Below is our collected testimony to the city council:

To Whom It May Concern:

I write as a Professor of Latin American History and a Jewish faculty member at Barnard College, Columbia University to offer my public comment about the presence of the NYPD on the Columbia campus.

I have taught at Barnard for the last twenty years. The last three weeks have been the most distressing time I have ever witnessed on this campus.

I am a Latin American historian with no personal expertise or experience in the politics of the Middle East. I have not been personally involved in the protests concerning Gaza that have taken place on our campus. However, I spent considerable time observing the two encampments and have a number of students who have participated in them.

I can state unequivocally, as a Jewish campus member, that the student protesters were entirely peaceful and that I never once felt “unsafe” in their presence. In fact, I have consistently found the student protestors with whom I have spoken to be well informed, thoughtful, and eager to engage on the issues.

It was only once President Shafik called in the NYPD to arrest students on April 18 that campus began to feel increasingly tense. We watched as groups of non-affiliates congregated outside campus with a variety of agendas and political positions. We then watched as a parade of right-wing politicians arrived to make inflammatory statements—and a notorious white nationalist appeared in a crowd on campus, followed by still more self-identified Christian nationalist protesters attracted to the melee.

Following the arrests, my students began writing me that they felt unsafe walking onto campus both because of these outside protesters and because of the heavy police presence (many of my students are Latinx). They opted to attended our last class meetings on zoom.

On April 30, hundreds of riot police descended on campus. When the operation began, I was on 125th St and watched as police closed off access south. I listened to the student journalists broadcast the police incursion on the radio.

In the days after, I heard the testimony of several students who had been on campus that night about what they witnessed. Their first-hand accounts were horrifying. They witnessed multiple acts of violence and brutality against peaceful students.

In the days after the second mass arrest, the NYPD continued to occupy campus. Faculty and students were prohibited from entering. The campus had been ceded entirely to the police. In the name of safety, the university had abandoned its educational mission.

Meanwhile, the NYPD turned out propagandistic videos glorifying their incursion onto campus. Needless to say, the videos gave a sanitized version of what happened outside and inside Hamilton Hall. They did not mention the students pushed down steps, the student unconscious on the ground, the student with a broken eye socket, or the accidental discharging of a firearm in the building. A police force that produces propaganda for public consumption reminds me of fascist regimes in history.

Indeed, what I have witnessed on campus in recent weeks has caused me to reflect on the 1970s dirty wars in Argentina, Chile, and Brazil, when military dictatorships sent police and military onto college campuses in the name of safety. This is a history I teach in my classes. I never dreamed I would witness it on my own campus here in New York City in the twenty-first century.

I urge the city to defund and disband the notorious SRG unit of the NYPD. Rather than wasting tens of millions of dollars to send in hundreds and hundreds of riot police to arrest a few dozen peaceful protesters charged with misdemeanors, the city should spend these funds on mental health services, homeless services, affordable housing initiatives, and education—infrastructure that ACTUALLY contributes to a safer and more livable city.

Respectfully submitted,

Nara Milanich

Professor of History
Barnard College

Members of New York City Council,

I am a resident of Manhattan and a staff member at Barnard College who witnessed the NYPD’s Strategic Response Group violently break into Hind Hall at Columbia's Campus on April 30th, 2024.

For the weeks and months prior to April 30th, the Columbia and Barnard administrations had been surrounding our campus and the Morningside neighborhood with police. As a trans, anti-Zionist Jew, I feel no safety around police, the NYPD in particular. In my experience, police have little respect for trans people, especially trans women, and are legally empowered to violate us as they see fit, which they do with relish. For the last several months, I have also witnessed the NYPD persistently target, harass, and brutalize New Yorkers expressing solidarity with Palestine and condemning the genocidal actions of Israel in Gaza. They target people they believe are the smallest and weakest for beatings and petty arrests, kettle protesters, and force marches into dangerous traffic conditions. The only thing I have seen the NYPD do is make conditions more violent and less safe for everyone involved.

This was no different on the night of April 30th, 2024, when the SRG raided Hind Hall. In the hours prior, the NYPD and SRG flooded Morningside by the hundreds, shutting down streets for blocks all around Columbia's campus to public pedestrian traffic. (Meanwhile, when literal white supremacists and fascist Proud Boys marched on Columbia's campus several days prior, the police response was comparatively fractional.)

