How a night of college campus protest chaos rocked America

Half a century ago, the clashes between police and anti-war protesters were marred by violence that ignited a wave of campus activism across America.

On Tuesday night, they were stamped out by a calm and coolly efficient brigade of officers clad in riot gear.

It was, said Tarik Sheppard of the NYPD, just “another example of why we’re called New York’s finest”, during a self-congratulatory press conference.

Police raids on other US universities were less peaceful. And while Columbia’s protesters are gone for now, they have vowed to return.

The unrest at Columbia began in mid-April, when students colonised a patch of campus and proclaimed it the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment”.

In an echo of the Vietnam War protesters of 1968, they declared it “a liberated zone”.

The university’s president, Nemat Shafik, testifying before Congress, promised tough action and soon called on police to disband the encampment.

More than 100 were arrested, but what was seen as a heavy-handed response had backfired: hundreds more simply relocated to another patch of lawn.

By Monday, with the university setting out a deadline to end the encampment, an off-shoot of demonstrators had decided to escalate the situation.

The protest split into two that evening: one remaining on Columbia’s West Lawn, and a second moving to Hamilton Hall.

By 12.30am on Tuesday, protesters had smashed a window to gain entry into the hall and rebranded it “Hind Hall”, in memory of Hind Rajab, a six-year-old Palestinian girl killed “at the hands of the genocidal Israeli state”.

Those barricaded into Hamilton Hall were an “autonomous subgroup” of students who felt “betrayed” by Columbia and its reluctance to engage in negotiations, said Mahmoud Khalil, a lead negotiator for the encampment, organised by Columbia University Apartheid Divest, a coalition of student organisations.

This is how the night of chaos unfolded:


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