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Laura Coates Live

Police Clear Building at Columbia And Arrest Dozens of Protesters. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired May 01, 2024 - 00:00   ET




ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR: Our breaking news tonight and eerie calm at Columbia University tonight. The NYPD says university property is clear just about now three hours after hundreds of officers entered the campus at the university's request.

This new video of police clearing Hamilton Hall which is taken over by pro-Palestinian protesters just last night, the doors had been barricaded with chairs and tables and vending machines. flashbangs were used to breach the building according to the police, and police say miraculously that nobody was injured during the operation.

CNN on the scene tonight reporting dozens of people have been arrested and also loaded onto buses. And we're learning tonight that the wife of an indicted terrorist was on the campus last week. It was pointed to a post on X by Sami Al-Arian, a former University of South Florida professor who pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiring to provide services to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in 2006.

He posted on X last week showing a photo of his wife on the campus of Columbia University saying quote my wife Nala in solidarity with the brave and very determined Columbia University students.

I want to bring in CNN's Miguel Marquez and also Julia Jones. Miguel, you're out with more law enforcement officers in the streets. What are you seeing tonight?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, police and the university are going to be looking to see how many of those arrested tonight. We're actually students here when there were arrest two weeks ago, and 108 were arrested. A large percentage of those were not students here at Columbia.

I want to show you what's happening here. This is Amsterdam Avenue. Still a large number of police here although the protesters for the most part, have gone home. It's gotten very, very quiet out here.

Up the street on Columbia or on Amsterdam, you can see that bus up there, that bus is one more down 114th Street, but these buses are waiting for anybody else that is arrested. There were a couple of people that were protesters outside the university that were arrested.

That's Hamilton Hall just up the way here. This is John J. Hall and Hamilton is all the way up at 116th Street and Amsterdam Avenue.

It looks to me like police have finally opened up. We'd see now a lot of people just walking down Amsterdam Avenue that had been blocked off for most of the evening. Now people are able to get down Amsterdam Avenue and walk past Hamilton Hall. That's where police made entry of all of this abroad, off of this road off of this avenue, Amsterdam, into the second floor of Hamilton Hall using flashbang grenades. The doors had been barred with tables and chairs and soda machines and anything they could.

And the police now say that it is completely done. It is amazing how heavily they came in. It was very clear this was happening this late this afternoon. Just from the number of barricades that were going up and how they were shutting down Broadway and Amsterdam avenues. Police say that there is nobody on the campus now that shouldn't be there. So students who live in the dorms there can be on campus, essential workers. We've seen them coming and going, they are also on campus.


But there they want to keep up police presence now on Columbia through the commencement. Commencement of the 15th. The university has asked NYPD to stay on campus to at least the 17th of May to make sure that what happened last time, which is that they cleared the encampment, and then it immediately reconstituted itself the next the next day.

And then we had the backlash across the country. They don't want to see that reconstitution of any sort of encampment or anything else on Columbia through the rest of this semester. Laura.

COATES: A really important point. Now the question will be what will the police presence look like in that current iteration? Thank you so much, Miguel, for all your reporting.

Julia, I want to bring in you here. You were on campus when the NYPD moved in to clear Hamilton Hall. What did you say?

JULIA JONES, CNN REPORTER: Yes, Laura. So basically, we saw police come in, right, walking, they came through and the front of the library building that that Butler library and moved straight into Hamilton Hall, where we have seen that healing chain moved by protesters there.

I think you have a sense now, right? This is the middle of campus. It is pretty late at night, but it's so quiet. You can hear a pin drop here at this point. The NYPD did definitely jump, the big thing was to clear, insecure camper, trying to walk us to learn at home Olson hall. We have to see what that looks like right now. I'm not sure if we're allowed in.

Some students are slowly being allowed back in, like I said to you earlier, are allowed to go back to the focus to school of journalism. Escorted by NYPD back onto campus. The only way to get back on campus at this point, but it is really calm and feel like obviously a lot happened here tonight.

