In a video circulating on Twitter, Columbia University Public Safety officers were seen dragging peaceful protesters by the legs in front of Low Library yesterday. The protesters were affiliated with Extinction Rebellion, an organization staging acts of nonviolent civil disobedience to advocate for environmental causes.
The video shows three Public Safety officers gathered around a protester laying down on the floor in front of the door to Low Library. One officer can be seen reaching for and holding the legs of the protester in an attempt to drag them out of the door. Another protester appears to be already present in the entryway as well.
Extinction Rebellion — an environmental pressure group aiming to use civil disobedience to compel government action on issues such as climate breakdown and biodiversity loss — had been advocating climate responsibility and yesterday took part in a campus-wide demonstration to declare a set of demands for the Columbia administration in response to the climate crisis. The actions the protesters took were non-violent in nature, including demonstrations on Low Plaza and attempting to sleep within Low Library.
— Abi (@Abi33307019) October 10, 2019
According to a statement from Joshua Scott, a member of Extinction Rebellion who filmed the video, Public Safety officers were “grabbing [the protestors] by their ankles and clothing, pulling on their bodies in dangerous ways, and grabbing handfuls of their clothing, with no attempt to talk to our deescalator.” He mentioned that shortly after a group of protestors were able to enter Low, but the group’s original mission of being “a non-disruptive presence in the building in cooperation with the school’s need for the building as office space” was made impossible.
In response to the video, Columbia has stated that Public Safety officers aim to “avoid physical contact with protesters.” As officers were attempting to close the doors to Low Library, protesters laid their bodies in the threshold of the doors and in response, officers “momentarily tried to move them aside.”
You can read Scott’s and Columbia’s full statements below.
Update October 10th, 2019, 2:57 PM: The post has been updated with comments from Columbia University, as well as its full response to the video.
Statement from Joshua Scott:
Hey, this is Joshua Scott.
I filmed the short video from inside the building. I feel comfortable commenting on it, especially because, after talking to others at the event yesterday, I’ve realized I was one of the few who actually saw it happen besides the protesters who were assaulted.
I had just entered Low after speaking in front of Alma Mater and had walked into the building without Public Safety interacting with me, although they had a few members posted at the front door.
I turned around and stood by the entrance to the rotunda, then saw three or four of our members had laid down limp in the doorway to keep the doors open.
I saw uniformed members of campus public safety grabbing them by their ankles and clothing, pulling on their bodies in dangerous ways, and grabbing handfuls of their clothing, with no attempt to talk to our deescalator. I heard our members saying “don’t touch me” and heard public safety shouting as they tried to decide what to do. I filmed briefly, then left to scout the rest of the building, but also because I feared for my physical safety.
Shortly after, a crowd of protestors entered the building without incident, though public safety’s response had already made it impossible to do our original plan, which was to be a non-disruptive presence in the building in cooperation with the school’s need for the building as office space.
We are still figuring out a full account of the day, but as I witnessed these events, I’m confident in what I saw, and it was a horrific, disproportionate abuse of power on the part of the school.
Statement from Columbia University:
Columbia’s Public Safety officers are trained and directed to try to avoid physical contact with protesters. Yesterday, as our officers attempted to close the main entrance to Low Library, protesters inside the building abruptly laid their bodies across the threshold of the door as it was being closed. Our officers momentarily tried to move them aside and then stepped back. The individuals who had been laying down then entered the building with other protesters.
Low Library via Bwog Archives