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Friday, May 24, 2024

Chemical attack on Pro-Palestinian protesters sparks investigation at Columbia University

The chemical left many with symptoms ranging from nausea and abdominal pain to headaches and irritated eyes.

The New York Police Department (NYPD) has launched an investigation into an alleged chemical attack on students who were protesting in support of Palestine on Columbia University’s campus last week. The incident has raised concerns about the safety of free expression on college campuses and has prompted a swift response from university officials and law enforcement.

The Protest and Chemical Attack

Students, expressing their solidarity with the people of Gaza amid Israel’s bombardment, reported being sprayed with a chemical substance during the demonstration. The chemical left many with symptoms ranging from nausea and abdominal pain to headaches and irritated eyes. Columbia’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) claims that eight students were hospitalized as a result, and the lingering smell on clothes and hair added to the distress of those affected.

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Investigation and Perpetrators

NYPD is actively investigating the incident, looking into the possibility that the chemical used is “skunk,” a crowd control agent developed in Israel. SJP alleges that the chemical was sprayed by two former Israeli soldiers who infiltrated the protest by wearing Palestinian keffiyehs. However, these claims have not been independently verified, and both the NYPD and Columbia University have not provided information about the identity of the perpetrators.

University Response

Columbia University responded promptly to the incident, with interim provost Dennis Mitchell condemning the attack in a letter to students and faculty. Mitchell revealed that the alleged perpetrators had been identified and banned from campus while the investigation proceeds. The university’s department of public safety is collaborating with the NYPD and federal authorities, with the NYPD taking the lead in investigating what may be considered serious crimes, potentially even hate crimes.

Victims’ Accounts and Medical Treatment

Six students have filed police reports, detailing their experiences during the protest. The first victim reported smelling an unknown odor and subsequently feeling nauseated with a burning sensation in her eyes. Mitchell acknowledged the severity of the incident, stating that numerous students sought medical treatment for the effects of the chemical.

Community Outcry

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has strongly condemned the use of a chemical on a college campus, describing it as “heinous.” Afaf Nasher, CAIR-New York’s executive director, emphasized that the incident represents an escalation of violence against peaceful protesters, challenging the principles of peaceful dialogue and dissent in a democratic society.

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Columbia University has been a focal point in the debate surrounding free speech on college campuses, especially since the conflict in Gaza began. In November, the university banned two pro-Palestinian organizations, SJP and Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP), for allegedly holding “unauthorized” events. Despite these actions, protests and demonstrations persist on campus, highlighting the ongoing tension surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.