There's been a lot of action and there's, you know, this site of NYPD officers on campus. It's something that the Columbia community have to get used to actually. I think they're starting to dismantle the tag (INAUDIBLE) started before about two weeks ago. I don't know if you can see it. But I'm noticing some opening those bright yellow ridge of the fence on the west lawn. Quite symbolic you know where we are right now.

COATES: Absolutely. Thank you for bringing us this reporting. It does seem that they are milling around that encampment area. I see also stands there have been set up in anticipation for that May 15 graduation.

I want to bring in senior political correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Molly Ball, also former senior congressional GOP advisor Rina Shah. Thank you both for being here.

I mean, we're -- we've been watching this live as it's been coming out, of course, and we are seeing that we've got some people have been using all the rhetoric and discussions. This has been all over the airwaves from Speaker Johnson visit recently to President -- former President Trump talking about this and beyond.

Begin with you, Molly, on this. What are you making of the political reaction that is has already happened and what was likely to be to come?

MOLLY BALL, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, look, this is -- these protests have deeply divided the Democratic Party. I think it's fair to say that the party is on fire over this. We've had some progressive Democrats appearing with the protesters show wanting to show solidarity with them, other predominantly Jewish Democrats, decrying the protests pointing to the antisemitism that we have seen all over these protests all over the country.

And I think the President's silence is becoming conspicuous. You know, it is his policies that are ostensibly being protested here. And he said very little, and again, this is at a time when he's being criticized by the opposition when some are even comparing this to Charlottesville, which was the reason why he supposedly first ran for president another protest in which a president at the time, you know, equivocated about which side he was on.

So, I think the politics of this are going to continue to reverberate even if it is the case that the protesters are cleared permanently from campus.

COATES: You know, our own Jeff Zeleny has some reporting as well. Apparently more than 250 former Obama-Biden staffers are blasting the White House over Gaza and the letter. I have the letter was dated today and they are imploring the administration to speak up and say more and call for an immediate ceasefire. [00:10:00]

I was reading a one portion of it. And it says President Biden, you not uncommitted voters or third party candidates are risking a Trump presidency and our democracy by defending the war crimes and agenda of a foreign far right government. You are ignoring the growing majority of Democratic voters who recognize Israel's war in Gaza as a genocide and demanded immediate and permanent ceasefire. You are abandoning your duty to represent us, the majority, and you are responsible for the consequences of your own actions and inactions.

That's just page. That's paragraph two of an otherwise lengthy letter.

So clearly, from these tunity staffers are very upset. Is this if you were to extrapolate to the larger audience, though, is that in line?

RINA SHAH, FORMER SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL GOP ADVISER: And we are months away from October 7, and of course the horrific actions that happened over there on that day, and I think so much has been lost in this time. And number one, I mean, we can fully expect for Trump and congressional Republican leaders to come out and message soon if they haven't already attempted to.

COATES: In fact Trump (INAUDIBLE) and we respond to other side claims, because Trump actually did. He's on Fox News earlier tonight, perhaps your impressions about what you're getting ready to say. Listen to what he had to say.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have to stop the antisemitism that's just pervading our country right now. And Biden has to do something. Biden is supposed to be the voice of our country, and it's certainly not much of a voice. It's a voice that nobody's heard.


SHAH: Yes, I mean, there it is the painting of this as Biden's America a weak America, not just on the global stage, but a weakness here on the home front, where you're seeing the tensions, really, with tonight's intense rage at Columbia.

And I must add, I'm breathing a sigh of relief like many are that this did not result in any loss of life. Because anytime there's something at a university campus, we can expect that there's a certain recklessness, people who are willing to sort of risk it all.

But I think what's been lost really is at the core of what these students are protesting coast to coast. This isn't just happening at Ivy's, why are people organizing? It's not because they're pro Hamas, or they're antisemitic, and they're, of course, those people. But they are very few. I mean, there's bad actors in every movement, right.

