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NYPD Raids CUNY’s City College, Violently Arrests Students, Then Hoists American Flag

Hundreds of officers burst through the City College gates, clearing out a Gaza solidarity encampment.

(Hell Gate)

On late Tuesday night, just a few hours after the NYPD broke up a student-led Gaza solidarity encampment and building occupation at Columbia University, the NYPD stormed the campus of CUNY's City College a mile uptown at the request of CCNY's president, ending a student encampment on the main quad that began last Thursday. This near-midnight raid came after a brief initial raid of the quad at around 7:30 p.m. during which cops made scattered arrests, shortly after student protesters attempted to occupy a campus building, and after NYPD officers arrested dozens of protesters who had massed outside of City College. In the hours leading up to the final raid, the NYPD put the entire campus on lockdown, barricading off nearby city streets in Hamilton Heights and barring supporters of the encampment, including CCNY students, from entering campus. During the arrests Tuesday night, cops slammed protesters into cars, pulled them to the ground, knelt on top of them, and targeted protesters seemingly at random for arrest who had linked arms or were standing on the sidewalk in front of campus. 

On Tuesday afternoon, CCNY and CUNY leadership had given protesters a Wednesday morning deadline to take down the encampment, citing the resumption of classes on Wednesday after the Passover break, and the use of flare guns by protesters that according to CUNY on Sunday "required FDNY's support to extinguish," and "a troubling statement" on Friday by the encampment organizers that "it was not safe for even the president of the college to enter the encampment area." On Tuesday evening at 10:20 p.m, City College President Vince Boudreau announced in an email that all classes at City College on Wednesday would be virtual, and that the college would be taking steps to clear the encampment—which Boudreau, like the mayor earlier in the day, hinted was the work of outside agitators.

"This is not primarily a CCNY demonstration, and perhaps not primarily a CUNY demonstration," Boudreau wrote to students, reiterating the school's commitment to "free speech, academic freedom, or the right to peacefully protest that comply with CCNY and CUNY regulations." 

Before sending in the riot police, Boudreau wrote that he knew the student community joined him "in the fervent hope that this encampment can be brought to a peaceful conclusion."

Many students who had gathered outside the gates and had taken part in the encampment, who spoke to Hell Gate on Tuesday evening, expressed disbelief at the idea that this protest wasn't being driven by CUNY students, as they had observed that the vast majority of the demonstrators on campus were CUNY-affiliated, either CIty College students, alumni, or students of other CUNY schools. 

Arrested protesters. (Hell Gate)

"I don't think the administration is being honest about this not being a CUNY protest, because people I've met all have some CUNY connection—it's a working-class college," said Billy, a student protester who attends City College, who asked we only use their first name. 

The NYPD has said that over 200 protesters were arrested on Tuesday night between both Columbia and CCNY, but has not yet announced their charges. 

Since its establishment on Thursday, the encampment, like many others across the country, was overwhelmingly peaceful, based on the observations of this reporter. On Sunday morning, a calm, sun-drenched spring atmosphere pervaded—students led yoga classes on the quad, as others engaged in teach-ins about CUNY's ties to the conflict in Gaza. Students prayed and studied, and law students from CUNY Law School spoke with protesters about their rights. 

Even though CUNY is a public institution, instances when the NYPD can enter the campus has been a point of contention for decades, going all the way back to the Black and Puerto Rican liberation protests of the 1960s. A 1992 memorandum designates only a few officials at CUNY as being able to sign off on a campus raid. CCNY President Boudreau gave the go-ahead to the NYPD to enter campus, in part, as he explained in a letter to the NYPD posted online by NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Operations Kaz Daughtry, because protesters had refused to take down a Palestinian flag they'd affixed to the campus flagpole. 

The NYPD's Strategic Response Group, wearing helmets, face shields, and wielding batons and flex cuffs began arresting supporters of the encampment who had gathered outside of the locked City College gates shortly after 10 p.m., including many who had linked arms on the sidewalk in an effort to stop them from re-entering campus. The NYPD charged at protesters, throwing a few to the ground, slamming others against cars while putting on flex cuffs and carried them off to waiting MTA buses, all while students chanted for a "free Palestine."

After the arrests on the sidewalk outside of campus, a scattered few supporters and CUNY students remained on Amsterdam Avenue, as the NYPD geared up to raid campus. 

"We don't want the NYPD on our campus, we don't want guns on our campus. It's a place of learning and we were just standing with our arms linked on a sidewalk, because we don't want them here," said M., a City College student who wanted to be identified by only their first initial, because of possible retaliation by the university. 

Many protesters were following the events at Columbia, and were prepared for the NYPD to use extreme force at CCNY. Still, they felt like the NYPD had gone back on the word of the college president, raiding campus well before the Wednesday morning deadline. 

"It's cops that escalated things, like they always do, and they just had a hard-on after Columbia," said LuLa, a City College student. 

Stuck inside campus, student protesters from the encampment lit flares at the nearby entry gate, and chanted alongside supporters who had gathered outside of the gates on Amsterdam Avenue. 

After the NYPD had arrested students at the gates, and cleared the sidewalk, hundreds of NYPD officers began massing on Amsterdam Avenue, preparing to enter City College to break up the encampment and arrest the remaining protesters. Officers joked with one another, and lined up in tight formation, as the area had now been cleared of everyone besides police and some remaining media. Rows of helmets began lining up as it began raining, and this reporter overheard one lieutenant telling another, "No more warnings, we don't need to give them any warnings." Cops handed out more flex cuffs to other officers who requested them. 

NYPD leadership, including the agency's Chief of Department, Jeffrey Maddrey, surveyed the scene, as the avenue became quiet enough to hear the dull roar of chanting from down the block and from within campus, where students were spending their final minutes in the encampment. 

Then the gates swung open, and NYPD officers stormed into the campus, as other officers pushed the remaining media far away from campus and the arrests. A few minutes later, dozens of arrested students and other protesters began being led out of campus in flex cuffs, to waiting MTA and Corrections buses. The encampment, whose demands included the divestment of CUNY's endowment from companies profiting off of Israel's war on Gaza, was no more. 

A few minutes after that, in the center of campus now devoid of students and filled instead with hundreds of police officers, the NYPD's Daughtry raised the American flag, to the cheers of police in riot gear

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