On Friday, February 2, protesters surrounded campus in support of Palestine and those affected by a previous protest’s alleged chemical attack. Heightened police presence and arrests increased tensions between participants and the NYPD. Editor’s note: Mentions of violence.

At 3 pm on Friday, Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD) and the community organization Within Our Lifetime held the  “All Out For Palestine” protest outside of the main campus gates on 116th Street and Broadway. According to an Instagram post by CUAD and WOL, Friday’s demonstration was organized in support of those affected by the malodorant reportedly sprayed at pro-Palestine protesters at a rally on January 19.  The groups coordinated the protest with the endorsement of 83 organizations. The protest took place at the same time as the inauguration of Barnard President Laura Rosenbury, which was scheduled from 2 pm to 4 pm in Riverside Church. 

Friday’s demonstration drew heavy NYPD presence and restricted gate access, of which students were notified via email on Thursday night. During the protest, NYPD barricades restricted pedestrians and students from entering or walking in front of the 116th Street and Broadway main gates as the protest happened. People were instead asked to cross the street to get from 117th and Broadway to 115th. Three helicopters droned in the sky above the crowd. Counter-protesters huddled within a barricade on 116th and Broadway, holding Israeli and American flags and posters.

In response to the growing number of demonstrators, it was announced that the 1 train would skip the 116th and Broadway stop, going directly from 110th Street to 125th Street. Columbia notified students of this change via the Emergency Notification system at 3:24 pm. At 5:23 pm, students were alerted that the train was now stopping at the 116th station, although students reported the train stopping at 116th earlier.

Demonstrators’ signs advocated for Palestinian liberation and an intifada, a phrase meaning “shaking off” or “uprising.” Signs held advocated for Palestinian freedom, while also condemning Columbia’s response to  the January 19 alleged chemical attack. Protesters displayed signs with messages such as “Long live the intifada,” “Expel IDF terrorists from Columbia,” “14 days of silence since Zionist chemical attack on students. Shame on Columbia!” and “Stop the repression of pro-Palestinian voices! Anti-Zionism does not equal anti-semitism.” Protesters also lifted various signs supporting Palestinian resistance. Many denounced Columbia’s response to Israel’s invasion of Gaza and President Joe Biden’s effort to fund the Israeli military. The signs included some of the following statements: “Victory to the Palestinian resistance,” “Free all Palestinian prisoners,” and “Genocide Joe has got 2 go.”

In a video posted to the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) Instagram story, a group of students were shown chanting the phrase “NYPD, KKK, IOF, they’re all the same” in response to an NYPD officer interacting with the crowd.  In a video posted on SJP’s Instagram, an NYPD officer is shown detaining the protester on the ground.

The protest was accompanied by trucks transversing Broadway displaying videos of Palestine and images of Joe Biden and Hitler side-by-side. The trucks also displayed messages such as, “Daily reminder: ‘Israel Steals,’” “Israel Is The New Nazi Germany,” and “Israel has waged a war on children in Palestine.” The trucks contained messages denouncing Congress’ effort to “fund genocide” with “tax dollars.” 

The protesters eventually moved from Broadway to Amsterdam, going as far as the Law Library lawns and the area surrounding the Teacher’s College. Along Amsterdam Avenue, protesters rhythmically drummed in unison with their slogans and hoisted a large flag that read “Free Palestine.” 

At around 4:30 pm after demonstrators had crossed to Amsterdam, a troupe of NYPD officers mounted the incline from 114th to 116th Street and Amsterdam to order protesters to move to the sidewalk. The officers again announced over a megaphone that protesters were “unlawfully” obstructing traffic along Broadway and would have to move out of the streets to avoid charges and arrests. In response, protesters chanted “Our road!” and gathered around the center of the street. 

While the crowd marched toward 120th and Amsterdam, the NYPD detained one protester from the crowd. The apprehension incited upset among the protesters, who quickly descended the ramp, vocally condemning the officer’s actions and demanding the release of the protester. Amid the chaos, chants of “Shame” were directed at the officers as protesters hurried to confront them about the arrests.

In a CUAD press statement, organizers note that an ambulance was called for at least one protester, which “marks the second time in two weeks that students have sought emergency medical services for violence on or next to the Columbia University campus.” In their statement, CUAD claims that 20 people are estimated to have been arrested on Friday, asserting that the NYPD “punched at least one student and pepper sprayed others in the crowd.” In an Instagram caption by CUAD and WOL, organizers claim that 12 individuals were arrested and that the NYPD dislocated a participant’s arm. 

The protest concluded at around 5 pm on the Barnard side of 116th and Broadway. The dispersal of the crowd was marked by chants directed at the NYPD, including calls to “Quit [their] job[s]” and declarations that the protesters “will come back.”

Bwog reached out to Columbia for comment. A spokesperson provided no new information from Columbia and directed us to the NYPD. This is a developing story.

Images via Bwog Staff