The blockade was terrifying, manufactured an air of fear, and created danger rather than safety. They ensured no one would be able to get to campus or get close enough to prevent or to witness the violence they would eventually carry out during the raid. Many people that night had gathered peacefully on the sidewalk beside the hall to express our solidarity with the students and with the people of Gaza. At around 9 PM, we were declared unlawfully assembled on the sidewalk and told to disperse or be arrested. The SRG then began arbitrarily snatching people up until the street was cleared. I saw the SRG also send away the EMS teams that were on site at Columbia, parked at 115th beside Hind Hall shortly before this, a decision which can only be understood and anticipatory and punitive, intended to ensure those they were about to injure would have to wait as long as possible for medical attention (especially given the state of blockade). After EMS were dismissed, and the street had been cleared, the SRG began to breach the hall through the doors inside campus and the windows outside.

It was disgusting and horrifying to watch a military force enter a building full of young people - who the SRG well knew would offer no physical resistance and had no weapons - and shoot stun grenades and deliver beatings that sent 3 students to the hospital. A friend, who was arrested outside campus during the dispersal, shared a cell with one of students who was inside the hall and reported their face was completely swollen from being kicked in by the SRG. Is this what our tax dollars pay for: for the SRG to violate us, to endanger us, to deter people from democratic political engagement because they will get beat, shot at, permanently injured?

The proposed $150 million dollar increase to the budget of the SRG is shameless and wasteful, when we have people living houseless on the street, when we have children sick and starving in our own city, when the mayor continually defunds the school system, when healthcare access is better than most states and still abysmal. SRG must be defunded and disbanded. It has no function except to brutalize New Yorkers. Further, investment in the NYPD - which is not a police department but effectively an army - must be rolled back so we can invest in actual community infrastructure. Y'all can pay people to ruin our lives or you can spend money so we can build better lives. It's, in fact, not that complicated.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Dear Members of the New York City Council,

I am writing as a faculty member at Columbia University to testify to the effect the presence of NYPD on and around the Columbia campus has had on me and on our community.

On April 18, I had just finished teaching and came outside to eat my lunch on a bench on Columbia’s main quad. I was shocked to see a large number of NYPD officers wearing what looked like military helmets lined up on the lawn where students had set up a group of small tents in protest of the bombing of Gaza. I had never before seen a large NYPD presence on the Columbia campus, and it was a terrifying sight. The students had all come out of their tents and were sitting in a circle on the grass with their arms linked. They weren’t doing anything scary or dangerous, just sitting there looking at the police surrounding them. And then police officers marched up to them and began lifting, carrying, and dragging one student after the other out of the circle and putting zip ties on them. It was a terrifying, traumatic sight. The protest they had been carrying out was completely peaceful, and it was held in the zone officially designated by the University for political protests. As a Jewish member of the Columbia community, I did not see anything dangerous or anti-Semitic about their protest. I even attended a Shabbat ceremony organized by some of the many Jewish students who were part of the protest.

The trauma of April 18 was nothing compared to what followed on April 30, when NYPD’s Strategic Response Group returned to our campus for the terrifying, violent arrests of many of our students. This time, too, the protest was peaceful and nonviolent – even though students were breaking multiple University rules by occupying a classroom building. They did break one square of windowpane to enter the building after hours, but that does not justify the assault on them by many hundreds of SRG in riot gear. Students who were there that night tell stories of terrifying violence. Tear gas and flash bang grenades were used, as well as a huge ladder truck that knocked down a bus stop kiosk; also a gun was fired inside the building. At least three of our students were thrown downstairs, many reported being kicked in the face or having their heads slammed against the pavement, and at least six suffered concussions. At least two were knocked unconscious. I heard that one also suffered an orbital fracture (broken eye socket). Police trained to deal with violent, dangerous criminals unleashed all this deadly force on a group of nonviolent young people. But NYPD should not have been on our campus in the first place. Hamilton Hall is a building that has been traditionally and repeatedly “occupied” by students during political protests, and in the past, these occupations usually ended via negotiations between the students and University administration. The violent, unnecessary clearing of the occupation by SRG has completely traumatized the entire University community.

