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NYCLU on Arrest of Columbia University Demonstrators

NEW YORK, NY – In response to Columbia University’s deployment of the NYPD to arrest pro-Palestine student demonstrators, the New York Civil Liberties Union issued the following statement, attributable to Executive Director Donna Lieberman:

“Universities have a long tradition of student advocacy and engagement, where viewpoints are tested and difficult debate is encouraged. Columbia University has a history of student advocacy, from actions against the Vietnam War to climate change. In the post-Vietnam War era, Columbia has allowed students to engage in a range of protest activities on campus without calling in the NYPD, including occupying school buildings and the lawn for days at a time.

“Columbia’s move to send in police so quickly after these demonstrations began chills student expression, marks a significant departure from past practice, and raises questions about the university’s disparate treatment of students based on their views. It also risks the well-being of students, because the NYPD deployed its Strategic Response Group, a unit that has a history of escalation and violence. It is also concerning that the NYPD arrested legal observers, whose job it is to monitor police activities for rights violations, and who are well known to the department. The NYPD knows better.

“Coming as it does amid heavy-handed pressure from Congress to clamp down on student protest that criticizes Israel, Columbia’s excessive response raises further concerns about its commitment to free expression. Columbia should be creating an environment that encourages people to speak out, participate in hard discussions, and engage with global events — not rushing to call the cops on their own students.”

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