NYPD Claims Bike Locks Evidence of ‘Professional’ Protesters at Columbia

Some startling rumors emerged shortly after New York Police Department officers — clad in what looked like every piece of riot gear available to the department — stormed Columbia University to forcibly remove and arrest student protesters occupying a campus building.

These weren’t students; these were professional agitators. These skilled infiltrators had used industrial chains to barricade the doors of Hamilton Hall. Even worse, one of the protesters was the wife of a known terror suspect.

The claims were at best misleading and at worst outright false — but that didn’t stop law enforcement, national lawmakers, state officials, members of the press, and online influencers from spreading the accusations far and wide in an attempt to justify the NYPD’s disproportionately aggressive action against Columbia students at the direction of university administrators.

On Wednesday morning, NYPD Deputy Commissioner Tarik Sheppard appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to discuss the previous night’s arrests. Sheppard brought a heavy chain as a prop for the interview. “This is not what students bring to school he said,” he said, telling the hosts that the chain was an example of what had been used to secure the doors of Hamilton Hall. “This is what professionals bring to campuses and universities. These are heavy, industrial chains that were locked with bike locks.”

On Wednesday, NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban held up a similar chain during a press conference discussing the arrests.

But the chains were not dissimilar to bike locks — ones sold by the Columbia University Department of Public Safety at a discount to students. Morning Joe’s X post highlighting the segment was flagged with a “community note,” but had not been removed by the network at the time of publication.

On Wednesday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams suggested that “outside agitators were on their grounds training, and really coopting this movement,” but provided no evidence to back up the claim. “There are people that we have been watching — and organizations — that are not part of the campus,” he said during a press conference. “We know that there are outside individuals who have been influencing this issue.”

The suggestion that the protests are the product of outsiders also circulated online on Tuesday night. “It will be interesting to learn how many of those arrested in Hamilton Hall at Columbia are actually students,” David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, wrote on X.

CNN also repeatedly aired suggestions that a significant portion of the protesters at Columbia were “outside agitators” despite the school having restricted access to the campus to individuals holding Columbia-issued IDs for more than a week.

The NYPD has so far refused to confirm if they arrested any so-called “outside agitators” when clearing Hamilton Hall.

Claims also spread Tuesday night that the wife of a convicted terrorist had been spotted alongside protesters at Columbia’s campus. The unverified report went viral in a tweet from a CBS New York reporter, who cited unnamed sources. The NYPD later confirmed that the woman was not at the protest site Tuesday night, and that law enforcement had no evidence of criminal wrongdoing on her part.

On Wednesday, Columbia University President Nemat Minouche Shafik issued a statement lamenting that “it’s going to take time to heal” following the events of the past month. “I hope that we can use the weeks ahead to restore calm, allow students to complete their academic work, and honor their achievements at commencement.” Shafik has requested that the NYPD remain on campus through mid-May after graduation ceremonies have concluded and students leave campus.

But much of the school’s student body and faculty remain enraged, and they hold Shafik responsible for the escalation of violence against protesters. “Columbia has become a national spectacle. Instead of defending your students’ right to free expression or engaging publicly with activist organizations, you and other administrators are scrambling to save face,” wrote the editorial board of The Columbia Spectator, the university’s student newspaper of record. “President Shafik, this is your legacy: a president more focused on the brand of your University than the safety of your students and their demands for justice.”

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