But these people are largely anti-war and anti-Netanyahu. So what they feel is our taxpayer dollars are going to do this hypocrisy, to give this unfettered support to Netanyahu say, take our weapons, take our money, do what you want. And Netanyahu is brazen, he just knows he'll get a slap on the wrist from Biden, on one hand.

And here on the other hand, we're giving billions of dollars in humanitarian aid in Gaza, which is only trickling in for various reasons, as we know. So it's all very complicated. And looking at the politics of the moment, I am just saddened that this is where our country is right now. In an election year, we're so much is on the line for all of us our freedoms, whether you are man, woman, black, white, brown, whatever you identify as, there are a lot of things that have complicated themselves this year, because our leaders have failed us in many ways.

So on the one hand, I'm happy to see the students putting democracy in action, because it's far better than apathy. But this painting with a broad brush that Speaker Johnson and congressional Republicans did last week, it saddened me, it was a missed opportunity.

They could speak to the future of America. And instead, they were admonishing them saying that they were all part of hate filled speech. Well, it's just simply not true.

COATES: We bring you in here, Molly, because the White House would say no, the President has condemned he spoke about the word he used about the taking over Hamilton Hall was that it was wrong. Now, obviously, there is far stronger rhetoric to use. And that's part of the reason that he's been criticized about whether he has gotten far enough.

There has been reporting about a back and forth between himself and Netanyahu, where Secretary Blinken has described some tension and of course, Karine Jean-Pierre as well as press secretary.

But what does it take in terms of the political course correction if you're Biden? I mean, this is a presidential election you're through. But even if it were not, the fact that there are comparisons being made to the Charlottesville at all, their voices and good people on both sides, what would it take for the Biden administration course correct?

BALL: I don't think there is a safe place for the president politically on this issue, given that so much of his base is demanding something that he can't give them, right.

COATES: Which is what?

BALL: It is not what it is not within the U.S. power to impose a ceasefire on a war that we are not fighting, and our leverage over Israel is limited. Right now, Secretary Blinken is in the Middle East trying to negotiate a ceasefire that the leaders of Hamas have repeatedly rejected.

And so when neither party in the Middle East really wants a ceasefire, it's not really within the US power to impose and that I think has been a problem for these protesters from the beginning number one, that they're trying to put pressure on an institution whose connection to these events overseas is varied tenuous, right. These demands for divestment when they don't even know what the investments are in the first place, when it's not clear that that would have any effect on the conflict overseas.


And so obviously, you know, progressives, liberals, Democrats are very deeply divided on this conflict. And I think that's part of the reason that we haven't seen the President really definitively take aside and exert leadership.

And I think that is part -- and I think, frankly, I think these protesters have lost the country. I don't think that the American people are broadly on their side. And I think that they are continuing to marginalize themselves. When we see scenes like these tonight, even if it is the case that most Americans do support, peaceful protest and do support the right to free speech.

COATES: Losing the country on the moment of the occupation of Hamilton Hall, perhaps is as a stand that line in the sand for some, but let me ask you, we all know recently on Capitol Hill, and then obviously, President Biden is the President of the United States.

But Congress was the one to the power of the purse to appropriate funding for not only the Indo-Pacific region and Ukraine, but also Israel. Why do you think it's not Congress, which is led by I know, it's not even a razor thin majority at this point, it's like a majority where the Republicans. Why is Congress not getting the brunt of the wrath in terms of the policies if they're also giving funding?

BALL: Well, we did see a few dozen Democrats, mostly on the far left vote against the funding for Israel when they were broken up peaceville. And as well as some Republicans on the far right. And yet it was a robust, broad bipartisan vote. And I think that reflects the fact that in polls, the vast majority of Americans support Israel in this conflict.

Now, support for Israel's conduct in the war is a different story. Support for foreign aid is a different story.

COATES: For Netanyahu perhaps still a different story.

