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Laura Coates Live

NYPD: Columbia University Property Has Now Been Cleared And Dozens Were Arrested. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired April 30, 2024 - 23:00   ET




UNKNOWN (voice-over): This is "CNN Breaking News."

LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: Our breaking news out of New York City, the NYPD says Columbia University property has now been cleared. Hundreds of officers on Columbia's campus tonight after the university asked them to clear out pro-Palestinian protesters who had set up an encampment and taken over a building just last night. Dozens of people who have already been arrested, zip-tied, and loaded onto buses.

Columbia University putting out a statement, reading in part -- quote -- "We believe that the group that broke into and occupied the building is led by individuals who are not affiliated with the university. The decision to reach out to the NYPD was in response to the actions of the protesters, not the cause they are championing. Early Tuesday, protesters chose to escalate to an alarming and untenable situation -- including by vandalizing property, breaking doors and windows, blockading entrances, and forcing our facilities and public safety workers out."

Now, Columbia tonight is asking the NYPD to maintain a presence on campus until at least May 17th.

I want to bring in CNN's Shimon Prokupecz. Shimon, what are you seeing right now? And tell me, how did all of this go down?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, it was so significant and the presence was just so enormous. You know, early in the night, we started seeing the arrival of the search teams from the NYPD, the strategic response teams, and that's when you really knew something was about to go down here.

And it was just stunning to see the amounts of officers that started just descending on the campus, on to the area around the campus. And there were, you know, hundreds of officers that started moving in and then more units started moving in.

And then really the most serious action, some of the most heavily armed, some of the most tactical officers from the NYPD, started arriving here on the Amsterdam side of the campus, outside of Hamilton Hall, to enter the building. It's clear that they had been planning for this since probably early this morning when things took a significant turn after several of the protesters stormed Hamilton Hall, got inside.

The NYPD, you almost feel -- you get a sense that the entire day was spent planning this, just when you look at the enormous response. And so, the emergency services officers responded here.

And then we saw that heavily armed vehicle, it's called a Bearcat. They went up against Hamilton Hall, going inside. Dozens of officers climbing up on the truck and going through the window into Hamilton Hall where they went room by room, clearing the hall, clearing the area, making several arrests, clearing the campus. They actually let some of the people on the campus -- they told them to leave. Some voluntarily left. Dozens of others were arrested.

And just a short time ago, it all just came to an end. Many of those officers who went in with their tools, we saw things that would be used to cut through locks, we saw other things to break through doors, we saw other heavily armed equipment and shields, and all those dozens of those officers streamed out, got in their vehicles, and simply left.

And now, it would appear that the entire campus has been cleared. The hall has been cleared. We have no reports of any injuries, Laura. But, you know, I've covered many protests here in New York City. I have never seen a response like this, a mobilization like this, the way the NYPD came in with such force, with such precision.


And it's clear, you know, in part, this was to send a message, in part to protect themselves. Something very significant happened here. It seems that they probably got some information. They got very concerned. They said that this was now a safety concern, and they had to take this extreme measure and essentially come on campus, use the tactics that they did to get inside Hamilton Hall.

So significant. I mean, this is a university, right? This is Columbia University. Scenes like this, this is something that's going to be part of history, certainly for this city, for this university and, Laura, for the NYPD. I mean, this is so significant, what they did here and how they did it. And luckily right now, as far as we know, there have been no injuries.

COATES: You know, Shimon, just thinking about the presence that we saw, the number of officers, it seemed as though there was at least -- just from looking, you don't see many students. You see an overwhelming presence of law enforcement officials. As you mentioned, the tactical teams that were involved there.

What were you hearing as they went into these buildings, Hamilton Hall specifically? Were you hearing people react? Was there a presence on campus of students reacting to this overwhelming presence? What were you seeing on the ground in terms of seeing that presence from the community?

PROKUPECZ: Yeah, there were some of the students. There's a bridge here just over my left shoulder. Some of the students were gathered up there. There were students behind this. They're actually screaming at the officers, shame, shame, saying -- you know, sort of calling them out for what they were -- for what they were doing. You know, many of the people here don't agree with this.

