U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

NYPD orders student reporter into building, threatens arrest as Columbia protest cleared

Incident Details


Columbia Daily Spectator’s Chris Mendell, right, speaks live with Gadi Schwartz of NBC News from a campus building in New York City on April 30, 2024, after police ordered Mendell inside and threatened him with arrest while officers cleared protesters.

April 30, 2024

Student reporter Chris Mendell was confined to a building entryway and threatened with arrest while covering a New York City police operation to clear pro-Palestinian protesters from Columbia University’s campus on April 30, 2024.

Mendell, a staff writer with the Columbia Daily Spectator, the student newspaper, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he had been covering the takeover of the university’s Hamilton Hall by protesters in the early morning of April 30.

After going home to get some sleep, Mendell tried to return to campus. But the university had restricted access at that point, and Columbia Public Safety officers would not allow him onto campus even though he showed them his Columbia ID and his Spectator press ID.

To try to get a better view of the activity on campus, Mendell walked to a nearby block where student dorms and other university buildings were located. He said the New York City Police Department was setting up barriers, behind which members of the press, students and bystanders had gathered.

Mendell took photos and videos until around 8 p.m., when the NYPD ordered everyone off the sidewalk and into any of the nearby residence halls.

“Within seconds of the cop making that announcement, some officers started chasing people with batons, hitting them and shoving them into dorms,” he said, adding that he was not physically assaulted. “This is press and students, these are bystanders, these are people not involved. And it was really, really chaotic.”

Mendell said he retreated into the entryway of Ruggles Hall dorm with about 15 other people. Two police officers were stationed at the door and did not allow people to leave. Because they were not residents of the building, they were stuck in the entryway.

Mendell said he opened the door at one point and asked officers if he could leave. “They said, ‘No. If I let you leave, we’re going to arrest you.’ I was wearing my press badge, so I was identified as press the whole time.”

Later, he said he saw other Spectator reporters walking by. He reiterated that he was a member of the press and asked if he could go with them. An officer again denied his request and threatened to arrest him if he stepped out of the building.

Around 9 p.m., police in riot gear entered the campus and Hamilton Hall at the request of Columbia’s administration, arresting protesters and clearing those who occupied the building.

Mendell said that from his vantage point, he was able to see some protesters from Hamilton being led out of a campus exit, police entering the campus and police buses driving past. However, he was not able to view any of the police operations on campus.

At one point, Mendell was put in touch with NBC News and conducted a live interview with the network from the entryway of Ruggles, describing his situation. In a video, a woman can be seen telling an officer guarding the door that people are stuck without their medications; the officer replies that she does not know when they will be able to leave.

Mendell told the Tracker that about 20 minutes after the NBC interview aired, the officers guarding the door were replaced and one of the new officers escorted all who did not live in Ruggles out into the street. Mendell said he was in Ruggles for about three hours.

In a May 4 letter from the editors, Spectator Editor-in-Chief Isabella Ramírez and Managing Editor Esha Karam described numerous violations faced by the paper’s journalists as the NYPD entered the campus, including journalists being confined to buildings and threatened with arrest, threatened with arrest if they did not leave campus, mocked for being student press and pushed and grabbed by officers.

The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].