BALL: Right. And so I think it is possible to see a lot of subtleties in public opinion on this issue. But it is still the case that Israel has broad bipartisan support in Congress.

COATES: Really quick Rina, as we're watching the live footage from outside of Hamilton Hall, a very different place, the door is now open, no longer barricade the property has been cleared. And we know that dozens have been arrested, although we do not know the exact numbers.

And of course, unlike the scenes we saw yesterday of a lone state public safety official who was being pushed back as he tried to move back the crowd of people who's coming inside. You see a police presence right now. Look right when you look at this, this now under control. Is this also true this will reflect well on Biden? SHAH: It's hard to tell, you know what this is going to do for Biden, really, in the moment, it's so easy to pin this all on one person instead of on Congress writ large, which I think should be included. I think it's an important thing to draw these distinctions that you just mentioned.

But in essence, you know, I think there's just so much tension and frustration with the status quo being what it's been, this unfettered support we give for Israel, and not everybody subscribes to it the way Nikki Haley paints it out to be that we -- there are only ally in the region, and we have no choice but to give them that support.

The students are engaging and have been engaging in what I think is an important critical thinking exercise. But it's gone too far. I've always been a big fan of assembly and nonviolent demonstration, but I also have one for law and order, which is what the vast majority of Americans are for.

So I think tonight's response was appropriate. I'm somebody that's been invited speaker to Colombia three times over the years and greatly enjoyed that university community, and my heart really hurts for them today, because this is a forward thinking community of what I would consider normal and tolerant people largely.

COATES: Well, we'll see what happens in the courtrooms in Manhattan tomorrow, although the former president will not be sitting. Remember, these students will in fact be called and arraigned possibly on charges.

When we come back, I'll talk to a Columbia University student about how the school's administration has handled this entire ordeal. Plus, our law enforcement analyst John Miller on how the NYPD went about clearing the protesters.



COATES: Our breaking news, more than 100 protesters arrested tonight at Columbia University and City College of New York that's after New York police enter the Columbia campus clearing out pro-Palestinian protesters who had barricaded themselves inside Hamilton Hall. The doors had been barricaded with chairs and tables and vending machines. Flashbangs were used to breach the building, according to police.

The NYPD says that nobody was injured during the operation. CNN on the scene tonight reporting dozens of people have been arrested and have been loaded onto buses.

I want to bring in Columbia student John Towfighi. John, thank you so much for joining us this evening. We are hearing and following about what's going on. There have been more than 100 students or so 100 arrests and other students are not but 100 arrests tonight. I'm wondering has the president of Columbia communicated with you all yet?

JOHN TOWFIGHI, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY STUDENT: Laura, thank you for having me on. And I'd like to say that the communication from the President has been quite lackluster to the point where students have not received a direct email from the president addressing the student body as to the decision what happened tonight.

Of course, the university spokesperson and the Office of the Presidency did put out a statement around 9:00 p.m. addressing the decision to bring the NYPD to campus. But I can tell you as a student of Columbia, an undergraduate who is proposed to graduate this May, I have heard nothing and my peers are feeling quite left in the dark.


COATES: What was the nature of that communication that came from the representative? Was it explaining? Why was it supportive of the students? Was it condemning of those at Hamilton Hall? What was the content?

TOWFIGHI: So the announcement that came out was condemning the protesters who took over Hamilton Hall. Of course, in the past 24 hours, when protesters moved from the encampment to Hamilton Hall, there was an escalation in the response from the University.

Today, the Morningside campus of Columbia, that's the main campus was locked down, only accessible to students who actually lived in residence halls on campus. Again, this was a decision that was communicated via abroad announcement to the community without any real personal touch from the university president.

So, the announcement they put out today was very condemning was not necessarily supportive of the students. And in fact, the presidency of Minouche Shafik has decided to keep the NYPD on campus until May 17.

