1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

NY police arrest 300 at pro-Palestinian student protests

May 1, 2024

Police broke up an encampment at Columbia University that sparked a wave of similar pro-Palestinian demonstrations at college campuses across the US. Hundreds of people have been arrested in relation to the protest.

Police dismantling the camp at Columbia University
Police arrested hundreds of people and removed tents at Columbia UniversityImage: Marco Postigo Storel/AP Photo/picture alliance

Police were called to several US colleges on Wednesday amid a wave of pro-Palestinian student protests.

Around 300 people were taken into police custody at Columbia University and City College in New York, while clashes between rival groups of protesters broke out in Los Angeles. 

Students called the demonstrations to protest academic and government support for Israel amid its ground offensive in Gaza.

More than 34,500 people in the Palestinian territory have been killed since the beginning of Israel's military operation, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry.

Israel has pointed to the protests as examples of antisemitism at American universities — an accusation that student groups have rejected.

The pro-Palestinian encampments are the most widespread and prolonged unrest to rock US college campuses since protests against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s.

A Palestinian flag near Columbia University
The protesters are calling for universities to divest from companies that do business with IsraelImage: Craig Ruttle/AP Photo/picture alliance

Police break up Columbia University occupation

On Tuesday night, police in New York broke up a demonstration that had paralyzed Columbia University for nearly two weeks, arresting dozens of people.

In a letter to to the New York Police Department, Columbia University president Minouche Shafik had asked for "help to clear all individuals from Hamilton Hall and all campus encampments."

She claimed that the occupation of the school building was being led by "individuals who are not affiliated with the University." She did not provide evidence for this.

Why have pro-Palestinian protests become so big on US campuses?

Shafik also asked New York police to remain on campus through at least May 17 to "ensure encampments are not reestablished."

Columbia University's commencement ceremony, which takes place in the campus's central square where most of the tents were set up, is scheduled for May 15.

On Wednesday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams also claimed the protesters were not students but professional agitators without providing evidence.

"Once I became aware of the outside agitators who were part of this operation, as Columbia mentioned in their letter and their request with the New York City Police Department, it was clear we had to take appropriate actions when our intelligence division identified those who were professionals, well trained," Adams said on CBS Mornings.

Police clear Columbia University protests

People involved in the demonstrations at Columbia University have acknowledged that some people outside the college community have joined the protest but reject the accusations that outsiders were unduly influencing the encampment.

The occupation of Columbia's Hamilton Hall was among the most prominent pro-Palestinian demonstrations on college campuses and even attracted the attention of President Joe Biden.

"That is not an example of peaceful protest," a spokesperson for the president said.

Police at Columbia University
Columbia University called in the New York Police Department after almost two weeks of protestsImage: Andrea Renault/STAR MAX/IP/picture alliance

Clashes between protesters at UCLA

At the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), police were called Wednesday as rival groups of protesters clashed on campus.

Footage verified by Reuters showed counter-demonstrators using sticks or poles to attack a camp set up by pro-Palestinian protesters.

UCLA chancellor Gene Block said that people "unaffiliated with our campus" were involved in the incident. He did not provide evidence for these claims.

The Los Angeles Police Department confirmed that it responded to a request from the university to restore order "due to multiple acts of violence within the large encampment on their campus."

Meanwhile, Los Angeles councilwoman Katy Yaroslavsky, whose district includes UCLA, said the situation had gotten out of control.

"Everyone has a right to free speech and protest, but the situation on UCLA's campus is out of control and is no longer safe," she said on social media.

Clashes at UCLA: People are seen swinging wooden bars and pulling people out from behind improvised shields
Counter demonstrators attacked a pro-Palestinian encampment at UCLAImage: Ethan Swope/AP Photo/picture alliance

Arrests on campuses across the US

Arrests and disruptions have occurred at several other US college campuses in recent days.

Police were engaged in a standoff with pro-Palestinian protesters at the City College of New York, with footage posted on Tuesday showing officers shoving people to the ground.

Officers also lowered a Palestinian flag that had been hoisted on the college flagpole and replaced it with an American flag.

At Northern Arizona University, police in riot gear arrested around 20 people for trespassing on Tuesday. At least one person was thrown to the ground.

Police also cleared a pro-Palestinian encampment at Tulane University in New Orleans on Wednesday. Six people were arrested, and the college suspended seven students.

Meanwhile, Brown University in the East Coast state of Rhode Island reached an agreement with pro-Palestinian protesters that they would close their encampment in exchange for administrators holding a vote in October to consider divesting from Israel.

A Palestinian flag waving at Tulane University
Police also broke up a pro-Palestinian encampment at Tulane University in New OrleansImage: Chris Granger/AP Photo/picture alliance

zc/nm (AP, AFP, Reuters)