Police violence will not deter our stand for Palestine – Mondoweiss

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On Friday, February 2, Columbia University students and community members gathered outside the university gates for an action coordinated by Within Our Lifetime and the Columbia University Apartheid Divest coalition. Endorsed by over 50 community organizations, this protest was in response to the chemical weapon attack deployed against Columbia students two weeks prior.

At approximately 3:00 p.m., students and community members took the street and began chanting. Immediately, law enforcement officers began to shove protestors and yelled at us to get out of the street. By the end of the evening, 12 arrests were confirmed, with one of them being a Columbia student, Fadi Shuman. Shuman spoke to me about his arrest and the events that unfolded leading up to it. 

“I watched as two other organizers were arrested, including the police liaison. I started blowing a whistle to get the attention of other protest marshalls. While I’m using this whistle, a cop comes out of nowhere and punches me in the face, then threatens to arrest me.” Once the police liaison was arrested, Shuman began running towards the other marshalls at the front of the crowd, to let the leaders of the group know. Approximately ten minutes later, Shuman himself was arrested for trying to intervene as one of the organizers was being arrested.

As the crowd continued the march towards uptown, I watched from the top of the Amsterdam-Columbia bridge. Police began to surround the crowd on all sides, forcing them to continue marching forward to avoid being kettled by police. As another student on the bridge with me attempted to address the crowd with a speech, there was an uproar, and people at the front of the crowd charged towards the corner of the street. Shuman explained that while the speech was being delivered, police officers started harassing another organizer, physically assaulting her, and attempting to violently arrest her. Protestors responded by thrusting into the barricade of police, de-arresting her.

“There has to be a way to hold these officers accountable. They can’t be allowed to just beat us in the streets,” Shuman said. The same police officers arresting and assaulting protestors on Friday were recognized as the officers harassing protestors the week prior. This division of officers has been identified as the Strategic Response Group, a specifically trained riot police unit deployed to repress protests. This was not the first, and certainly will not be the last protest where the police have violently cracked down on pro-Palestine advocates. Over the past three months, the NYPD has unleashed physical violence, baseless prosecutions, and targeted surveillance against pro-Palestinian protestors.

Two weeks prior, on Friday, January 19, Columbia University students gathered on campus to express our outrage against the US-led attack on Yemen. During the protest, myself and many other students realized that we had been sprayed with a chemical agent known as Skunk, the same chemical agent used against Palestinians by the occupation forces. Since the chemical attack, students have experienced symptoms including but not limited to persistent coughing, congestion, fever, irregular menstrual bleeding, irregular menstrual cramps, ongoing abdominal pain, difficulty breathing, blurred vision, and burning eyes. Approximately ten students have been hospitalized as a result.

The perpetrators, current Columbia students and former soldiers of the Israeli Occupation Forces, walk the halls of campus with impunity after deploying a chemical weapon on fellow students. Not only did they use a chemical weapon against us, but also threatened to kill a Palestinian student who was at the protest, calling him out by name. We were violently attacked for our refusal to accept that Columbia University uses our endowment to financially invest in military contractors that develop and manufacture weapons for the Israeli military.

Following the indefensible extent of police violence employed against Columbia students on February 2, I recognize that accountability for the chemical weapon attack is not just unlikely but nonsensical. What can accountability even look like when Columbia runs a program recruiting people from the Israeli Occupation Forces to become a part of our university? How can students expect the university administration to hold itself responsible when they have retaliated against pro-Palestinian students with notices of academic discipline and threats of suspension? Columbia University has shown us that they will invoke McCarthyist practices, as they refuse to protect us from the doxxing trucks taking over our campuses and work with the NYPD to surveil and repress pro-Palestinian students.

As Columbia University students, we know that racist colonial entities are one and the same. We see this colonial violence manifest every day, as the university uses eminent domain to overtake Harlem, displacing Black and brown residents. It’s well known that the NYPD and the IOF train each other in mass surveillance and racialized violence through police exchange programs. The struggles in Harlem and Palestine are intertwined, the same tactics used to encroach upon land and terrorize Palestinians are used against the Black and brown residents of Harlem. 

As students, we must continue to push back against Columbia’s complicity in the ongoing occupation of Palestine. We are morally obligated to divest from companies and institutions that publicly or privately fund or invest in this genocide. We must learn and draw strength from the work of previous generations of Columbia students, who have left us with a blueprint of how to be steadfast and win our demands. Columbia students have forced the university to divest before on multiple occasions, and we will do it again. Over 26,000 Palestinians have been massacred by Israel in Gaza, and Columbia University’s board of trustees and administration is thirsty for more blood. Despite the university’s suppression, we will not back down. We stand in absolute solidarity with Palestine, regardless of the consequences. The more Columbia University tries to silence us, the louder we will be.



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