Now it makes me flinch every time I see the large number of police stationed on and around our campus. Based on the violence SRG inflicted on our students, I don’t believe SRG has any place in a normal urban setting. They used a level of force appropriate to a war zone in a peaceful civilian setting. I can’t think of any moment in NYC history when such a level of force would have been necessary. Why do we need SRG at all? If the City Council funds all their military-grade weapons, they will have to find ways to use them to justify the expense, but to me these weapons are not needed in our city, and the expense of maintaining them is not justified. I would like to see SRG defunded and disbanded, and NYPD removed from all our university campuses in the absence of true emergencies. Most of the money currently being spent on police should instead be spent on things our communities truly need: libraries, schools, social services, care for the mentally ill, affordable housing, and community-based organizations that actually keep New Yorkers safe.

- Susan Bernofsky

Hello City Council,

I am a Jewish master's student at Columbia University. Contrary to what many in the media are saying, the protests on behalf of Palestinian liberation and an end to the violence in Gaza do not make us unsafe. I have been an active participant in the protest movement for months, do not try to hide the fact that I'm Jewish, and I am met with an outpouring of love and support from my fellow protestors, especially when they hear that I'm Jewish. Even students who show up to counterprotest are generally ignored by the protestors, despite them trying to provoke and engage us.

I am passionate about this identity because for too long, the state of Israel has been using Judaism as a cover for their horrific actions. When people justifiably protest in outrage against the brutal state sponsored violence being committed by Israel, the state and it's allied in the U.S. levy the term "antisemitic" against the protesters to try to discredit their message. I feel like it is my duty as a Jewish person, who stands against violence and oppression, to stand up to the state of Israel, especially because it is claiming to commit it's horrific acts in the name of my religion. Many of my fellow Jewish students feel the same way, and Jewish people around the world have shown up by the thousands to protest in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

We have not done so without risk. My fellow Jewish protesters and I have been threatened, harassed, doxxed, suspended, and arrested all for speaking out against atrocities committed in our name. The irony of arresting Jewish students in the name of "keeping Jewish students safe" is astounding.

Many of my fellow students witnessed firsthand the violence committed by the Strategic Response Group against Columbia University Students. When calling in the team, Columbia did not let in press or legal observers, suggesting that they knew that the police would be violent. It is only because of the bravery of students filming from the dorms and students who were involved stepping up to tell their story that we know the extent of the violence committed by the SRG:

  • At least three students have concussions after NYPD officers stomped and kicked them in their face. One person has an orbital bone fracture from being kicked
  • A student was thrown down the stairs
  • A student was knocked unconscious
  • A student received a severe leg injury and requires stitches
  • Another student received torso lacerations and requires stitches.

The list goes on.

As a Columbia student, as a Jewish student, and as a Morningside Heights resident, the actions of the NYPD and the SRG do not make me feel more safe. They have arrested and harassed too many Jewish protestors for anyone to even pretend that this is in the interest of Jewish safety. The City of New York can not in good conscience give more money to a police force that unleashes violence on peaceful protesters, especially when our libraries have to cut back hours due to lack of funding.

I demand that you disband and defund the SRG, instruct NYPD to stay off of college campuses where they endanger students, and transfer money away from the violence of the NYPD and towards libraries, schools, and social services, all of which actually keep New Yorkers safe.

Thank you for listening to me. Do better.

- Jared Kannel

Thank you Chairs Brannan and Salaam, Speaker Adams, and council members for the opportunity to testify. My name is Nikolai Mishler and I am a Jewish New Yorker testifying as a member of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and Communities United for Police Reform.

My recent encounter with the Strategic Response Group (SRG) reaffirmed to me that our taxpayer dollars should not be funding this unit, and that for the safety of all New Yorkers, it must be disbanded. Last week, I went to the City College Campus to support the encampment of student protestors. In exercising their First Amendment Rights, I was blown away by the students’ (including many Jewish) remarkable commitment to creating a space filled with emotional care, support, cultural understanding, and their deep rooted commitment to peace and justice for all.

I returned to the campus the evening the NYPD swept the peaceful encampment as if it were a warzone. Earlier today, the NYPD testified that they swept Columbia’s encampment “precisely” and “as safely as possible.” What I witnessed at City College was that the NYPD were the ones making students and the community at large, unsafe. When I got there, the energetic but peaceful and stationary crowd, outside of the campus, had already been barricaded by the NYPD. After randomly grabbing a few people and arresting them out of nowhere, SRG started to kettle the group on my side of the sidewalk, which quickly escalated into a full-on charge. Some were able to escape the NYPD’s attack, but about 50 SRG officers wearing helmets and batons entrapped and started to violently push the crowd backwards.

