What Could Be More Radicalizing Than An NYPD-Columbia Education?

Cop-Mayor Eric Adams ordered the NYPD to arrest student protesters in the name of stopping their "radicalization." The lesson he taught will last lifetimes

What Could Be More Radicalizing Than An NYPD-Columbia Education?
Protesters outside Butler Library at Columbia University.

Cop-Mayor Eric Adams ordered the NYPD to arrest student protesters in the name of stopping their "radicalization." The lesson he taught will last lifetimes

Edited by Spencer Ackerman

ERIC ADAMS, THE EX-NYPD MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY—who, in keeping with the grand traditions of his old job, probably doesn’t even live in New York—cares deeply about our children. We know this because he told us so. "These are our children," he told Katty Kay on MSNBC, "and we can’t allow them to be radicalized like children are being radicalized across the globe."

It is important to Eric Adams that children learn the right lesson at the right time. And so, on the campus of Columbia University, where the Pulitzer Prizes will be awarded today, he deployed platoons of his former colleagues to administer the kind of education New York City’s ruling class prefers.

Police last week barricaded streets for blocks to keep out the press so that their officers would be less likely to be seen throwing protestors down the stairs of Low Library, kicking their faces, and dragging them off in zip ties. They pushed through the barricades students erected to occupy Hamilton Hall. They broke down the door to the empty office of Andrew Delbanco, author of "College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be." They smashed a bus stop with a laddered tactical vehicle that they used to rush forty officers in riot helmets single-file through a window on the second floor of the building. Since there was no way to get the protesters and cops back out of the window, another team, one that had broken in through the front door, threw stun grenades into the room where their colleagues were waiting with a bunch of protesters. The protesters sat on the ground with their arms linked. I count at least 100 distinct uniformed cops in these two Getty photos. Students for Justice in Palestine posted a remarkable video of one cop texting somebody named Sal that they “thought we fucking shot someone." As it turned out, one cop discharged his firearm while he was using it as a flashlight, something the NYPD neglected to mention until The City reported it.

Another cop threatened to arrest the dean of the Journalism School, Jelani Cobb. Cobb, who possesses an integrity rare in this business, kept Pulitzer Hall open to the Columbia Spectator reporters so they could heroically cover the police-inflicted chaos all night on the campus radio station. Nobody arrested him.

After more than a hundred arrests at Columbia—the Spectator reported that there were not more than fifty protesters in the hall—and around two hundred more at City College down the street, the NYPD pulled down the Palestinian flag, threw it on the ground, and raised the U.S. flag instead. "The great NYPD gives us an Iwo Jima for the 21st century!" wrote Atlantic staff writer Caitlan Flanagan. (History has passed swiftly on Flanagan’s social media feeds. The previous evening she referred to a single broken window in Hamilton as “Kristallnacht.”) On Friday, they moved on protesters at NYU and the New School.

After the raids on Columbia and CCNY, the department retreated to 1 Police Plaza and spent the next several days living down to its reputation for lying sloppily. Flanagan’s sacred window was evidence of violence—and by that, to be clear, she did not mean the second-story window the cops pointlessly broke. In-house NYPD flack Tarik Sheppard said a heavy bike chain found at the Columbia encampment showed the presence of "outside agitators," a favorite theme of Adams’ and, before him, George Wallace’s. When The City reporter Katie Honan personally showed Sheppard that Columbia itself sells that kind of bike chain, the deputy commissioner for public information continued to lie that it was an "industrial chain" rather than concede that the jig was up. 

Another deputy commissioner, Kaz Daughtry, appeared on far-right network Newsmax to display a "book on terrorism" he claimed police had recovered from Hamilton Hall. The book was Oxford University Press' Terrorism: A Very Short Introduction by British historian Charles Townshend,  not any sort of how-to guide. Why the protesters possessed a comically oversized prop copy of the book suitable only for TV broadcast remains shrouded in mystery. Police clearly told sympathetic media that, as the right-wing Daily Wire shrieked the morning after the raids, "WIFE OF CONVICTED TERRORIST SPOTTED AMONG ANTI-ISRAEL COLUMBIA PROTESTERS."

[SPENCER INTERJECTING HERE: That was the War on Terror in full effect. The woman they were talking about was Nahla al-Najjar, wife of FOREVER WARS friend Sami al-Arian, an unapologetically Palestinian academic whom the Bush administration persecuted in a bullshit prosecution, who pleaded a guilty to a lesser charge thanks to the atmosphere of hysteria, and who was eventually deported. Ms. al-Najjar's daughter, the reporter and filmmaker Lama al-Arian, posted that Ms. al-Najjar "visited the encampment for 20 minutes"—i.e., she was not occupying Hamilton Hall—"and ate some hummus." Neither she nor her husband are violent people, let alone people convicted of an act of violence. Fox 5, our local Fox station, had to clarify that "officials said there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing on the part of" Ms. al-Najjar—whom they simply called "the woman"—even as they pimped the NYPD smear. The police and their media sycophants proved nothing except the cynicism at the heart of the words "convicted terrorist." OK, back to Sam.]

