Adams says ‘outside agitators’ behind Columbia protests

(The Center Square) – New York Mayor Eric Adams is defending the NYPD’s decision to arrest dozens of pro-Palestinian demonstrators holed up in a building at Columbia University Tuesday night,…

(The Center Square) – New York Mayor Eric Adams is defending the NYPD’s decision to arrest dozens of pro-Palestinian demonstrators holed up in a building at Columbia University Tuesday night, and to take down a make-shift encampment on the campus.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Adams reiterated claims that there was a movement from non-student “outside agitators” to “radicalize the situation” on the university campus that pushed students to become more aggressive in their tactics and incite violence. 

“There is a movement to radicalize young people,” the Democrat said in remarks at a press briefing, flanked by NYPD officials. “This is a global problem that young people are being influenced by those who are professionals at radicalizing children.”

Hundreds of NYPD officers stormed the campus late Tuesday to remove demonstrators who had occupied Hamilton Hall two days ago, arresting hundreds of protestors. 

Columbia University authorities said they had no choice but to call the NYPD to remove the occupiers, saying they had destroyed property and “vandalized” the school building.

In a statement, Columbia said protesters “chose to escalate to an alarming and untenable situation – including by vandalizing property, breaking doors and windows, blockading entrances, and forcing our facilities and public safety workers out” and said the NYPD responded “appropriately” to diffuse the situation.

“The safety of our community, especially our students, remains our top priority,” the university’s statement said.

Columbia students who occupied Hamilton Hall face expulsion, a university spokesperson said, but it’s not clear if or when that would happen.

The demonstrations are part of a wave of anti-Israel protests that have swept U.S. college campuses over the past week in response to Israel’s war in Gaza, which was prompted by the Oct. 7 attack by the terrorist group Hamas that killed 1,200 Israelis and injured many others. Hamas also took hostages, many of whom are still in captivity. 

Dozens of arrests have been made at Harvard, Yale, MIT and other elite schools as campus police and law enforcement have been called in to take down the make-shift encampments, which violate school policies. More than 1,000 people have been arrested, according to published reports.

At Wednesday’s briefing, Adams also criticized colleges and universities where protesters had raised the Palestinian flag after taking down the American flag. 

“It’s despicable that schools will allow another country’s flag to fly in our country,” he told reporters.

A group of New York Republicans demanded that the state’s Democratic legislative leaders call on Columbia University President Minouche Shafik to testify before a joint meeting of the Legislature’s Committee on Higher Education and Investigations and Government Operations committees to explain what she is doing to “diffuse the situation and ensure the safety of Columbia students.” 

“We have seen and continue to see Jewish New Yorkers targeted by violent protestors, including those on our college campuses,” Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt and other GOP lawmakers wrote in the May 1 letter. “It is unacceptable that educators and administrators are negotiating with terrorist sympathizers.” 

Sen. Joe Griffo, a Republican and ranking member of the Higher Ed Committee, said he was “appalled” by pro-Hamas protests and antisemitism at Columbia and other Ivy League colleges and wants to hear directly from university leaders about “how they plan to “keep students, faculty and staff on campus safe.” 

“While freedom of speech is valued, hate speech is condemnable and unacceptable,” Grillo said in a statement.