In the early hours of Wednesday, June 4, more than 400 armed police stormed through the Grant and Manhattanville housing projects—just 5 blocks north of Columbia's Morningside campus—indicting more than 100 and arresting more than 40 in connection with gang violence in the neighborhood. The New York Daily News reported that the raid was the largest gang case in the city's history.
In the days afterwards, residents and community advocates have been speaking out about effects of last week's raids. Some have said they felt relieved after the arrests—according to police, the groups involved were responsible for at least two homicides and 19 shootings—while others expressed concern that the raid failed to address longstanding issues of youth unemployment and lack of community engagement. Vice President for Public Safety James McShane sent a letter on Thursday outlining plans to increase police and Public Safety presence north of campus. And anti-violence activists have resolved to continue working to defuse tensions between youth groups and expand community programs.
Students from the Coalition Against Gentrification and Columbia Prison Divest also released a statement via TALK Magazine, which is published by the Intercultural Resource Center. In their statement, the groups objected to McShane's presentation of safety in the Columbia area, the "militarized" nature of the raids, and McShane's support for increased police presence in the area. Part of the statement reads:
As students, we object to the use of a dishonest representation of “our safety” as a tool to perpetuate violence on West Harlem residents. We do not feel safer when our university is inflicting violence on the community around us. Instead, we call on Columbia to cease justifying its violence and expansion with our safety. If Columbia is serious about decreasing violence then it must stop supporting and contributing to increased policing, cease its own violent practice of expansion and attend in meaningful ways to the real causes of violence within the Columbia community. We demand that Columbia fulfill the promises it has made in its community plan and organize its relationship to the West Harlem community around principles of support for the community’s health, independence, and well-being instead of favoring actions that increase violence and poverty.
Read the rest of the statement on TALK here.