A CUNY campus police officer aims pepper spray at a protester’s face during a confrontation at City College on April 30, 2024. (PHOTO/Luca GoldMansour)

MANHATTAN — City College of New York President Vincent Boudreau defended his decision to call in the NYPD to oust protesters from the CUNY school’s Harlem campus Tuesday — citing, in part, a confrontation that left two campus officers doused with pepper spray.

Video captured by the NYCity News Service shows campus cops shoving pro-Palestinian demonstrators away from the doors to the Wille Administration Building — and unleashing pepper spray at at close range when protesters refused to move. Other footage shows an unknown liquid from an unknown source streaming at CUNY officers who chased protesters from the building. Demonstrators were trying to block the campus officers from ousting other protesters who entered the Wille building through a back door and planned to occupy it.

“We need water! Bring water!” protesters shouted as they flushed pepper spray out of each other’s eyes, sitting on stone and brick ledges near the building, while others shouted, “Back to camp!”

Whether the campus cops were splashed by their own pepper spray or  by protesters remains unclear. But that scene — authorities spraying protesters in front of a building demonstrators hoped to occupy— has emerged as a major flashpoint, precipitating a night that roiled the nation’s largest urban public university.

Video of protesters and CUNY officers in front of Wille Administration Building on City College of New York’s Harlem campus. VIDEO/Luca GoldMansour

CUNY police officers clash with protesters, pointing pepper spray at close range in front of Wille Administration Building at City College of New York. VIDEO/Luca GoldMansour

Dozens of CUNY officers stand in front of the Wille Administration Building at City College of New York. VIDEO/Luca GoldMansour

Note: Images of officer exchanging spray with someone from behind the camera can be seen beginning at the 20-second mark. VIDEO/CUNYGSE

NYPD police arrested more than 170 people as they cleared out the City College campus following a nearly week-long demonstration — one of the many spreading across U.S. campuses amid the war in Gaza.

Protest organizers said NYPD officers beat students with batons. One student suffered a broken ankle while two lost teeth when cops stormed the campus, the organizers said. 

Police officials contend their hands were forced at City College and Columbia University by violent “outside agitators.” CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez said 104 of the 172 people arrested outside and inside City College on Tuesday were not affiliated with the university. A university spokesperson could not immediately explain how officials came to that figure.

In the aftermath, student demonstrators and their faculty supporters blasted CUNY officials for setting NYPD cops on what organizers called peaceful protests — charging the move sparked an unnecessary escalation of violence while waging an attack on campus free speech on public property.

On Thursday, Matos said he and Boudreau made a “difficult decision” amid an “immediate danger to personal safety and damage to campus facilities.”

Boudreau said that two of the 35 CUNY officers on campus were hospitalized with “injuries and pepper spray related trauma,” necessitating NYPD backup. “I know that for many of you, the idea of an NYPD presence on campus is anathema,” Boudreau wrote in a letter to the campus community Wednesday.

The protesters — a coalition of students, faculty, staff and alumni who organized under the name CUNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment — demanded that CUNY divest all financial ties to the Israeli military, institute an academic boycott of Israel and issue a statement of solidarity with the Palestinian people. They also called on CUNY to remove cops from the campus, stop cooperating with ICE and military recruiters — as well as make CUNY tuition-free and pay its workers a “fair wage.” 

NYCity News Service reporters were on the City College campus from the day the encampment was erected to the night of the arrests. Here are some of the scenes we witnessed:

Tuesday, April 30 — Wednesday, May 1: CCNY and Protester Negotiations Break Down, NYPD Moves In

Scenes from the City College protest, shortly before the NYPD moved in. (PHOTO/Sajina Shrestha)

Monday, April 29: CUNY Rank and File Show Support, Food Pantry Shuts Down

Sunday, April 28: Teach-Ins and Ultimatums

Saturday, April 27: NYPD Barricades and Faculty Lectures

(PHOTO/Asad Jung)

Friday, April 26: Faculty March and Negotiations with CUNY Administrators

Thursday, April 25:  Campus Police Tensions, , CCNY’s Boudreau Intervenes

(Note: CCNY President Vincent Boudreau appears in video, wearing purple sweatshirt)