Hundreds Protest After Police Arrest Students at NYU and New School

Hundreds of students, faculty members, and New York University (NYU) community members marched outside of the university’s Elmer Holmes Bobst Library at around 12:30pm this afternoon, May 3, after the school called police to sweep the second Gaza solidarity encampment at 181 Mercer Street at sunrise. New York Police Department (NYPD) officers arrested over a dozen people in the process.

With a headcount of some 50 members before police arrived, the encampment had been outside of the Paulson Center since April 26, four days after the April 22 sweep of the initial NYU encampment at Gould Plaza that saw over 100 arrests.

Prepared with posters, noisemakers, and outside voices, the protesters circled the sidewalk outside of the library, chanting phrases such as “Disclose! Divest! We will not stop we will not rest!” and other rally cries heard around the country in the last month. Some participants were handing out literature calling on faculty and students to commit to grade refusals and cancel exams outright in response to the police action. Many hand-drawn posters directly addressed NYU President Linda Mills, who has only been in her post since last July, for her decision to involve the police.

The action was relatively contained to the sidewalk with few police barricades, and there were minimal interactions with counter protesters aside from derogatory comments mumbled by passersby and one incident in which a pro-Israel man pulled his car over to shout at the protesters through his sunroof before he returned on foot minutes later to continue heckling.

Two NYU faculty members who were eyewitnesses during this morning’s sweep spoke with Hyperallergic during the library protest, both stating that over 150 police officers arrived outside the Paulson Center at approximately 6am. Paula Chakravartty, an associate professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at the Steinhardt School and member of the encampment negotiating committee, explained that the students were sleeping in their tents when the police showed up and that some 30 members of the encampment left in order to avoid arrest.

Chakravartty said that 14 people had been arrested and that a few have been released already, but mentioned that “one student who ended up in custody was not allowed to take their maintenance medication,” and that another student who wanted to avoid arrest “wasn’t allowed to get her wallet out of her backpack.”

“The police just threw everything into garbage bags and that was that,” Chakravartty said.

Arang Keshavarzian, a professor at NYU’s Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, corroborated Chakravartty’s account and added that “no one resisted arrest,” but he noticed that “nobody had their rights read to them, and the police were rummaging through the ‘People’s Library’ and taking photos of the books and other materials.”

Reached by Hyperallergic, NYPD Deputy Commissioner Public Information Tarik Sheppard confirmed that 13 people were arrested at the NYU encampment but could not say how many were affiliated with the university. NYPD declined to comment further.

Hyperallergic has reached out to NYU for comment.

The sweep and arrests took place hours before NYU Hillel’s “Shabbat for 2000” event this evening at the Paulson Center. Hillel International is a campus organization that coordinates trips to Israel via the Birthright program, among other activities, and students across the US have voiced their opposition to the program in recent weeks.

Tonight’s event is expected to draw a large number of donors, among them investor and NYU alum John A. Paulson, who recently hosted a $50 million fundraising dinner for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign at his Palm Beach home.

The dismantling of the NYU encampment also coincided with the encampment sweep at the New School that also took place early this morning, resulting in 43 arrests. “The New School has grossly failed to live up to its legacy as an institution of social justice and anti-militarism,” said a statement from the school’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter. “The Gaza Solidarity Encampments at The New School were founded on the demand for divestment, in a protest aligned with over 120 campus encampments nationwide, calling for Palestinian freedom, an end to genocide.”

At NYU, Chakravartty said, “there has been a faculty vote of no confidence against Linda Mills in the Gallatin School” as well as hundreds of letters written by faculty and students against the calling of the NYPD.”

“So the fact that [NYU] would enlist them, for the second time within ten days at that, makes it extraordinarily clear that the administration has no interest in listening to its faculty and students,” she said.They’re listening to John Paulson and others who are well outside of who represents the community of NYU.”

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