Look, many of the faculty members, many of the students don't agree with the NYPD, having the NYPD come in on the campus. It was about a week and a half ago when Columbia first did this. And when they did that, when they did -- when they asked the NYPD to come on campus and clear the encampment the first time, it's very significant.

And there was a lot of backlash on the university from the faculty and the students, this escalation. Why are you calling the NYPD in? And for days, we heard from the university, they didn't want to call the NYPD in again. But after what happened this morning, it really left the university with no choice.


PROKUPECZ: And in talking to sources at the NYPD, Laura, look, the NYPD wanted to end this. They were very concerned that this was going to escalate and it was going to get to a point where there was going to be something very serious happening here. And so, they felt the need, they needed to go in tonight, and it was really up to Columbia University. And finally, the university agreed to allow them to come in, to go through those windows here at Hamilton Hall, historic, go through those windows, get inside that building and clear it.

COATES: Shimon, please stay on this. We're relying on you so much. Thank you so much.

I want to bring in CNN's Miguel Marquez. Miguel, you're out with more protesters in the streets. We see a lot of people. And still, from what we're looking at earlier tonight, images of officers on the campus, of the area being cleared out, the sheer presence and volume, as Shimon has articulated, the number of officers that are there. What are you seeing now?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're seeing two more people being arrested. That's what you're looking at right now. Those were people that were not on the Columbia campus, but they were just outside.

Let me show you where we are. We're at 113 in Amsterdam. Ken, if you could come down this way. This way, Ken. This way, Ken. There's still a large number of students and protesters who have gathered here outside the area the police have closed off.

Hamilton Hall is just up the way here, a couple of blocks up Amsterdam Avenue. Police made entry through the second floor of Hamilton Hall. They used flashbangs to distract whoever was in there. The doors were barricaded with tables and chairs and soda machines. There weren't many people in there. And at this point, police say it's done. There's nobody on the Columbia campus that shouldn't be there right now, which are essential workers and students who are living on the campus.

I want to show you the police presence up here at 114th Street. The 114th is where the police went in, in massive numbers, as Shimon was saying. I mean, I've covered stuff like this all over the world. I've never seen this big of a police presence. They've handled it very quickly. I think we thought we'd be here for many more hours. But police now say it's completely done. The only thing left in there, in the encampment, are the tents and their personal possessions.

But you can see the number of police officers who have moved here to 114th Street. The 114th is where the police went into the campus. And then they brought out most of the arrestees down to 114th. There's still one bus down there.


And as police go in and out -- so they're taking these two that were just arrested down to the bus that is down here. The remainder of the arrestees that were in Columbia, these people will now join them on that bus. But you can see the number of police officers that are protecting this area, and then protesters across the street here as well who are shouting at police.

COATES: Miguel, where are you in relation --

MARQUEZ: Yeah, go ahead.

COATES: Where are you in relation to Hamilton Hall? I mean, in terms of where officers were dispersed.

MARQUEZ: I was just explaining. So, Hamilton Hall is just up the street here.

COATES: Okay, got it.

MARQUEZ: One more block up the street here. This is 114th, 115th, 116th. So, two blocks up, basically, is where Hamilton Hall is. Right next to us, if you can see these people hanging out the windows here, that's part of Columbia University. That's John Jay Hall, which is just down from Hamilton Hall.

And people are actually hanging out, just watching what's happening on the street. These are people who live in the dorms here at the university. They're able to sort of just stand out on the windowsills themselves and watch everything going on.

But it -- while it is done on the inside, it's certainly not done on the outside. Just a short time ago here at 113th, protesters are gathering. They're yelling at police and they -- you know, police are still trying to control the situation outside of campus. You can see all the people across Amsterdam Avenue. They have set up an enormous cordon around the university here.

Broadway is shut down, both directions from 113th to 120th. Amsterdam is also shut down. So, both sides, both avenues along both sides of the university are completely shut down. All the side streets, 113th, 114th, 115th, 116th, they're all shut down as well, and then they have barricades. They've been moving barricades. And we knew something was going on because we saw these trucks early and late in the afternoon with tons of barricades coming in.