COATES: I understand that you yourself are going to be graduating, I think this this coming May, May 15th and the idea of the presence of the student of the NYPD to be there. I wonder first, what your thoughts have been in anticipation of your graduation that there was this protest, that there was the encampment that has been there.

Were you concerned about the university's inability to ensure a commencement for you, and now that police will be present likely after your commencement? How do you feel about their presence?

TOWFIGHI: You know, speaking to all of my peers, I think there was always a sense of concern that commencement was not going to be as it should be. However, there was an underlying sense of support for the student movement, because it was a peaceful protest on the encampment lawns.

When the students moved into Hamilton Hall, talking to my friends, there was more of a fractured opinion, more real concerns and feeling of sadness that, you know, we were the COVID generation who didn't have our high school graduation, were we going to see a similar fate?

You know, personally myself, I was not too concerned. I think I'm speaking on behalf of the community when I would say there's frustration with the university. And any impetus for graduation not being as it should be, would fall on the university, from my opinion, and those that I've spoken with.

COATES: Well, it quick, John, as well, has there been a change in sentiment towards the president of your university before and after the barricading of Hamilton Hall?

TOWFIGHI: Well, I'd like to remind your viewers that Minouche Shafik joined Columbia just last summer, so she's been president for less than a year. And she made the decision on Thursday, April 18th, to call the police department to campus, which from then on, really changed the sentiment in terms of kind of the favorable views towards your presidency.

I would say given the escalation to Hamilton Hall, there were people who and I would agree with you need a sense of order on campus. And of course, there are tough decisions. However, the lack of communication, the sense of kind of a rash decision behind it, and the lack of transparency over why this decision was made tonight as opposed to another time and why more of the faculty body was not consulted, has left I would say somewhat of a sour taste in the general Columbia community when thinking about Minouche Shafik.

COATES: John Towfighi is such a pleasure to speak with you. Thank you so much for giving us that perspective of yourself as, you know, and congratulations on what you've accomplished over these last several years. And I do wish you a wonderful graduation and commencement and for your peers. Thank you so much.

TOWFIGHI: Thank you, Laura. I appreciate you having me on.

COATES: We have more on our breaking news out of Colombia in just a moment.



COATES: Our breaking news a mass police presence remains at Columbia University after the NYPD cleared pro-Palestinian protesters who had barricaded themselves inside of Hamilton Hall.

Let's get back to CNN's Miguel Marquez who is near the campus. Miguel, you have been just so incredible in your reporting, and keeping us all in front of what's going on at this very critical and historic time. What is it like there right now?

MARQUEZ: Much more relaxed. Police behind me are starting to sort of take a breath right now. There are buses here, but therefore the police's time not for those being arrested. And you can see these individuals sort of walking up Amsterdam Avenue now with -- it's a much more relaxed environment where students are starting to return to their to their homes and their dorms, both on 114th and up Amsterdam, where those students are walking up Amsterdam there. That's where Hamilton Hall is. That's where police made entry into it off of Amsterdam Avenue. Onto the second floor, use flashbangs to distract whoever was in there. And then they were able to get at those doors that had been barricaded. But right now we've seen no more arrests. We saw two people arrested

that were protesters outside. We had followed protesters earlier that were around the front side of Columbia. They moved up to City College there were protests there. But it was just incredible to see police move in in such massive numbers, not just to go into the school, but to lock down the entire area around Columbia University so they can completely control it.

There were tons of protesters all along the barricades all around the university. But they weren't able to get in. Police were able to do what they needed to do. And within hours had everybody that was not supposed to be in Colombia out of there. Laura.

COATES: I mean, are you getting a sense at this point of either how many people were ultimately arrested but also what charges they might be facing from the police?

MARQUEZ: Well, we saw dozens. We saw three or four buses leave 114th where they had people arrested so we saw dozens of people being loaded onto buses here. There was also a bus up Amsterdam Avenue and there were people that were put on those buses and arrested.


They're breaking everything from, you know, breaking and entering to theft, to, you know, not following the range.

