — Uzma Afreen

At 114th and Amsterdam, police arrested students in a barricade while members of the press tried to take pictures. A student journalist said an officer hit her with a baton. Another student journalist, Hoda Sherif, 23, was yelled at multiple times by a police officer to get off the sidewalk. As they were getting arrested, protesters yelled, “She is just press, leave her alone, she is not doing anything.” — Fahima Degia

A student on campus texted to say that she was stuck in the lobby of the John Jay dorm. She sent photos of each entrance and exit to the building: At least two officers were visible through the glass windows with their backs to the students, guns visible on their hips. The student said that she was worried what might happen if a fire alarm was pulled.

Ambulances made their way through the crowd and the barriers while a drone flew overhead. Students in the John Jay dorm could be seen yelling, filming the police, and watching the events through the grates of the oversized street-level windows.

Buses carrying zip tied students and protesters turned south on the corner of 116th and Morningside, feet from President’s House, the six-story brick-and-limestone residence of Columbia University President Minouche Shafik. A small crowd of protesters cheered for those inside the bus. — Sammy Sussman

At 10 pm I went outside again. Most arrests seemed to be over. We were stuck on the west side of campus, along with some members of the student radio WKCR. It started to rain.

I went back in, uploaded my pictures, and waited for the rest of the student journalists to return. Some had been pushed out of campus. We were told we’d be arrested if we left the building. — Indy Scholtens

It took a while to get back onto campus after the NYPD stopped making arrests. Students and journalists were barred from entering at Amsterdam and 114th, as well as Broadway and 114th. One block away, some waited in a line of about 20 people to get back onto campus. Police only let in a few people at a time, and escorted them to their dorms by police and campus security. The student press had to explain to officers that they did not live in the dorms and needed to be escorted to Pulitzer Hall. — Fahima Degia

The light rain added a chill to the air, and the chants and the crowd gradually dissipated. I went back to Pulitzer Hall to process my photos and reports. By 10 PM, those of us inside were warned to remain indoors or face the possibility of arrest. During this time, I got a message from Arshi, who had been forcibly removed from campus by the police and was barred from reentry. Around midnight, the restrictions were lifted, allowing us to finally leave the building. — Uzma Afreen

The Columbia University lawn on May 1, 2024, after police cleared the encampment.
The Columbia University lawn on May 1, 2024, after police cleared the encampment. | Mukta Joshi

By 11 pm, police had forced students and protesters further from the southeast corner of campus. At least two students begged officers to be let past the police barrier so they could return to their dorms. Police brought in new barriers to force students, reporters, and protesters onto the sidewalk.

At 11:45 PM, subway and bus service to 116th and Broadway had been halted for five hours. NYPD vehicles were parked along both sides of the street from the subway station down to 110th. A first responder wearing a “DHS Search and Rescue” sweatshirt waited in line at West Side Market on 110th to buy a chocolate bar. — Sammy Sussman with Nada Alanazi

After midnight, along with six other students, I left the journalism school escorted by a professor. Outside, public safety was already clearing up the camp. A public safety officer was ripping a banner down at Hamilton Hall. It said, “Education Liberation.” — Indy Scholtens

Uzma Afreen is a multimedia journalist from India and a student at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Angelica Ang is a multimedia journalist at the Columbia Journalism School, where she currently reports on stories based in New York City.
Fahima Degia is a New York-based reporter who graduates with a Master of Science in Journalism from Columbia University in May.
Mukta Joshi is a lawyer trained in India, a photojournalist, and a fellow at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia Journalism School.
Arshi Qureshi is a broadcast journalist pursuing a Master’s degree in Journalism at Columbia Journalism School. She specializes in politics, human rights, and crime & justice.
Indy Scholtens is a freelance journalist and student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism from the Netherlands. 
Sammy Sussman is a freelance investigative reporter based in New York. He is a 2023 graduate of the Columbia Journalism School’s Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism and is currently a researcher at Columbia’s Li Center for Global Journalism.
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