President Joe Biden condemned Tuesday the student-led occupation of a Columbia University academic building, after protesters’ takeover of Hamilton Hall put the school on lockdown.

The latest escalation in the students’ demonstration against the war in Gaza also drew censure from Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams, who said they were in communication with university administrators.

“President Biden respects the right to free expression, but protests must be peaceful and lawful,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates said in a statement to NPR.

“Forcibly taking over buildings is not peaceful — it is wrong. And hate speech and hate symbols have no place in America.”

Biden stopped short of demanding university president Minouche Shafik resign or calling in the National Guard, as demanded by U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., last week. Left-leaning lawmakers — including Reps. Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman — have visited the encampment in recent days to show their support.

“President Biden has stood against repugnant, antisemitic smears and violent rhetoric his entire life,” said Bates. “He condemns the use of the term ‘intifada,’ as he has the other tragic and dangerous hate speech displayed in recent days.”

The takeover began shortly after midnight at Hamilton Hall, Columbia’s main administrative building and the iconic site of occupations in 1968 and 1985. The move prompted the university to restrict access to the campus Tuesday, only allowing students who live in dorms and essential services staff to remain.

In New York, Hochul demanded disciplinary action from the school or from law enforcement. By the afternoon, university administrators announced students occupying the building face expulsion.

“Many students we know have very strong convictions, strong beliefs about what has taken them to protest,” she said at an unrelated press conference on Roosevelt Island. “We don’t have to agree with them. It’s not always how it is. But when actions crossover into vandalism, harassment, destruction of property, or even violence, then the line has been crossed.”

“A few of the individuals participating in last night’s actions, they forced staff from their jobs, students from security of using buildings, they broke windows, barricaded exits, and these individuals are clearly breaking the law,” she said.

Adams said in a briefing at City Hall there are “outside” agitators at the campus protest who are “hijacking almost this entire operation” — a claim that student protesters have repeatedly denied. City Hall is in near-hourly communication with Columbia administrators, who he said requested NYPD presence along the campus perimeter.

“It may not be illegal to say some of the things that we’ve heard, but I think it’s immoral, and we should not remain silent,” said Adams, who did not specify the language he found problematic.

Adams’ NYPD patrol chief, John Chell, on Friday called for the expulsion of students and firing of professors he accused of espousing hate and antisemitism.

“No more suspensions,” Chell wrote on X, “let’s try expulsion of these entitled hateful students. Pack your belongings and get out! Let’s remove faculty and staff who have replaced their educational licenses for a license of hate — Your (sic) fired!”

Adams on Tuesday defended Chell as a “professional.”

“We have a very opinionated not only chief,” Adams said, but also “commissioners, reporters, students, dish-washers, candlestick-makers — everyone has an opinion in New York.”

Adams and NYPD Commissioner Caban were scheduled to brief media on Columbia protests Tuesday evening.


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