COATES: Disorderly conducts. Yes.

MARQUEZ: It's not clear the range of charges that they may bring, certainly some of them will be students as well. It is not clear how they are going to treat students. They've talked about expulsion for some suspensions for others, and possibly some of those that were suspended they will go through a university process to see whether or not they can drop charges and allow them to reenroll in school, either over the summer or next year.

So I think a lot of this is going to be a moving target for quite some time. Laura.

COATES: I'm seeing officer still behind you that you mentioned there is a bus removing some officers as well. But the president of Columbia has asked for a police presence to be maintained through at least May 17 two days after graduation. Are the officers that we're seeing, are they going to be remaining in the area all night?

MARQUEZ: I doubt these officers will because most of these officers are the ones that went in and had been on duty now for many, many hours. But we still have tons of barricades all around the area. There are -- we've seen new officers come in and just in regular uniform, not with any of the helmets and the batons and the like.

So I think that they are going to have police officers, certainly in the area but on the campus itself, you know, you can lock -- Columbia can pretty easily be locked down. So I think we're going to see that level of lockdown and making sure that IDs are checked at different checkpoints getting on to the university to make sure they know who is coming on to the university in over the next couple of weeks because what they want to avoid is what happened the last time they tried this two weeks ago when they clear the encampment. It reconstituted itself within hours. It created this backlash across the country and even around the world. And then we are where we are today, whereas Hamilton Hall got taken over and police had to be called in for a second time.

What they don't want to have happen is for protesters to come back reestablish themselves. The university wants to get through finals at this point. And then commencement become a university again. Laura.

COATES: Miguel Marquez, thank you so much. Though the NYPD says that they use so called distraction devices during their response to protests at Columbia University's Hamilton Hall refuting reports that tear gas may have been used.

Just a little while ago, I asked the CNN's chief law enforcement analyst John Miller to explain how the operation in Hamilton Hall went down.


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

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: So a distraction device is one of those things that you looks like a can, you throw it, it goes flash, and then bang, which is why they call it a flashbang. 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 into 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 during that search.

COATES: Do you know how many people are 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. But we don't have the total yet.

COATES: When we get that number 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. Now they don't mean those who were inside Hamilton Hall, right, those people around the area, people who were in Hamilton hall where 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, 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. And at least --

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, and they of course found that there were barricaded doors with chairs. We heard about soda machines and beyond. And as you can see the footage right now, John, we're actually watching officers with shield with the NYPD emergency unit.

They have a hammer and a sledgehammer trying to break into areas that appear to have libraries inside offices, the university campuses in an academic office, they're going up the stairs or passing down chairs, it seems to have been areas of barricading as well.

I mean, what I'm seeing right now is tactical gear, helmets and shields and hand 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 the 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 a police, this was a plan that they had already been considering. And that 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 that 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 side arms. 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.

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

COATES: Yes, John, we're seeing some footage earlier tonight. And also some live footage of people who are on the streets. And just 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 1, 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's 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 100 police officers came up to clear the kids who were an adult, both students and non-students who are camped out on that piece of ground. And then when that operation was over, life resumed, and they came back and they recamped 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.

COATES: Right.

MILLER: 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 that 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: Well, up next, tonight's arrests at Hamilton Hall on Columbia's campus coming 56 years after the 1968 action at the same building. We'll talk with the historian in just a moment.



COATES: Our breaking news over 100 protesters were arrested tonight at Columbia University and City College of New York or in law enforcement. Most of the arrests were made at Columbia, including about two dozen protesters who police say tried to prevent officers from entering the campus.

Tactical teams at Columbia first set up a perimeter around the campus to hold back protesters and prevent any further arrests. Officers then entered the campus through multiple entry points.

