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Over 100 Arrested at Columbia After Univ. President Orders NYPD to Clear Pro-Palestine Student Protest

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Columbia University President Nemat “Minouche” Shafik on Thursday called on New York police to forcibly clear a student occupation on the lawn of the school, which had been dubbed the Gaza Solidarity Encampment, resulting in over 100 arrests. The protesters were demanding the Ivy League school divest from firms and institutions that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestine, but Shafik ordered the raid a day after being questioned on Capitol Hill about ongoing pro-Palestinian protests on campus. The move caused outrage among students and many faculty, who decried it as censorship and a violation of academic freedom. The renowned professor and presidential candidate Cornel West, chair of the Columbia-affiliated Union Theological Seminary, joined students Thursday in solidarity with their protest and told Democracy Now! they “represent the best … of the human spirit,” and lauded them for “fighting in the face of domination and occupation and subjugation, and doing it with tremendous determination.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org.

Here in New York, riot police moved in on a peaceful student protest encampment, arresting at least 108 people at Columbia. Columbia University President Minouche Shafik called the NYPD to clear the Gaza Solidarity Encampment on the campus’s South Lawn, where Columbia and Barnard students had set up one day earlier to demand university leadership divest from Israel. New York Police Chief John Chell said Shafik identified the demonstration as a “clear and present danger,” but that officers found the students to peaceful and cooperative. Shafik warned all students participating in the encampment would be suspended. At least three suspensions of Barnard students were confirmed Thursday before the arrests, including Isra Hirsi, the daughter of Congressmember Ilhan Omar.

Thursday’s showdown with the NYPD was the largest arrest on the Columbia campus since 1968, when police arrested over 700 students protesting the school’s ties to the Vietnam War and its plans to expand in Harlem by building a gymnasium there.

Following the arrests yesterday, students gathered on the campus throughout the night as large protests continued and are ongoing. Students got support from many Columbia faculty online and a visit in person from Union Theological Seminary professor Cornel West, just nearby, who is also a 2024 presidential candidate. Democracy Now! spoke to professor West after he climbed a fence to visit with the encamped protesters.

CORNEL WEST: Well, you know, in light of our stand in deep solidarity with our precious Palestinian brothers and sisters who are undergoing vicious genocide, wrestling with apartheid conditions for so long and still being ethnically cleansed, we want the world to know that their suffering does not have the last word. There is resilience, and there’s a willingness to fight.

And Columbia president ought to be shame on herself that she cannot zero in on an actual genocide taking place before our very eyes, and be concerned about a potential and possible call for genocide of Jews. Nobody here is calling for the genocide of Jews. Nobody is here calling for annihilation. We’re calling for the end of an actual genocide and the end of an actual annihilation.

How sad that Columbia University could teach so many courses on the canonical texts of Western civilization and can’t listen to Diderot or Karl Marx. They can’t listen to a Martin Luther King Jr. They can’t listen to a Muriel Rukeyser. Most importantly, they can’t listen to the cries of our precious Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

So, I’m in deep solidarity with these students. They represent the best, not just of Columbia, not just of the American empire, but the human spirit, fighting in the face of domination and occupation and subjugation, and doing it with tremendous determination.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s presidential candidate and Union Theological Seminary professor Cornel West speaking to Democracy Now! at Columbia University in the midst of the protest. Special thanks to Hana Elias. President Shafik called in the New York police a day after she testified in the U.S. Congress.

When we come back, we go to Cairo to speak with a Palestinian photographer who just left Gaza with his family. Stay with us.

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