So, it was very clear that something different was happening than we'd seen in previous days. But right now, police say Columbia University itself is done and there's nobody on the grounds that shouldn't be there. There were no injuries, they said. No reports of resisting arrest. But the area around Columbia, police are still dealing with. Laura?

COATES: I mean, just how significant. I think many people who may or may not be familiar with the New York area, the shut down areas of Broadway and Amsterdam and beyond the surrounding area, this is extremely coordinated and significant and would have taken a great deal of planning. And to have that same level of police presence at this very hour, even after the campus has been cleared, as they say, very significant. Miguel, please stay with us.

I want to bring in CNN reporter Julia Vargas Jones. Julia, you were actually on campus when police first entered the school. We've been watching you throughout the day, and we've seen the ebb and flow of officers and now the maintenance of their presence there. What are you seeing?

JULIA VARGAS JONES, CNN REPORTER: Well, right here (INAUDIBLE) keep moving (INAUDIBLE) allowed back on campus (INAUDIBLE) what campus looks like. I want to move our escort over here. So, I just want to make sure that (INAUDIBLE).

COATES: Julia, we're having problem hearing you quite well. We are watching you, Julia, as you're walking in. You said you have an escort to get you back on campus. You have been allowed. You were moved away from the police buses at this point. But I want to be able to -- can we hear you again? You're walking on to campus. We're having a little trouble hearing you. Talk again to me.

VARGAS JONES: We're (INAUDIBLE) on campus.

COATES: We're going to fix it and come back. Hold on, Julia. It's too important to lose what you're saying. We're going to bring in CNN chief law enforcement intelligence analyst John Miller. We will come back to you as well. I want to know what's happening on the campus now that police have been cleared.

John, you've been watching all of this. And as we heard from Miguel at one point, talked about distraction devices being used in Hamilton Hall tonight. What are those?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: So, a distraction device is one of those things that looks like a can. You throw it, it goes flash, and then bang, which is why they call it a flash bang. And it basically, if somebody is waiting for you on the other side of it that means you harm, it is disorienting just for a few seconds to the person on the other side and allows police to gain control.

So, when they did their entry today not knowing what was going to be waiting for them on the other side, they threw these devices in to disorient anybody who might be waiting for them with ill intent. As it was, Laura, their search of the building turned up relatively few people, but they had to go floor by floor doing that search.


COATES: Do you know how many people you're talking about?

MILLER: No, but, I mean, I spoke to the people who were in the building and they said we haven't run into a whole lot of people since we've been doing the floor by floor.

I think what you saw there, Laura, was they knew a couple of things going in. They knew one for certain, there was going to be no element of surprise. It was in social media, it was on the news, that police had been authorized by, in writing, by the university to retake the building.

And I think the considerations that were built into their plans were to bring an overwhelming number of police officers to be able to show that overwhelming number to whatever number of people they confronted outside and then inside that building, which was unknown, to minimize the use of force that they would have to use.

And as we see, they made a number of arrests, still trying to get that number. The last we heard from police, it was 50 and counting.

COATES: When will we get that number, do you think? I mean, obviously, we believe dozens have been arrested, to your point, but there's not an official count that has been provided yet from the NYPD. I suspect they're going to go through the booking process.

And also, Shimon Prokupecz was saying earlier that they were allowing some people to just leave the area. They don't mean those who were inside Hamilton Hall, right? Those are people around the area. People who were in Hamilton Hall, were they all arrested, it seems?

MILLER: So, again, unknown people inside Hamilton Hall, although we do know that it was a very small number. So, I think what we saw is that once word got out that they were going to retake the building, I mean the people in Hamilton Hall may have left to join the group outside.

That would be a less serious charge. It would likely not include burglary or certain criminal trespassing statutes if they weren't inside. If they were a student, it would be something even less because it's hard to charge a student who is entitled to be on campus with one of those things.

So, that may be what we saw. But what they got was they got the warning, which is, if you don't move away from the front of this building --


MILLER: -- you're going to be arrested. They were given time to comply with that warning.