I want to bring in a presidential historian Doug Brinkley. Doug, thank you for joining us. I'm so curious for your reaction to what's unfolded tonight at Columbia and how it compares to other historical protests there.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, of course, the obvious comparison was 56 years ago at Columbia University. When students were protesting the Vietnam War that universities relationship to the Defense Department, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated, that were raised racial tensions going on at Columbia.

But it's not often talked about the 700 people arrested in '68 with Columbia is what a hard time the university had for 20 years afterwards, meaning by nature, parents started deciding not to send their kids to Colombia. It's not safe for me to be there.

So for a university, these kinds of events that we're seeing here is troubling. But now Colombia is simple as simple as you know, Lord, just 100 plus universities around the country where people are protesting and events have happened in like, we're University of Texas, where 45 out of 79 of the students arrested in at UT, were from outsiders, not even students on campus.

COATES: Does that affect you think the way that perhaps the legacy of these schools might be impacted? Obviously, when you talk about six years ago, that was the majority of students. But now, as you've mentioned, does that proportionality impact the legacy?

BRINKLEY: It does, to this degree, I was sown at University of Southern California right now. And it's attention filled and people are trying to study, I mean, for the 100 that were arrested, say, at Columbia tonight, or what's going on at USC, they're just all these other students that this is a big moment of their life. But they're big commencement ceremony.

I heard one of the leaders of the student movement, talking about this as the COVID generation. They've been feeling locked up, they're doing a lot of remote. And they just want this to be a smooth sailing coming up.

But what we're watching the New York tonight at Columbia, is not the end of anything. I mean, there's one story what happens to these students? Do they get arrested for breaking and entering? Or is it just obstructing, you know, police business or something like that? Or do they get amnesty? Does Columbia say if you're a real student, we're going to the name of free speech, give me a pass.

I think it'll be a case by case basis. But this is going to escalate until commencement gets over. And of course, all of us that covered politics are wondering what will happen in Chicago come August, when the Democrats have their convention, and it'll ring our 1968 Bell, once again.

COATES: A really important point, because as you often say, I mean, history repeats itself, and certainly is doomed to be repeated if we don't learn from it. But I do wonder, what is the view from this local perspective of seeing police officers, not campus police who often don't have the authority to actually arrest or more of a maintenance of safety not necessarily affecting a arresting agency?

What is the impact of how police have been clearing the campus and our police have been brought to places like UT Austin and other areas?

BRINKLEY: I thought University of Texas Austin did a terrible job of manhandling the students in a very dramatic and harsh way. A lot of it is in police training. I mean, how do you do an arrest in New York City by contrast, it looked like at least at this moment that the rest were done in a kind of sane and peaceful way. There was no tear gas being sprayed. There was no violence on the encampments on campus will be dismantled.

But a general rule of thumb you don't want to start militarizing universities and this does, you know, touch the ACO use, you know, free speech. Issues galore coming up here right now, but this seems it got contained today at Columbia University tonight. And now it's made a May 1 and protest throughout America are going to continue because many don't have Commencement for weeks to come.


COATES: It'll be interesting to see and really quick, Doug. How does this historically have impacted the president who is in power?

BRINKLEY: Oh, it's, you know, Richard Nixon got one in 1968 as a law and order person. He realized in Chicago in 1968, Democratic Convention protests, teargas, (INAUDIBLE) whole bit, Nixon came back to Chicago a few weeks later, and we had a peaceful 250,000 people cheering Nixon, he started seizing law and order.

And I'm not going to be surprised if you're going to see Donald Trump the sensibly the Republican nominee, start trying to weigh in on the law and order side and try to punish Joe Biden because this is happening on his watch.

Through all those might ever want to lose sight of antisemitism is unacceptable in America, a hate speech of any kind. We need freedom of speech, but you're not -- it's intolerable to be able to get be little people on a public campus by, you know, saying racial slurs or antisemitic tropes.

COATES: Thank you so much for your perspective, and also reminding us about the historical perspective that is at play. We'll be watching in the days to come and I do thank you.

And I thank all of you for watching as well. CNN coverage continues next.