NYPD blames faculty, ‘professional agitators’ in NYU Gaza protest arrests

NEW YORK — NYPD brass Tuesday blamed faculty and “professional agitators” at New York University for heated standoffs with police, after university officials sent cops to clear a pro-Palestinian encampment and arrest 120 protesters for trespassing, including students and staff.

The unrest at NYU over the war between Israel and Hamas was latest in a string of mass arrests at colleges in the tri-state area that started last week at Columbia University and spread to Yale University in New Haven.

“The faculty were — from what I personally observed, and spoke to lieutenants and captains out there — the most aggressive towards the police,” NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Operations Kaz Daughtry said on Fox 5’s Good Morning America.

“They would not move, they would not let go.”

About 50 students protesting the war set up a tent demonstration early Monday morning on NYU’s Gould Plaza on W. Fourth St., outside the business school. An NYU spokesman said the school asked the NYPD to step in later in the day after the crowd became disorderly amid intimidating chants and anti-Semitic incidents.

As cops took down tents, some demonstrators were seen throwing objects at the officers. Police used pepper spray, as some protesters attempted to block buses taking away those arrested.

The NYU campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine said in a statement Tuesday they were “met with violent arrests.” At least two reporters say they were pepper sprayed, including from the NYU student newspaper and local outlet HellGate, the student group and outlet reported.

Cops defended their response. As cops they moved in to clear the encampment, up to 15 faculty members tied their hands together to form a chain around the demonstrators, NYPD said Tuesday.

Daughtry said the faculty were “physical with our officers as well” and it took “quite some time” to remove faculty, before they could address the student protesters.

“I think parents have an expectation that when they send their kids to college the faculty and their professors will be teaching and not protesting,” said Tarik Sheppard, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information. “It was shocking to see the faculty out there.”

The two NYPD officials said that there were “professional agitators” in the crowd and speculated that someone was financing the protests, since tents at the various campus protests have looked the same. Many of the demonstrations have been organized by the group Students for Justice in Palestine, which has chapters throughout the country.

“Somebody is behind this and we are going to find out who it is,” Daughtry said.

NYPD said they cleared out the encampment at the request of university officials.

“At this point we consider all protesters occupying Gould Plaza to be trespassers,” read a Monday memo from the university to the NYPD, “and we would like the NYPD to clear the area and to take action to remove the protestors. In the event they refuse to leave, we request the NYPD take enforcement action accordingly up to and including arrest.”

Like the Columbia demonstration, NYU students called on the university to divest from Israel and reverse all student and faculty disciplinary measures related to pro-Palestinian activism. Their demands include an end the institution’s partnership with Tel Aviv University and the shutdown of its Tel Aviv campus.

NYU banned closed access to the plaza and put barriers in place to contain the protest. But their efforts were unsuccessful. Spokesman John Beckman said more demonstrators later broke through the barricade, including many that NYU believes are not affiliated with the university.

“This development dramatically changed the situation,” Beckman said in a statement. “We witnessed disorderly, disruptive, and antagonizing behavior that has interfered with the safety and security of our community, and that demonstrated how quickly a demonstration can get out of control or people can get hurt.”

“We also learned that there were intimidating chants and several antisemitic incidents reported,” he said.

The NYU campus chapter of the American Association of University Professors rebuked the characterization.

“At no point were non-NYU people knowingly allowed to join the Plaza encampment, and at no time was anyone on the Plaza either violent or antisemitic in speech or behavior. There was NO incitement at all,” they said in an open letter.

The university informed protesters that if they left by the late afternoon, no arrests would be made. Around 8:35 p.m., dozens of police officers in riot gear went on campus and started detaining students and faculty.

Workers on Tuesday started bordering Gould Plaza with wooden planks, as the NYU campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine called on their classmates to walk out of school at 1 p.m. and gather in Washington Square Park.

After clearing out the area, the NYPD kept cops there to prevent the protesters from returning, after hundreds of students at Columbia were able to take over the lawns again after last week’s sweep.

Yale University on Monday called on the cops to clear a tent demonstration there, arresting 47 students in the process. A half mile away from NYU, about a dozen students at The New School erected a green-white-and-blue encampment over the weekend that as of Tuesday morning was not yet cleared.

“Despite threats of suspension,” The New School chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine wrote on Instagram, “we are still going strong.”