On Tuesday afternoon, NYC Mayor Eric Adams and other city officials discussed the ongoing protests at Columbia University, including the recent Hamilton Hall occupation.

On Tuesday afternoon, NYC Mayor Eric Adams, NYC Police Commissioner Edward Caban, and Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence Rebecca Weiner held a press conference to speak about the ongoing protests and recent occupation of Hamilton Hall at Columbia University. 

Adams began by stating that the Columbia demonstrations “should have been a peaceful protest.” He said that the NYPD was cautious when releasing intel information because “[their] goal is to assure the safety of students, the faculty, and without any destruction of property.”

He stated that the city believes that the protests, which are “part of the constitutional rights of Americans,” have been “co-opted.” He added that his administration has “sounded the alarm” before about “external actors who are attempting to hijack” the protests at Columbia. 

Adams then said that he, Caban, and Weiner were speaking to “show [the audience] some examples” of external actors with “no affiliation with Columbia.” He further claimed that these external actors had “created serious public safety issues” at the ongoing protests. 

Adams continued by questioning whether “some of the students involved don’t understand what they are involved in.” He urged students and “everyone else violating Columbia’s order” to leave the vicinity immediately, asking parents of the Universitystudents to contact them and ask them to leave “before the situation escalates.”

Adams then stated that the external actors he referred to were “obviously not students” and said that their presence on Columbia’s campus “is a violation of Columbia’s clearly stated policy.”  He described these external actors as “outside agitator[s] with a history of escalating situation[s] and trying to create chaos.”

He disclosed his belief that this group was “now actively co-opting what should be a peaceful gathering,” and said that the group was at Columbia “to create discord and divisiveness.”

He concluded by urging students and protesters “to walk away from this situation now and continue [their] advocacy through other means.” He stated that the city would protect the right to protest but that “[they] must balance that right with the right to keep students, the school, and [the] city safe.” He declared that the city “will not allow” the situation “to turn into a violent spectacle” and iterated that “[t]his must end now” before turning over the microphone to Caban.

Caban began his segment by characterizing the protests as a “dynamic, evolving situation,” stating that the NYPD has “been in contact with university officials from the beginning.” He reiterated that Columbia is private property that falls under the jurisdiction of the University. However, he asserted that what “we saw last night today is not acceptable.”

He continued, mentioning “external factors” and people “not affiliated with the University… working to escalate the situation.” The “tactics” being used in protests, he said, are changing in a way that “endanger[es] public safety.” He claimed what were once “peaceful” demonstrations “are being exploited by the professional outside agitators,” implicating the safety of the campus community.

Caban spoke to the importance of the right to protest and the NYPD, “whose job is to protect that right,” stating that “we will never tolerate violence, property damage or disruption of emergency services.” He then assured that “once the university asks for our help, the NYPD will be there ready to assist them.” 

Caban concluded with a note to Columbia parents and students, citing his own experience as a father of a college student. “Be aware of where your children are,” he said. “Be aware of what they’re involved in. If you don’t know, reach out to them. University and the NYPD are taking the situation seriously. [Parents] should be taking the situation seriously too.”

Wiener began her statement by echoing earlier sentiments of campus protests escalating over the past 24 hours.She also reiterated that external actors are “influenc[ing]” protests, “some of whom have been known to [NYPD]… for their dangerous, disruptive, and at times criminal activity associated with protests for years.” Weiner continued, emphasizing that many universities across the country have reported “that significant portions of their protestor populations are unaffiliated with their schools.” These people do not have a right to be on campus and this “violates university policies,” presenting “dangers to students” and university communities at large, she said.

Secondly, Weiner stated that “when we see what we saw last night… we think these tactics are the results of guidance that’s being given to students from some of these external actors.” She then cited “individuals in black bloc attire” scaling campus buildings, breaking windows, and creating barricades from furniture, among other incidents that took place during the occupation of Hamilton Hall. She also mentioned the destruction of cameras, claiming that “there’s only one reason to destroy a camera; it’s certainly not something anyone is taught to do in school.” 

“This has gone to the next level and we have real cause for concern,” she said. “This is an escalation that while it began last night at Columbia, we do expect it  to continue beyond one building on one campus, but to other protests, to other universities, potentially to other cities.”

Weiner then emphasized the City’s “constant dialogue” with University officials, reiterating that their “top priority is and always will be public safety for all.” 

She then played a two-minute video compilation comprising short clips and photos of the Hamilton Hall occupation. The video included images of protesters moving barricades, scaling John Jay hall in black attire, and breaking windows.

The press conference then began to take questions from the audience. 

One member of the press asked about a possible NYPD intervention at Columbia. Weiner responded by saying that the NYPD is “ in ongoing dialogue with officials” and “stand[s] ready to come in if [they] are invited in.” She stated that for some of the protest activity law enforcement “would need to review the specific facts to see what charges might be appropriate.” Depending on their involvement, “there may be charges associated with the property destruction and the vandalism as well.”

Assistant Commissioner Kaz Daughtry added that for individuals inside Hamilton Hall, they will be “charged with burglary in the third degree, criminal mischief and trespassing. Individuals in the Encampments will be charged with “trespassing and disorderly conduct.”

Another reporter asked about the strategies the NYPD is using to identify protesters, particularly because their faces are often covered. Weiner said that in some cases, the “sheer force of being present at these protests” is required to identify individuals. In other cases, law enforcement relies on “partner reporting.”

Another member of the media inquired about the ongoing conversations between the NYPD and  University officials as well as details about the protests as a whole.

Caban reiterated that the NYPD is in “constant dialogue” with the University, stating that “there is no timetable” and they “have no letters”’ from Columbia. He added that the University is also in “constant dialogue with the students,” trying to “alleviate the situation.”

Weiner added that NYPD visibility into the campus is “limited” since they are not physically present. “We know the ones we know,” she said, citing the disabling of cameras as further complicating NYPD’s attempts to “assess public safety risks.”

One reporter asked about Columbia’s commencement scheduled for May 15 and whether the NYPD will treat “outside agitators” differently from “the other ones at the Encampment.”

In response to the first question, Deputy Commissioner Public Information Tarik Sheppard further emphasized NYPD’s “constant contact” with the University and that they have not received communication from the University requesting they “take action” on campus. 

Daughtry followed, saying that the NYPD would “treat [protestors] just like when [they] went into NYU” and “when [they] went into Columbia the first time” during which time officers were “under attack by bottles, chairs, [and] tables.”

Protest via Bwog Staff