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A pro-Palestinian protest at Columbia University is broken up by NYPD officers

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The latest flashpoint on U.S. college campuses over the Israel-Hamas war erupted yesterday at Columbia University.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) It is right to rebel.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) It is right to rebel.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Columbia, go to hell.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Columbia, go to hell.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

New York City police officers were allowed on campus, where they arrested more than 100 people for setting up a protest encampment against the Gaza war on the campus lawn. The protesters are demanding that the university divest from companies that support Israel.

FADEL: Gwynne Hogan is a reporter with the local news website The City. She covered yesterday's demonstration, and she joins us now. Hi, Gwynne.

GWYNNE HOGAN: Hey there.

FADEL: So these scenes at a college campus - I mean, they're quite unusual, city police being allowed on a university campus to break up a protest. What happened?

HOGAN: Students set up camp early Wednesday morning. And by the second day of their demonstration, Columbia University President Minouche Shafik called in the NYPD, saying the encampment presented a clear and present danger to the substantial functioning of the university. Anyone participating would be suspended from school. And that's when dozens of police officers entered the gated campus in riot gear, arresting students one by one for trespassing. All told, 108 people were arrested by late last night.

FADEL: What did the university say about why it took this step to bring in police?

HOGAN: President Shafik said students got multiple warnings to disperse and were in violation of campus protocol that require advance notice of demonstrations, among other rules. It should be said - there's no indication there was any type of physical violence or altercation leading up to this crackdown. New York City Mayor Eric Adams was asked why the police got involved, and he acknowledged while this was a peaceful demonstration, it was happening on private property, hence the trespassing arrests.

FADEL: So what did you hear from students after this encampment was broken up?

HOGAN: As the first crop of protesters were arrested, hundreds more were looking on. They were chanting and marching around the perimeter of the green. I spoke to some who said they were disgusted by the university's choice to call in police for a nonviolent demonstration. And pretty soon, they'd taken over a second section of the lawn, vowing to keep the occupation going. Here's Layla Saliba, a social work grad student, speaking at a press conference after the arrests.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LAYLA SALIBA: Today was a dark day for freedom of speech on Columbia's campus, because Columbia is showing that if you say something or do something that the university does not agree with - that they are willing to use violence towards you.

FADEL: Now, this is one protest on one campus. But, Gwynne, we're seeing protests upend college campuses across the country since the war in Gaza began over six months ago, right?

HOGAN: That's right. This ongoing war in Gaza has been roiling college campuses for months. Muslim students and Jewish students have said that they feel targeted at Columbia when I was talking to them yesterday. And universities all across the country are struggling to strike a balance where students are safe and where free speech is protected. In fact, the arrests came just one day after Columbia's president was grilled in Congress over antisemitism on campus.

FADEL: Very quickly, how do they strike that balance? I mean, I've seen a lot of concern over what happened at Columbia yesterday from free speech advocates worried that this is suppression.

HOGAN: Organizers I talked to know that Columbia University sets a tone for so many other institutions, both what leadership does and what students do. And they are looking back at historic protests. During the Vietnam War, for example, there was a dayslong occupation in 1968. The university called in police, who arrested more than 700 students. And then in the 1980s, student protesters called for the university to divest from South Africa during apartheid. So now they're vowing to keep demonstrating despite the threats of arrest and suspension.

FADEL: Gwynne Hogan is a reporter for the local New York City news website The City. Gwynne, thank you.

HOGAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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