The police were yelling “you have to move back,” and people in the crowd were responding, “we’re trying! Let us move back.” They proceeded to push and rush us, making it impossible to move. I saw them grab a frail old woman—someone said she’s 76 years old—and they essentially trampled her. We helped her out of the way; the SRG officers did not help her. Her shoe fell off, so she was stumbling without her shoe. I looked one of the officers in the face and said, “she’s missing a shoe,” and he completely ignored me. I asked the old woman if she was ok, and she said, “no.” It was terrifyingly apparent that the NYPD SRG officers were not there for our safety.

There was a young person in front of me, sobbing, saying, “you’re supposed to be protecting us. Why are you here, why are you doing this?” We were all learning in real time that, to SRG officers, we weren’t human, or citizens to protect, but “things” that needed to be gotten rid of.

Shortly after, a legal observer in the crowd next to me—very clearly identified as such—was shoved by a cop backwards into a chair in a restaurant’s outdoor seating enclosure. He fell to the ground, and the SRG trampled over him. When I stayed back from the crowd to help him, a cop yelled “MOVE!” and painfully yanked me away from him which made me stumble to the ground. Who are the SRG helping when they behave this way?

If SRG is not making us safer, and in fact, actively endangering us, then what are we paying them for? My own, frankly traumatic, account of coming into contact with SRG is just one of many of New Yorker’s terrifying experiences with the unit. We must disband the SRG and we must invest the SRG budget in vital services that actually keep New Yorkers safe: like affordable housing, mental healthcare and public education.

- Nikolai Mishler (Video below)

Chairs Brannan and Salaam, Speaker Adams, and council members.

My name is Leo Ferguson, and I am the Director of Strategic Projects at Jews For Racial & Economic Justice. And a member of Communities United for Police Reform.

I’m here to talk about an out of control and dangerous NYPD that the city continues to pour precious resources into at the same time as we contemplate cutting education, libraries and we chronically under-fund social services.

Just look at the past few months.

We saw the body cam video of Win Rozario’s murder — a sickening, tragic scene. NYPD officers entered a situation in which everyone was safe, immediately escalated the situation, ignored the desperate pleas of Win’s family and then, with ample opportunity to retreat or deescalate, they shot and killed him in front of his family. Anyone who looks at that video would conclude that Win would be alive today if the NYPD had not responded. The NYPD did not make Win safer — they made him less safe.

Earlier today a Councilmember — CM Joseph I believe — asked, “what have we learned” about situations like this one? Well in April we heard that after the NYPD stonewalled and obstructed the CCRB investigation into the murder of Kawaski Trawick, it was refusing to impose even the most basic discipline on the officers who killed him. And then they lied and attempted to shift blame about their own institutional cowardice. The NYPD is clearly not interested in “learning” anything.

At Columbia and on other campuses throughout the city, the NYPD Strategic Response Group has gone on a local college tour, imposing their violence on non-violent protesters and leaving chaos in their wake. Who is this for? This administration can’t claim to care about Jews and antisemitism when they unceremoniously fire Hassan Naveed, the highly respected director of the Office for Hate Crime Prevention in the middle of this crisis. The notion that this was somehow to protect us is ludicrous when so many of the students endangered by the SRG were Jewish. It was the students who set up first aid stations and organized food and water for their peers; it was the NYPD that slammed them to the ground and knocked students down stairs; it was the NYPD who entered with guns drawn and left a bullet hole in the wall of Hind (Hamilton) Hall. The fact that no one was killed by that NYPD SRG officer should offer no consolation at all — a child could just as easily be dead today and it is sheer luck that we dodged that particular bullet.

Since then we’ve watched the NYPD — enabled by Mayor Adams — go wild on social media, making incredibly irresponsible, partisan, and frankly bizarre and paranoid posts that make it impossible to conclude that the NYPD is an apolitical institution that even pretends to serve all New Yorkers equally.

Normally I would end with a demand but I want to end with questions instead:

Whose safety is improved when the NYPD systematically ignores CCRB recommendations and refuses to hold its own officers accountable for murder?

On whose behalf did the NYPD kill Win Rozario? It wasn’t his family who were begging them to not shoot. It wasn’t the officers, who were free to retreat unmolested. Who was that for, and why are we funding it?

Whose safety is improved by the estimated $200,000 it cost the NYPD to assault Columbia University or the $53 million it has spent harassing and endangering students and other protesters since 10/7?

