Too many cops, not enough justice, as last NYC encampment cleared

8 May 2024
Ben Hillier
Police at the Fashion Institute of Technology, 7 May PHOTO: Ben Hillier

How many cops does it take to move on a couple of dozen undergraduate fashion and design students?

If you’re the New York Police Department, fewer than 200 evidently would leave officers fearing for their safety. You’d want at least 50 with batons drawn and helmets and visors on. Plus a bunch on push bikes. And a smattering of white shirts to stand around for hours strategizing. And a car full of people from the NYPD Legal Bureau.

You’d want to set up four to six separate cordons. You’d want a drone hovering overhead. Possibly a helicopter? How many vans and other vehicles? Enough to jam up half of 7th Avenue and a bunch of 8th Avenue (and most of West 27th Street in between). Busses? Yep, at least three of those. Oh yeah, and a truck full of metal barricades.

What about the deli on the corner with the bagels and soda? You’d surround that pretty good as well. In fact, you’d put most of the uniforms in close proximity to be sure nothing happened there.

After the week of violence that students have endured for campaigning against the genocide in Gaza, it doesn’t seem right to joke about the latest immense and unjustifiable NYPD mobilisation. But at the Fashion Institute of Technology tonight (Tuesday 7 May), the last New York City Gaza solidarity encampment, the scenes bordered on the absurd—like employing twenty people to dig one hole with one shovel.

But then, that’s part of policing: just displaying overwhelming force to put the fear of God into people. In this case, a bunch of young undergraduates who have sacrificed hours and hours of their time trying to do something positive and meaningful in the face of one of the 21st century’s greatest crimes.

It’s not enough that they have been ritually maligned and slandered in the press and by politicians.

It didn’t matter that their demands are sensible—for their university administrations to disclose any investments in companies that aid in the genocide of Palestinians, and, if such investments exist, to divest from those companies.

It counted for nothing that they have been peaceful and generally restrained in the face of endless provocations.

That they were unarmed and posed no threat was inconsequential.

They were met with the threat of overwhelming state violence regardless.

“Today our committee met with our staff and the chairman of our school, and they threatened to call the NYPD on us—which they have—if we didn’t disperse by 7pm today. They called NYPD on peaceful protesters who are standing our ground for our encampment”, J, one of the organisers told Red Flag as the police moved in.

“We want to stand here to let them know that we’re not moving until they divest from Israel ... Today, they’ve suspended most of the people from this encampment. And we’re still standing here. It’s absolutely disgusting that we pay so much money to these institutions for them to just … disregard our opinions.”

The couple of dozen FIT activists were joined by supporters from other campuses when word got out about the impending eviction. But when the police arrived, officers barricaded both ends of the block on 27th Street to prevent supporters reaching the encampment.

With the students totally out muscled, there was a sense of inevitability about who would prevail. But the FIT activists and their comrades kept up the chanting for several hours. When the police finally moved in as midnight approached, those from the encampment made good on their word, refusing to simply walk away.

They had to be arrested—the police said the charge was trespassing. The students’ hands were tied and they were marched onto one of the police buses. Cheering erupted as they passed their comrades, who made sure the arrestees knew that they were appreciated.

But just when it looked over, supporters put their own little exclamation mark on the evening, blocking 8th Avenue and preventing the bus from moving for five to ten minutes.

The cops had to use force to clear the road and made a few arrests. But after such a night, and such a few weeks, this was a little, tiny victory for these students to savour: they didn’t just bear witness to their comrades’ arrests. They got involved; they had a crack. They were a minor annoyance. But they did something.

And then, just when you thought it couldn’t drag on any longer … it didn’t. The cops left; their job done. But the remaining students claimed just one more little bit of pride: they outlasted this giant mob in blue.

“Yeah, fuck off pigs!”


“Fucking pigs! Fuck off!”

Defiance in defeat is sometimes the most respectable form of defiance.

The last of the city’s encampments is no more. In other US cities, and around the world, they continue. For how much longer? And what next for the Palestine solidarity movement in New York City? The activists will decide. And time will tell.

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