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What you need to know about the ‘outside agitators’ who police say are co-opting protests in Colombia

Protests at Columbia University against Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza were allegedly “co-opted” by what New York police officials described as professional outside agitators bent on sowing chaos and destruction. violence.

Senior New York Police officials said at a news conference Wednesday that protesters unaffiliated with Columbia University had escalated the violence.

“I know there are those who try to say, ‘Well, the majority of people were students.’ You don’t have to be in the majority to influence and co-opt an operation, that’s what it’s all about,” said New York City Mayor Eric Adams.

The mayor added: “We are going to protect our city from those who are trying to do what is happening globally. There is a radicalization movement among young people and I am not going to wait for this to be done and suddenly recognize it. his existence.”

PHOTO: Pro-Palestinian supporters clash with police during protests at the City College Of New York (CUNY) as the NYPD cracks down on protest camps at Columbia University and CCNY on April 30, 2024 in New York.

Pro-Palestinian supporters clash with police during protests at the City College of New York (CUNY) as the NYPD cracks down on protest camps at Columbia University and CCNY on April 30, 2024 in New York.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

“These external actors are obviously not students and their presence on campus is a violation of Columbia’s clearly stated policy,” Adams said during a press briefing Tuesday. “It is to serve their own agenda. They are not there to promote peace or unity or allow the peaceful expression of a single voice. But they are there to create discord and division.”

On Tuesday evening, police arrested nearly 300 people at Columbia University and the City College of New York in Harlem, the latter where Adams said officers had bottles and trash cans thrown at them as they entered to make arrests.

The mayor said the protesters who occupied Columbia’s Hamilton Hall were led by people who had no connection to Columbia University. He added that those arrested were at the time still being investigated by police, who were in the process of determining who was a student and who was not.

The arrests at Columbia and CCNY Harlem came hours after Rebecca Weiner, NYPD deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, said officers observed strangers they knew on campus during other protests held in the city over the years.

PHOTO: New York City Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner Edward Caban and Mayor Eric Adams appear during a press conference in New York on May 1, 2024.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams speaks during a press conference with New York City Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner Edward Caban as Adams maintains the demand for Columbia University asking police to evacuate protesters from Columbia University, where a building occupation and protest encampment had taken place. was created to support Palestinians during the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in New York, May 1, 2024.

Mike Segar/Reuters

Without identifying them, Weiner said some of the alleged protesters unaffiliated with Columbia were active in the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests, the 2020 so-called “autonomous zone” protests in Minneapolis, Minnesota, following the killing of George Floyd by the police, and the ongoing protests. Stop the Cop City protests against a police training center in Atlanta.

“These protests have been and are influenced by external actors who are not affiliated with the universities, some of whom have been known to our department and others for many years for their dangerous, disruptive, and criminal activities associated with the protests for years” , Weiner said. during Tuesday’s briefing. “So it’s not about what’s happening overseas, it’s not about the last seven months. It’s about a commitment, at times, to carrying out violent protest activities as an occupation.”

Weiner said officers observed suspected outside agitators on the Columbia campus teaching students, who are leading mostly peaceful pro-Palestinian protests, aggressive tactics that she said were used during the takeover of Hamilton Hall.

Weiner played a two-minute video showing individuals dressed in black smashing the windows of the Hamilton Hall academic building, and others dragging metal barricades into the building to use to block entrances and exits. She said the suspected agitators taught students to use disarrest tactics and encouraged them to destroy property and fortify protest signs to use as shields. Weiner said another tactic protesters used was chaining themselves to block access to Hamilton Hall.

“Cameras have been destroyed and there’s only one reason to destroy a camera. It’s definitely not something you teach in school,” Weiner said.

She added: “We believe these tactics are the result of advice given to students by some of these actors.”

PHOTO: Police watch as pro-Palestinian supporters continue to demonstrate outside an encampment on the campus of Columbia University on April 30, 2024 in New York.

Police watch as pro-Palestinian supporters continue to demonstrate outside an encampment on the campus of Columbia University on April 30, 2024 in New York.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Apparently unaffiliated protesters with Columbia who were removed from Hamilton Hall and arrested face charges of trespassing, destruction of property, vandalism and criminal mischief, according to police officials.

New York Police Commissioner Edward Caban said the more aggressive tactics deployed by protesters “endanger public safety.”

“These once peaceful protests are being exploited by outside professional agitators and the safety of all students, faculty and staff is now a concern,” Caban said during Tuesday’s press briefing.

He said Columbia University is private property and “decisions about what to do on that property belong to the university.”

On Tuesday, Columbia officials asked New York police to come to campus and clear Hamilton Hall of protesters, Adams said Wednesday, adding that university officials acknowledged that “outside agitators were on their field training and really co-opting this movement.”

Other American universities have also claimed that outside agitators infiltrated student protests. At the University of Texas at Austin, officials said 45 of the 79 people arrested Monday on campus had no affiliation with the university.

“These figures confirm our concern that much of the disruption on campus over the past week has been orchestrated by people outside the university, including groups linked to escalating protests at other universities of the country,” University of Texas officials said in a statement. . “To date, weapons from protesters have been confiscated in the form of firearms, buckets filled with large stones, bricks, steel-reinforced wooden planks, mallets and chains.

“Personnel were physically assaulted and threatened, and officers were headbutted and had horse feces thrown at them, while the tires of their police cars were slashed with knives,” the statement also said. “This is calculated, intentional and, we believe, orchestrated and directed by people outside of our university community.”

“We will continue to safeguard the freedom of expression and the right to assembly of everyone on our campus, while protecting our university and our students, who are preparing for their final exams,” the press release concludes.

ABC News

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