Whose safety is improved by the $2.2 billion dollars the city has thrown away in NYPD misconduct payouts over the past decade, including the $32.7 million spent paying for officer misconduct and incompetence the last time the SRG was let loose on protesters in 2020?

How can these be better investments for our public dollars than investing in mental health care, supportive housing, fully funding our agencies and educating our children?

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

- Leo Ferguson (Video below)

Dear Chairs Brannan and Salaam, Speaker Adams and Council Members,

I am a professor at Barnard College and Columbia University and a member of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. I am testifying to ask you to withdraw police from Columbia’s neighborhoods and to defund the SRG.

As a Jewish person, I am passionate about combating antisemitism and all forms of hate, and I feel for the Jewish community members who are feeling unsafe as Jews in these challenging times. But we must treat antisemitic speech with education and existing anti discrimination procedures, not arrests. More police are not making Jewish students or faculty any safer. In fact, they are making us less safe. This is especially true for black and brown community members.

We have been dismayed for over six months by the increased police presence on and around our campus. As you know, recently, things got much worse when police came to end a brief student occupation of a campus building.

It is hard to describe the horrors of that night. Hundreds, possibly a thousand, police suddenly descended and took over our streets. Many marched in riot gear into the campus gates while the Strategic Response Group’s massive ladder truck fed others into Hamilton Hall.

The police and university ensured that few witnesses were inside by locking almost everyone either out of campus or in buildings, including the press, legal observers and medics. We have since learned that police pushed students down the steps. At least one was knocked unconscious by the fall and lay there with no first aid. Students were handcuffed, thrown to the ground, and then kicked in the face. And they heard an officer discharge a gun in the building.

Since then, the NYPD has dramatically increased its presence. New clusters of officers are stationed on and off campus on a 24-hour basis. Police have kept some public streets blockaded and stay at every corner keeping even pedestrians out.

Mayor Adams has fueled this police fervor with his public lies about “outside agitators.” He portrays students’ civil disobedience as violent terrorist acts to justify all of this.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In Washington DC and in Philadelphia, police forces refused to arrest students because, they observed, the students were demonstrating peacefully. Our students have been peacefully demonstrating too.

On behalf of Jewish and non-Jewish members of the Columbia, Morningside and Harlem communities, I ask that you

  1. Defund and disband the strategic response group.

  2. Intervene to halt the militarization of our campus and our city by removing the police that have flooded the neighborhood.

  3. Prohibit police from returning unless there is a credible threat of violence.

  4. Demand accountability for the police violence that has already occurred in campus neighborhoods across the city

  5. Challenge the mayor’s false statements and the NYPDs misleading statistics about who was arrested where.

  6. Provide the public with information needed to evaluate all of these activities, including their cost to taxpayers.

I feel much less safe in our neighborhood than I did before. From my experience at the center of this as a Jewish person, I can tell you that the alleged threats to some Jewish people’s safety have been dramatically misrepresented and exploited to justify a massive police mobilization. It is that police mobilization that has resulted in actual violence and threatens the safety of us all.

- Debbie Becher

Dear Chairs Brannan and Salaam, Speaker Adams and Council Members,

I am a professor at Columbia University and a signatory of the letter from Jewish faculty in support of academic freedom, sent to Columbia President Nemat Shafik and other members of the Columbia and Barnard administrations in advance of President Shafik's Congressional hearing. I am writing to protest the decision to send the NYPD, and specifically the Strategic Response Group, into the Columbia neighborhood as a response to student protests on the Columbia campus, and the continuing misrepresentation by Mayor Adams and the media of the peaceful nature of the encampment.

This weekend I am planning to make a pilgrimage to Mt. Lebanon Jewish Cemetery in Queens to visit the grave of my grandfather, who died when I was only one year old. As a Jewish person, I have a deep, personal, and occasionally painful familiarity with antisemitism, going back to my childhood in Philadelphia in the 1960s, and I can testify that what I saw at the encampment at Columbia was not antisemitism. On the contrary, the encampment, many of whose organizers were Jewish students, went out of its way to provide a welcoming space for Jewish as well as Muslim practices, including a table of food that was kosher for Passover and regular Passover seders. The encampment was established in response to the ongoing Israeli war in Gaza; Chief of Patrol John Chell himself stated that the protestors "were saying what they wanted to say in a peaceful manner."