Adams clung to his outside-agitators justification. “[O]ver 40% of those who participated in Columbia and CUNY were not from the school,” he told Honan, which has the unusual advantage of being at least narrowly true—the department arrested many, many more people than were barricaded in Hamilton. One of the non-students arrested was Gregory Pflugfelder, a professor of history at Columbia who had committed the crime of standing outside his apartment. At one point deputy mayor Fabian Levy tried to shift blame to Lisa Fithian, a local progressive woman the police hate, but Fithian was not at the protests on Tuesday. Other conservative politicians said the quiet part out loud. “The sad reality is that our schools are producing monsters, and it’s now our job to slay them. Simple as that. And the schools and faculty who sit at the top of this chaos must be razed along with them,” wrote Councilwoman Vickie Paladino, who represents an especially expensive area of Queens. The NYPD’s outspoken Chief of Patrol, John Chell, promised retaliation. “Good evening, from NYC to Chicago and I’m sure for a few other cities, Who is funding this?  What is happening? There is an unknown entity who is radicalizing our vulnerable students. Taking advantage of their young minds. As parents and Americans we must demand some answers! I can’t speak for the rest of America, but in NYC we won’t rest until we find out! We will broadcast what we see and find. We will use the might of our Intelligence Bureau and our Federal partners to quite simply connect the dots. Follow the money!!!!!!”

According to Honan, Adams, too, said these agitators included the faculty: one or more bad-apple professors who go around “radicalizing” students. Did he expound on this? My friends, Eric Adams can expound on anything. “Radicalization is something that I have really studied and looked into across the globe and the methodologies that are used, and not only the role of individuals, but social media, the isolation, the loneliness that children sometimes experience can lead to that radicalization.”

It was a lot of words that talked past the central question: what radicalization? Not wanting to support a genocide?

FROM 2018 TO 2020, I was an officer of Columbia University, specifically the J School. I had a very pleasant editor job at the Columbia Journalism Review, where I oversaw research reports by data scientists who were too idealistic to work on Wall Street and helped manage undergrad journalists who did things like learn Mandarin to prepare for reporting trips. Once, the school sent me to Iraq to lead some workshops on cybersecurity. 

It’s obviously very condescending and insulting to refer to these students, who generally pride themselves on their work ethic and moral seriousness, as "children," but it’s also simply wrong. The vast majority of them are young adults. If they’re charged with any crimes as a result of their arrests, they will certainly be charged as adults. Plenty of other adults, especially conservatives, like to think of higher education as a place for shaping young people. My experience is that young people are mostly looking for assistance. They have their goals in mind, and they are understandably wary of straightforward attempts to tell them what to do, especially by people who seem to dislike them. 

These students have taken note of the university’s attempts to silence them, first by quietly changing the rules about protest, then by smearing protesters (many of them Jewish) as antisemites, and then with thugs in riot gear. The youth mostly need to know what is possible right now. And they know—like any decent person—that the U.S.-supported war on Gaza is wrong. Any Columbia student who sees that is bound to question Columbia’s partnership with Tel Aviv University and its planned campus center in Tel Aviv. If they didn't, they probably shouldn't have been admitted to such a prestigious university. 

That intent to change things threatens people like Eric Adams and the Baroness Shafik, the almost certainly soon-to-be-outgoing president of Columbia. In response to that threat, Adams and Shafik are reenacting their institutions’ most shameful moments. This is absolutely about the war on Gaza, but it is also about the continued refusal of our institutional leaders to serve their constituencies, to cease abridging our most basic rights of expression and self-determination, and to end wars of imperium. I shit from a great height on the suggestion that these goals are immature fantasies.

Like every Ivy League University, Columbia is located atop an enormous pile of money that would get much smaller if those things came to pass. But these universities can’t function without the students and faculty they are currently trying to discipline with riot batons and flashbangs, and they know this. Police departments around the country have honed the tactics they are using to clear protester encampments on antiracist protesters and homeless people over the last several years. Adams laughably refers to the events at Columbia as “precision policing,” though it's worth considering that compared to the way the LAPD treated a similar protest at UCLA, the designation makes more sense. 

The NYPD is an occupying force that does not preserve public safety or protect life or dignity. It barely even writes tickets for reckless driving any more. It is here to discipline us, to make us sorry, and to teach us a lesson. And so, in the name of learning, Shafik and Adams have closed the university to everyone but cops for the duration of the academic year. The sheer spectacle of it, a giant university in the middle of the biggest city in the country useless to anybody but the police, is a pretty solid education all on its own.

WALLER VS. WILDSTORM, the superhero spy thriller I co-wrote with my friend Evan Narcisse and which the masterful Jesús Merino illustrated, is available for purchase in a hardcover edition! If you don't have single issues of WVW and you want a four-issue set signed by me, they're going fast at Bulletproof Comics

No one is prouder of WVW than her older sibling, REIGN OF TERROR: HOW THE 9/11 ERA DESTABILIZED AMERICA AND PRODUCED TRUMP, which is available now in hardcover, softcover, audiobook and Kindle edition. And on the way is a new addition to the family: THE TORTURE AND DELIVERANCE OF MAJID KHAN. -30-