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NYPD Officer Fired Gun During Violent Raid of Columbia Hamilton Hall Protest

Police officers had entered Hamilton Hall with guns raised as they brutalized student protesters on Tuesday.

NYPD officers arrive in riot gear to evict a building that had been barricaded by pro-Palestinian student protesters at Columbia University, in New York City, on April 30, 2024.

A New York Police Department officer fired his gun while he and fellow officers were violently raiding Columbia University students’ protest in and around Hamilton Hall, officials say, in a show of the militaristic and dangerous nature of the police crackdown on demonstrators on Tuesday night.

The news of the gun discharge was first reported by The City and was confirmed by the office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. According to a spokesperson for Bragg’s office, no one was injured and the gun was not aimed at anyone when it was fired, though the office is still investigating the incident.

The NYPD has claimed that its own investigation into the incident found that the officer’s gun had a flashlight equipped and that he was using it as a flashlight when he “accidentally” shot it, striking a wall. Bragg’s office’s initial findings appear to corroborate this account, and there have not been reports of any protesters who occupied the hall having been shot.

Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD) has not publicly commented on the gun firing, though rumors of it spread among students and protesters after it happened. CUAD has denounced the NYPD’s storming of the protest, saying that officers turned the campus into a “war zone,” causing multiple protesters to be sent to the hospital in a scene that protesters and student journalists described as a night of terror at the university.

Reports that emerged from the campus, which administrators locked down on Tuesday night, have shown terrifying footage and accounts of police shoving students down a flight of steps, denying medical care and violently arresting protesters. Meanwhile, journalists, faculty and students observing the chaos were trapped in buildings by threat of arrest.

NYPD released a propaganda video of their assault on protesters on Wednesday after the raid, showing officers deploying stun grenades, also known as flash-bangs, on students in the building, and entering rooms with guns drawn.

“It’s pretty unusual to use flash-bangs for something like this absent some intel about a serious threat to officers,” a law enforcement official told The City. “I’ve never seen them used for search warrants involving guns, let alone some barricaded college kids.”

The violence unleashed by Columbia President Minouche Shafik follows a long history of harsh repression of student protest from the university, as commentators have noted. In 1968, for instance, the university called police on protesters who were occupying buildings on campus in protest of the Vietnam War, with officers ultimately arresting 700 protesters and injuring about 100 others.

Over 100 protesters from Columbia were arrested on Tuesday night, while over 170 protesters at City College of New York were arrested the same night.

Nonprofit social justice law firm Legal Aid Society said in a statement that, though many demonstrators arrested Tuesday night should have been immediately released from custody after receiving low-level charges like trespass, police instead held a number of them in custody for over 24 hours. The top attorney for Legal Aid’s Criminal Defense Practice called this an “egregious breach” of protesters’ rights.

At City College, protesters have received extremely harsh charges, including roughly two dozen charged with felonies — charges that could be life-changing if protesters are eventually found guilty.

Advocates for Palestinian rights and even observers who have previously stayed relatively mum on the genocide have noted that the police crackdown on the protests — at Columbia and other campus protests across the country — is a clear attempt to stifle freedom of expression among students as they call for an end to Israel’s genocide in Gaza.

The Intercept columnist Natasha Lennard noted that, of her 15 years covering police crackdowns on protests, the NYPD’s response on Tuesday was especially “unhinged.” “Compared to Tuesday night, I have never witnessed, at the scene of a protest, the use of police power so disproportionate to the type of demonstration taking place,” Lennard wrote. “Make no mistake: This is an authoritarian escalation.”

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