The repeated claims by Mayor Adams about "outside agitators" are particularly absurd. Apparently these are primarily based on the brief presence in the encampment of retired schoolteacher Nahla al-Arian. I have read that she spent all of one hour in the encampment, and if that is true, then roughly 1/3 of her time was spent conversing with me, about our impressions of the encampment and about the imprisonment of her husband who, contrary to what has been claimed in the press, was never found guilty of terrorism or any other crime. I am calling on the City Council to demand that the Mayor cease these inflammatory accusations and issue a correction.

I was walking on the east side of Amsterdam Avenue on the evening of April 30, near the entrance to the Columbia campus at 116th St., when I was shocked to see a column of several hundred police marching in my direction, preceded by a loudspeaker announcing that everyone in the vicinity — every pedestrian, in other words — was interfering with pedestrian traffic and was therefore subject to immediate arrest. Officers on the scene herded all passers-by behind barriers along the avenue. It was from behind the barrier on 114th St. that I witnessed the SRG's massively disproportionate, and undoubtedly massively expensive, response to the occupation of Hamilton Hall and the encampment.

The only documented incidents of violence in connection with recent events at Columbia are those connected with the SRG's intervention in our neighborhood. Over the years I have witnessed incidents of police violence in a number of countries, including France, Israel, India, and the former Soviet Union. These incidents were not intended to protect anyone's safety but rather to intimidate protestors as well as random bystanders. The SRG's intervention at Columbia, and the continuing aggressive police presence in my neighborhood, are of exactly the same nature. The have done nothing to enhance safety in my neighborhood.

At a time when budgets for schools, libraries, social services, and affordable housing are facing severe cuts, and when police misconduct settlements have already cost the city $540 million over the past six years — and will inevitably cost more in the wake of the documented abuses of the last few weeks —the proposal to increase the SRG's budget is nothing short of scandalous.

- Anonymous

Dear Chairs Brannan and Salaam, Speaker Adams and Council Members,

I am a Professor of Journalism at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, a native New Yorker and a resident of Morningside Heights for the last 20 years.

I am writing to you to ask you to immediately withdraw the NYPD from Columbia’s neighborhoods and to defund the SRG.

As a Jewish person, I am concerned about the rise of antisemitism and all forms of hate speech. As a documentary photographer and a journalist who has researched hate groups, and has photographed many protests in NYC over the past three decades, I have come to the conclusion that the police force, and especially the SRG unit, operate with bias, undue aggression and a growing hostility towards journalists.

That these officers are now stationed across my campus and in my neighborhood in the name of defending against antisemitism is an insult to me and to my community.

I have watched our neighborhood transformed into a militarized base with helicopters, drones, multiple deployments, prison vans, and barricades. One night I required 3 different officers to escort me across an intersection because .....? No answer. No answer is ever given.

We need a full and transparent report on what the NYPD has been doing in and around Columbia’s campus since April 17. What information have they collected? What technologies have been used against our community? What is the relationship between the NYPD and the state of Israel? Why are New York City officers trained in Israel?

These are important questions which go beyond the particular incidents in Morningside Heights.

For years, New Yorkers have been seeking more police accountability. Yet we get the opposite. On the night the NYPD and the SRG unit raided Hamilton Hall they removed both credentialed and student press from the area. Why are press prevented from their vital role of being witnesses and watchdogs? Instead, we have an increasingly aggressive, unhinged propaganda arm of the NYPD producing their own video footage while denying the press their first amendment rights.

We are now weeks past the Hamilton Hall raid. Yet the NYPD are still here. What are they doing? How much are they costing us? I see them laughing and playing on their phones, or slouching and bored, taking up space while just a block away a NYPL branch is threatened with closure for lack of funds. When there are so many New Yorkers in need, it is an insult to us all that our taxpayer dollars are being used to fund the NYPD, whose many members do not even live in New York City! On behalf of Jewish and non-Jewish members of the Columbia, Morningside and Harlem communities, I ask that you

1. Defund and disband the strategic response group.

2. Intervene to halt the militarization of our campus and our city by removing the police.

3. Prohibit police from returning unless there is a credible threat of violence and be transparent as to what that threat actually is.

4. Demand accountability for the police violence that has already occurred in campus neighborhoods across the city

5. Challenge the mayor’s false statements and the NYPDs misleading statistics about who was arrested where.

6. Provide the public with information needed to evaluate all of these activities, including their cost to taxpayers.

Sincerely, Nina Berman

Dear Members of the City Council,

I am a professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, where I have been teaching since 2003. I am writing to attest to my experience of the events on our campus this past year, and particularly to voice my opposition to the decision to call in the NYPD.