COATES: Let me go inside the building, John, because -- actually, stay with me --


COATES: -- because we're getting some new footage of what took place when NYPD went inside of Hamilton Hall. They, of course, found that there were barricaded doors with chairs. We heard about soda machines and beyond.

I don't know if you can see the footage right now, John, but we're actually watching officers with shields, with the NYPD emergency unit. They have a hammer and a sledgehammer, trying to break into areas that appear to have libraries inside. Obviously, this is a university campus. This isn't an academic office. They're going up the stairs or passing down chairs. It seems there have been areas of barricading as well.

I mean, what I'm seeing right now is tactical gear, helmets, shields and zip ties. And I'm assuming that they would also have weapons on them because they would not necessarily know the level of resistance or if it was armed resistance that they would be, in fact, encountering.

Tell me about the coordination, though, that it would take to have this many NYPD officers on a college campus. Miguel Marquez says barricading and closing off streets like Broadway and Amsterdam, major thoroughfares, really, in these certain areas, particularly Broadway.

What kind of coordination and planning would it have taken to get to this point, to have the resistance be as minimal as it seemed to have been?

MILLER: Well, I think what you saw is over the last two days, when students took the building then barricaded the building, and then today as they held that building, the NYPD has been talking to Columbia University literally every day for two weeks about the group that was camped out on the quad, on the lawn, about whether Columbia wanted police to come in and remove them a second time.

So, when the building was taken, the security cameras inside were smashed, barricades were put around at all the entrances. Columbia made the decision that this is where the line is drawn and called them in.

For police, this was a plan that they had already been considering. They brought a lot of people, but they also brought a lot of special equipment, as you mentioned. They brought the emergency service unit. Those are the people with the jaws of life if they have to breach a door. Those are the people with the tools to cut through any barricades if they have to. Those are the people who have the flashbangs if they needed a distraction device.

But what you didn't see was a lot of special weapons. In other words, they came armed the way police officers do with their sidearms. But there wasn't any particular large number of SWAT-type weapons because they knew they were dealing with kids, they knew they were dealing with protesters, they knew they were likely to be unarmed. [23:20:07]

But they also knew that the possibility was they might meet some kind of resistance, as they had seen in earlier protests.

COATES: John, we were seeing some footage earlier tonight and also some live footage of people who were on the streets. We are learning that the university has been asking for the NYPD to maintain some level of presence through at least even May 17th. I mean, shortly, it will be May 1st, but that's at least almost a three-week period at that point in time to have additional police presence.

What would that look like in terms of the amount of police that would be present? It can't possibly be the numbers we're talking about here and we're seeing from tonight, but what would that look like?

MILLER: So, that's going to be a judgment call about what that would look like. So, first of all, let's say why, what does it mean? What it means is that a few hundred police officers came up to clear the kids who were both students and non-students, who were camped out on that piece of ground, and then when that operation was over, life resumed, and they came back and they re-camped out.

So, at this point, the college, Columbia University, has made the decision, if we're going to retake that ground for the second time, when we retake it, we have to have a program to hold it because we have graduation coming up in just a couple of weeks and we don't want to have to keep doing this either to that ground or the buildings.

So, the police can do a minimal presence there, which is they can put jersey barriers -- not jersey barriers, they can put the bicycle barriers around that piece of land. They can have some limited access, controlled access or no access as they prepare to set up for graduation.

They can have a small number of officers around it controlling that and a larger number on the outside, or they can go with a larger number on the inside, which I think might just not be the look they're going for. But, at this point, they're still in that planning stage.

COATES: John Miller, so important to get your perspective. And as we're continuing to watch the live footage of officers remaining on the street outside of Columbia University, we're going to take a quick break. We will be back with more from the campus of Columbia University tonight. A student from the campus will be with us in just a moment, plus the political reaction coming in tonight.



COATES: Our breaking news tonight, the NYPD says Columbia University's property has been cleared less than two hours after hundreds of officers entered the school's campus in New York City. Hamilton Hall, which was taken over by protesters last night, has also been cleared, the NYPD says, and nobody was injured during the operation. Police say they are still monitoring different locations for protesters across the city.

I want to bring in CNN reporter Julia Vargas Jones. Julia, you're now on Columbia's campus. What do you see?

