Columbia won’t call on NYPD to clear pro-Gaza protesters’ tent city again

NEW YORK — Columbia University administrators on Saturday vowed not to bring the New York City Police Department in to clear out a pro-Gaza tent city on the school’s property, claiming that police intervention would only inflame an already tense situation.

“We called on the NYPD to clear an encampment once, but we all share the view, based on discussions within our community and with outside experts, that to bring back the NYPD at this time would be counterproductive, further inflaming what is happening on campus, and drawing thousands to our doorstep who would threaten our community,” the school said in a statement.

The decision comes as school administrators and demonstrators continue negotiations to clear the school’s main lawn of protesters. During the weeklong talks, students have demanded Columbia take the threat of physical action against them off the table, insiders with knowledge of the discussions said.

On April 18, university officials reached out to the NYPD, who arrested more than 100 protesters on campus. Since then, police have maintained a presence outside the school gates.

Columbia’s campus is on private property. The NYPD can only go in if the school asks them to.

While they won’t be opening its doors to cops in riot gear, Columbia said they will hold protesters who spew antisemitic hatred accountable for their deeds and words.

“Chants, signs, taunts, and social media posts from our own students that mock and threaten to ‘kill’ Jewish people are totally unacceptable, and Columbia students who are involved in such incidents will be held accountable,” Columbia said, noting that student Khymani James was banned from the school Friday.

James, one of the leaders of the encampment, in a newly surfaced clip from a January Instagram Live video said “Zionists don’ t deserve to live” and “Be grateful that I’m not just going out and murdering Zionists.”

James apologized for his remarks on Friday in a statement released through Columbia University Apartheid Divest, a coalition of more than 100 student groups that organized the encampment.

“What I said was wrong,” James said. “Every member of our community deserves to feel safe without qualification.”

The student coalition said James’ words did not reflect their values but would not say if he is still part of the demonstration.

A Columbia spokesman called the video “extremely alarming and upsetting,” though he would not comment on individual cases.

“Calls of violence and statements targeted at individuals based on their religious, ethnic or national identity are unacceptable and violate university policy,” spokesman Ben Chang said Friday. “When there are violations of student conduct policies, they are reviewed and disciplinary measures are applied.”

Columbia’s tent city initially sprang up two weeks ago while President Minouche Shafik was in Washington, D.C., testifying before Congress on antisemitism.

After cops cleared the lawn, the protesters quickly returned and set up a second encampment.

The NYPD has repeatedly said that they are willing to go back in if asked, but wants the university to have a more comprehensive plan in place if they go in a second time.

Meanwhile, NYPD brass on Saturday doubled down on their belief that “outside agitators” have influenced Columbia’s protesters after student organizers blasted the notion.

Speaking to the Associated Press, Columbia protesters said they underwent “hours of planning sessions” before their headline-grabbing demonstrations began, where they discussed everything from their demands to bathroom access and trash removal to the tents, which organizers admit they purchased “after scouring online retailers and Craigslist for the most affordable options.”

Last week, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Operations Kaz Daughtry and Mayor Eric Adams raised the possibility that someone outside the university was funding the protest because the tents protesters used looked alike.

“[The outside agitators] are trying to hijack a peaceful protest and turn it into something far more sinister,” Daughtry said on X.

“To imply this is AstroTurfed or paid off, when it has actually been students laying the groundwork for this from the very beginning, is ridiculous,” protester Layla Saliba told the AP, adding that the tents were ordered in bulk by the organizers, not by anyone else.

Mayor Adams spokesman Fabian Levy responded to the AP report on X, claiming that Columbia’s president and a progressive city councilmember “who doesn’t agree” with the mayor both wondered last week if outside agitators had infiltrated the protest.