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When I attended Columbia University as a journalism fellow about a decade ago, I signed up for text alerts regarding police activity on campus. Even though I’ve tried repeatedly to unsubscribe, I still get them. Usually, I just ignore and hit “delete.” But I couldn’t do that with the alert that came at 3:30 a.m. on April 30. “Major protest activity on Morningside campus in and around Hamilton Hall,” it read. “Avoid vicinity if possible.”

Only a few hours earlier, before protesters had taken over the hall, I received the first draft of a story I commissioned from Stefan M. Bradley, a history professor at Amherst University and author of a book that deals with the demonstrations that took place at Columbia in 1968 during the Vietnam War. In the story, Bradley noted that the protests at Columbia this spring had been largely peaceful. That changed when students supporting the Palestinian cause took over Hamilton Hall, where they remained until police arrived in riot gear 20 hours later to remove them.

The Hamilton Hall takeover changed the calculus of Columbia administrators – who called in the police – but also of Bradley, who began to see increasing similarities with the protests that rocked the campus back in 1968, particularly in terms of the growing risk of violence amid clashes with the police.

“The deployment of police to break up demonstrations may end disruptions in the short term,” he writes in today’s lead story, “but it may also end up radicalizing moderate students who see their friends get arrested or injured.”

In a separate article, John J. Sloan, a scholar of crime and police on college campuses, explains why universities turn to police to end student protests – despite the risks of doing so.

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Jamaal Abdul-Alim

Education Editor

The police have regularly been called in to squelch student protests over the past century. Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images

Columbia University protests look increasingly like those in 1968 as police storm campuses nationwide

Stefan M. Bradley, Amherst College

An expert on the Columbia University protests of 1968 draws parallels between protests then and the ones taking place there in 2024.

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