VARGAS JONES: Yeah, Laura, so we're back inside campus for the first look. I'm actually inside the journalism school. We're in this room with a bunch of other journalists. People piling, trying to get out, waiting for about almost two hours.

But over here on the other side of these walls, I'm going to try and show you as best as I can the line of NYPD officers. They're still on campus. They're still in line formation. It's unclear where they're hanging.

This behind the bright building, the illuminated building, you see that? That's the Butler (ph) Library. In the west lawn, where everything really began and popped off at Columbia here almost two weeks ago, you see the tents are still up from the original encampment that Columbia had 2 p.m. deadline to be prepared on Monday. Behind it, there's bleachers already set up for graduation. That's coming up in about two weeks, as we've been saying.

But it's eerie, Laura. It is so quiet on campus. There is basically not a soul. It's just NYPD. You can hear a pin drop in this campus right now, as you can imagine. I heard Shimon's description of how precisely the NYPD worked with Columbia to get people out and clear campus. They have done an excellent job at that because it is -- there's not a soul. You can see students up in the residences.

COATES: I see that. I see that behind you. Tell me, you're in the journalism school, I see there were students in that area where you are right now present, what are they talking, what are they saying? What is their reaction to the fact that -- I mean, I'm looking across the campus through your vantage point, seeing the encampment still in place, lined by officers. What are the students saying about what's happening right now? This eerily quiet, where I would expect to see, you know, students walking back and forth, and even in the late night, it's NYPD.

VARGAS JONES: Yeah. I think the one thing I really need to say, Laura, is that the journalism school has really stood up for all of us affiliated with the school, and it brought us back in. I was not expecting to be let in, but the school somehow negotiated that with the NYPD, and we were escorted back in. Everyone is kind of in shock that this is happening at our school.


And then to be here as a student as well -- I mean, I didn't expect this to happen in my school. Obviously, we saw the escalation over the past few days. It had to be something. So, it's still shocking. It is a very jarring to see, to be here. And this has basically been captured a little bit more, so maybe we can help you through a little bit. This has been basically a bunker.

COATES: We're seeing some images, too, Julia, as you're showing us. We're also seeing images from earlier tonight as well as the officers going in and out of Hamilton Hall.

And to the point you were just raising about what the students are thinking, and I want to get right back to you, but I want to bring in Jonas Du, who's editor-in-chief of the "Columbia Sundial" and a junior at Columbia University.

You're on campus right now. I was just talking to my colleague about what she was seeing in the vantage point from even the journalism school, having a little bit of trouble with her audio. But you're on campus right now. What can you see?

JONAS DU, EDITOR IN CHIEF, COLUMBIA SUNDIAL: So, I am on campus property. I am actually in a friend's dormitory building. But this dorm is not actually within the campus gates. And so, what has happened is that all of today, Columbia students, even Columbia students that live in housing, we couldn't access campus if we didn't live in a couple specific dorms that are within the gates.

So, as a journalist, I was out on 114th Street trying to photograph the police, trying to photograph where they were coming in and bringing the protesters out. And so, in preparation for that, what the police did was they pushed basically everyone on the street into the nearest building and made us remain there. I'm not sure if that restriction is still in place. I believe it is, which is why I've just been in this building the whole time.

And, you know, we actually went up to the roof, to one of the upper levels, and we could see sort of on to the street, we could see the buses. They had like five or six police buses, massive police buses coming in. We saw them bring out the protesters.

There were massive protests going on Amsterdam Avenue. They were, you know, jeering at the police who were bringing the protesters out. We saw a couple of protesters try to obstruct the road, sit down, you know, make it hard for the police officers. The police, you know, took care of that. We saw a woman who was, you know, being sort of hung upside down and hauled on to the police bus.

But overall, it was fairly orderly. It was very loud, even from the height that we were at. But it's just a chaotic scene, even from just outside the campus gates.

COATES: Are you -- are you getting a sense, and obviously Columbia University is not a small student population, but are you getting a sense from your peers and your fellow students that those who were arrested recently are students or from outside the institution?