1. The campus protests were peaceful. At no point did the protests disrupt my teaching, even when they were loud -- and they were rarely loud enough for me to identify whether those making noise were protesting for Israel, for Palestinians, or both at the same time. Columbia is at all times a noisy, busy urban campus. It is also an old campus, and we are used to teaching in classrooms with bad acoustics, doors that slam shut, and cracked windows repaired with duct tape. Those of us who teach and study at Columbia have gotten used to all kinds of noise, from the street and from within our buildings, providing a steady background to our classes.

Some people did not like what some of the protestors were saying. It’s likely that people on all sides of this debate at one point heard something that offended them. It is in the nature of protestors to say extreme things at loud volume. Words are not actions. If we are going to arrest everyone who says something that makes a number of people uncomfortable, there will be no one left on our campuses, streets, and subways.

I am Jewish, proudly so, and according to plenty of casually anti-Semitic people I’ve encountered in my life, visibly so. At no point this year have I felt at risk on campus or in the environs, except insofar as police presence made it dangerous to be anyone walking anywhere. I’ve read several accounts in the Columbia Spectator of people being arrested by the NYPD simply for being near a protest while en route to and from campus.

2. At no point did any of the protests taking place on campus, including the encampment on the lawn, disrupt my teaching. Columbia is a bustling, raucous, urban campus. The lawn where the protestors set up camp is traditionally a space where students gather to hang out, play frisbee, listen to music, and have loud conversations. The protestor encampment posed less risk to passersby than the frisbee players, who have never been asked to leave the lawns and go instead to nearby Riverside or Morningside Parks.

3. Calling the NYPD to campus is what disrupted teaching and learning on campus. On April 18th, my students, none of whom had discussed the protests with me before this, described themselves as feeling traumatized by seeing fellow students arrested while protesting peacefully. The weekend after President Shafik called the NYPD was the first time that demonstrations on campus felt out of control, a predictable response to the administration’s unnecessary escalation and suppression of student voices. And even then, protestors did not commit violence against persons.

4. Calling the NYPD to campus endangered students, faculty, staff, and community members living in the neighborhood. The decision to give members of the Columbia community 40 minutes to “shelter in place” before the NYPD stormed campus on April 30th put all students in

grave risk. (I believe that Barnard students, who have full access to the Columbia campus, had even less notice, because they got the emergency warning later than Columbia students did.) Many students were unable to reach their dorms before the NYPD entered campus and armed officers began telling terrified students to “get out of here.” Those students had nowhere to go. The space they were being told to leave is their home.

The police officers especially endangered the students they were arresting, who had not harmed any persons nor threatened to do so. One officer accidentally fired a gun in Hamilton Hall. I have seen credible footage of a police officer throwing someone down the stone steps of Hamilton Hall. A student reporter whom I spoke with personally, and whom I consider highly credible, attended the May 1st arraignments of those arrested on April 30th. This student reported seeing several of those in court visibly bruised and bandaged. On a more minor but not irrelevant note, though the NYPD was allegedly brought in to protect Hamilton Hall, officers threw furniture around with the same lack of care that the students they arrested had shown.

5. Calling the NYPD to campus is an unconscionable criminalization of free speech and political protests. We teach our students to think critically and independently and to prepare themselves to become fully informed democratic citizens. It is within their purview to hold the university accountable for its potential financial support of a government’s decision to displace millions of civilians and kill tens of thousands of innocent civilians.

Encampments and occupation of school buildings are customary, time-honored means of protest. I do not approve of the students’ decision to break windows in Hamilton Hall, and those who did that should be held accountable. But vandalizing property would not typically lead Columbia’s administration to call the police. Students damage campus property all the time, and the university doesn’t even suspend most of them, let alone have them arrested. Last semester, I taught in a classroom with a broken window patched together with duct tape. I reported the problem numerous times, and never even got an answer. On the last day of class, the duct tape was still on the window.

I find it hard to credit that the administration is so concerned about broken windows that it had to call in hundreds of police officers to remove protestors from Hamilton Hall. Those protestors were removed for their beliefs and speech, not their actions.

Sharon Marcus
Professor of English and Comparative Literature
Columbia University