DU: Well, it's really hard to say, but there has to be some level of student involvement. At the end of the day --

COATES: Why do you say that?

DU: Well, even though campus has been -- campus has been locked down to Columbia ID holders. Now, there have been ways of getting in, getting non-affiliates into campus. But for the most part, you need Columbia IDs. You need students to provide you with IDs so that you can get into campus. I think there is evidence that there is sort of outside organizations behind the planning of the occupation, but there certainly are numerous students who were inside Hamilton Hall.

And, you know, last night, as I was reporting on the barricade and on the occupation, I recognized many, many Columbia students in the crowd that was forming the human chains around the entrances to Hamilton Hall. So, this is -- at the end of the day, it's still a student- fueled movement. It wouldn't have gotten to the extent it has gotten without the involvement of the student organizations here.

COATES: That's an important point. I mean, I wonder, are you getting communication from the university? I mean, are you guys getting e- mails? Are you getting phone alerts? How are you being communicated with the university? I'm assuming we in the media, obviously, knew about the request that was being made. It was public. It would be a request made to NYPD. When were you first informed as a student body that it was happening, and what has been the communication since?

DU: It has been virtually radio silence from the university --

COATES: Really?

DU: -- which is actually very shocking. And so, what we have received are -- you know, during the day, you know, they told us there's an illegal occupation of Hamilton Hall, students might face expulsion, all of that.

And then, you know, in the evening, as the NYPD, they were gathering around campus, we got a text message alert and an e-mail saying that there was a shelter-in-place order and that we needed to stay in our dorms and not go out onto campus or not explore the area. No specifics were given, but all of us knew that that was sort of a signal, that the NYPD was going to raid campus.


But, you know, once again, not an explicit sign. And beyond that, we got a message from the dean of Columbia College and the dean of Columbia Engineering tonight. They were saying, you know, we support you, please stay safe. Pretty boilerplate message. But we haven't heard anything from university president, Shafik, let alone any other higher-up administrators. It's very, very surprising, especially given the unprecedented nature of calling the NYPD here for a second time.

COATES: By the way, does that stand in contrast to what has happened in recent weeks? Had you been hearing from the president of the university up until now or other higher-up student officials or campus officials until now or has this been a consistent drumbeat of silence?

DU: So, actually, there were near-daily updates leading up to today, which is why today's lack of communication is shocking to a lot of students. And so, we would get updates. We'd get updates that they said that they weren't going to call the NYPD again because there was a lot of backlash to that among the students and among the faculty.

So, what the administration decided to do was to pursue negotiation with the protesters instead. So, people were under the impression that, you know, there's not going to be another NYPD raid on campus. Now, with the end of negotiations and with, you know, the escalation in the form of the occupation of Hamilton Hall, that all -- that entire calculus has definitely changed on the administration's level.

COATES: It's really important to hear your perspective and get at what students are experiencing right now. Thank you so much.

We've got a lot more from Columbia University, where police have cleared the campus of protesters. We'll hear from university professors next. Back in a moment.



COATES: Our breaking news, a mass police presence remains on the campus of Columbia University at this hour. New York Police say university property, including Hamilton Hall, which was taken over by pro-Palestinian protesters just last night, has now been cleared just about two hours after hundreds of officers entered the New York City campus.

Joining me now, Hagar Chemali, adjunct associate professor at Columbia University. Thank you so much for being here, professor. I mean, we have been watching this throughout the last couple of weeks, but certainly in the last 24 hours and hours since this has happened. Dozens have been arrested, some will be expelled, and the university statement saying tonight that they made the decision to bring in the NYPD back to protect the safety of everyone.

Do you support that decision, to have had NYPD on campus to clear the campus and specifically as well Hamilton Hall?

HAGAR CHEMALI, ADJUNCT ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Well, I do because I think the university had no choice. I'm not sure if I'm in the majority on that opinion among the faculty. If so, it's a silent majority. But the fact is that the university, and we saw them, the administration, were negotiating in good faith with the protesters for at least 10 days. We were being kept up-to-date.

As your previous guest, Jonas, I believe mentioned, we were getting emails on a daily basis and often multiple times a day and detailing the negotiations that they were making progress, that they had hope. So, it looked like it was in good faith, especially after the arrests from 10 days ago, that this was the route the administration was trying to take.

But those talks reached an impasse and the problem now is that they had no choice because the students barricaded themselves in this building. This is an academic building. You've got exams next week. You have -- the students are very loud. You have -- they're right in front of the library where students are trying to study for their exams. And they vandalized. And frankly, what they did was not just against Columbia rules, but was also illegal. And so, they have to restore order on campus, not just for the exams, but also for graduation. You have students who didn't have a graduation because of the pandemic before who have it now. You have students who've never had anyone in their family graduate. And you can't have a small group of protesters mess that up for everybody else.

COATES: Well, as you mentioned, graduation on the 15th of May. And I think they've asked for the police presence to remain until May 17th. As you mentioned, this reading (ph) period that's happening right now, I do wonder, given that there seemed to have been an impasse reached and only broken, it seems, by the occupation of Hamilton Hall, did the university wait too long to act?

CHEMALI: Well, I think that's actually a bigger question if you look at how the university has approached the protesters since October 7th. Because at the very beginning, after the conflict started, the university was weak in its response and didn't really seem to know how to respond to protests and certainly to language that incited violence and antisemitic and hateful language. They were weak on that in general. And in my opinion, I also think this --

COATES: I want to understand. Weak, meaning what? They did not respond at all, they allowed it to happen, or their response was so tepid? What do you mean?

CHEMALI: It's not really so much a question about not allowing protests to happen. Protests are, if anything, encouraged on Columbia's campus. It's one of the great things about Columbia's campus. We have a very deep pride in our academic freedom and our expression and the ability for students to debate and to learn and to explore these things.

But the fact is that after October 7th, a lot of professors didn't want to address what was happening. And the administration also, at the beginning, the communications coming from the administration was slow. We weren't seeing very strong guidance. We weren't seeing much.

And as a result, when you don't have professors of the administration teaching students, guiding them on what violent rhetoric looks like, what antisemitic language looks like, what hateful language looks like, and by the way, also giving them spaces so that they can debate in a way that they learn how to have civil dialogue, that wasn't created.


There was a lot more of just talking at them with webinars and emails and task forces. And the problem is I think a lot of that ended up growing this sentiment among the students that they wanted to speak loudly. They didn't know how to do it.

And by the way, there was a statement by the university today about the influence of outsiders. That is something that has been documented throughout the protests since October 7th. The influence of outsiders and students inviting outsiders tied to certain terrorist organizations, this has been well documented in the press, by the way, to speak to them, that's something Columbia has tried to clamp down.

And so, it has been very difficult and tenuous. So, to answer your question, with the latest round, in my opinion, I thought that they did the right thing, after the last time they did the arrests, in trying to negotiate with the students in good faith, in trying to tell them, we need you to leave, you're breaking the rules, and doing everything they can.

But I do think once they went into the building, into Hamilton Hall, they had to move quickly. That's a standard for any time a police force is invited to break something up. The sooner you do it, the better.

COATES: Hagar Chemali, thank you so much for joining us. It's interesting to have your perspective here as a professor at the university.

Up next, new arrest numbers tonight. We are learning, coming in, more than 100 protesters arrested at Columbia and City College of New York. We'll have more of all that in a moment.



COATES: Breaking news from the campus of Columbia University in New York City, the NYPD says university property has now been cleared, including Hamilton Hall, which was taken over by pro-Palestinian protesters just last night. The university has requested an on-campus police presence through May 17, which could cast a shadow over their May 15 graduation.

I want to bring in CNN's Shimon Prokupecz. Shimon, tell me what you are seeing right now. We're looking at some footage from earlier in the evening of NYPD entering into Hamilton Hall, removing chairs, using some sort of a device to break into or open up a door. It appears to be a hammer of some kind of otherwise academic office. Tell me what you were seeing and what you're hearing tonight.

PROKUPECZ: Yeah, that's the different tools that they brought with them when they knew they were going to go in and start clearing the rooms and searching for people who are inside. Significant, we're just learning, Laura, you know, those 100 arrests, both from Columbia University and City College, which saw some protests tonight. Out here now, things are very calm. Most of the law enforcement presence is gone.

Now, really, you know, we're going to learn more about who some of these people are, and that's going to come tomorrow and the days ahead. It's going to be significant, especially as we learn about the individuals who broke into Hamilton Hall, which really set all of this off. Had those individuals not broken into the building, perhaps we wouldn't even be here right now. Things have changed because of that.

And so, tomorrow, at some point, I assume they'll be in court. They're facing some pretty serious charges, burglary charges. The students that were arrested on campus will likely mostly face trespassing charges, maybe some other charges. But the most significant charges will come from the individuals who broke into Hamilton Hall.

And, really, I think the NYPD is going to make it a focus of theirs, to put out information about these individuals who they say some of them are outside agitators, outside elements that came in and co-opted this protest and broke into that room.

So, there's still a lot more to learn here. But, for now, the big presence of law enforcement, things are calm, things have been cleared, and we'll see what happens tomorrow, certainly the response from faculty and the students in the coming days.

COATES: It'll be important to see if there has been a changing of the sentiment among the campus community following that entry, and for people to realize -- of course, as Shimon mentioned, burglary might seem odd for people. People think about burglary as in the taking of something. You're going into someone's home or a space and removing property. It can also be the breaking and entering during the nighttime hours, is often defined as burglary as opposed to just trespass. I would assume there's a lot of disorderly conduct things coming as well.

I want to bring in Columbia University professor and CNN presidential historian Tim Naftali into the conversation. Tim, good to see you. I mean, this is quite reminiscent for so many people of a series of different protests that have happened more collectively on college campuses, albeit for different reasons, but this NYPD action is actually coming on, I understand, the 56th anniversary of the 1968 action at the same building, Hamilton Hall. What are your thoughts tonight as a professor there and looking at it through the lens as a historian?

TIMOTHY NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, this is the seventh time that Hamilton Hall has been occupied or barricaded by demonstrators, including 1968. And in fact, in 1968, that's what you're referring to, the hall was occupied by students, cleared by police, and then occupied by students again two weeks later.

So, for Columbia graduates and Columbia students, Hamilton Hall is sort of the center point. If you wish to make a statement dramatically, you do it in and around Hamilton Hall.

In 1968, the first time it was occupied, Hamilton Hall was the scene of a dramatic police action that resulted in the arrest of 700 people.


So, we're talking about tonight about 100 people, and that includes, I think, City College. So, I'm not sure how many Columbia University students have been arrested today.

But in 1960, on the same day, April 30th, after occupying Hamilton Hall and four other buildings, the demonstrators were removed by the NYPD, and as I said, 700 people were arrested. And that created an emotional shock for Columbia. It resulted in an investigation at Columbia, and though I didn't go to school in Columbia and I've only been there a short period of time --

COATES: Uh-hmm.

NAFTALI: -- what I know about the school is that it created scars. And the question I have, and I don't say this as someone who doubts that those students had to be removed --

COATES: Uh-hmm.

NAFTALI: -- from Hamilton Hall, but what I worry about throughout our country right now is the lesson that students are going to learn from this. We have seen on the left as well as the right in our country an adoption of absolutism. If you are not -- if you don't agree with me, you are complicit in the evil that I don't agree with.

COATES: Hmm. Interesting.

NAFTALI: We've seen it on the right. We talk about it all the time on the right. But it's also on the left. And I say this from having walked on the campus this week and listened to the chants of those young people.

And I say this with a heavy heart because as an educator, my job is to open the world to my students, not close it. My job is to allow them to feel secure in trying new ideas. And what I'm hearing from some students is a closing of their mind, an unwillingness to understand a different point of view, a sense that if you disagree with me, you are complicit in genocide.

COATES: Well, this is a conversation that will continue and is continuing across the country --


COATES: -- as other educators are grappling with a way to educate and inform and listen simultaneously, a very daunting task nonetheless. Professor, thank you for joining us.

We have more on our breaking news out of Columbia in just a moment, including new reporting that the wife of an indicted terrorist was on the campus of Columbia University. Details, next.