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Outrage Prevails as Manhattan DA Bragg Drops Charges for Columbia U Pro-Hamas Protesters

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Edited by: Fern Sidman

Manhattan prosecutors announced Thursday that nearly all the protesters charged with storming and occupying Columbia University’s campus during intense anti-Israel demonstrations will not face criminal charges, according to a report that appeared in The New York Post. This decision has sparked significant backlash from law enforcement and Jewish advocacy groups, who argue that it undermines accountability and sets a dangerous precedent.

The incident in question occurred on April 30, when a group of pro-Hamas protesters took over Columbia University’s Hamilton Hall in a heated demonstration against Israel. As was reported by The Post, the New York Police Department conducted a dramatic raid, resulting in the arrest of 46 individuals on charges of trespassing. However, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office has now dismissed the cases against 31 of these individuals.

Prosecutors cited a lack of evidence as the primary reason for dismissing the charges. According to Assistant District Attorney Stephen Millan, the evidence was “extremely limited,” with insufficient security video footage to definitively tie the students or staff to the building takeover, as was indicated in the information provided in The Post report. Millan explained to The Post that during the police raid, cameras inside Hamilton Hall were covered, making it difficult to prove that any property was damaged or that any other criminal activity occurred.

Millan also noted that none of the individuals whose charges were dropped had a criminal history, and no police officers were injured during the raid. “It would be extremely difficult for the people to prove any charge of misconduct,” Millan told Judge Kevin McGrath in Manhattan Criminal Court, as was noted in The Post report.

Additionally, prosecutors considered the internal disciplinary actions that the universities—Columbia, Barnard, and the Union Theological Seminary—are taking against students and staff involved in the protest. The Post reported that this internal accountability was factored into the decision to dismiss the criminal charges.

The decision to drop the charges has been met with outrage from various quarters. Michael Nussbaum, a 25-year member of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, described the move as “turnstile justice,” when speaking with The Post. He argued that it effectively gives a “green light for chaos, a green light for destroying property.”

Rank-and-file NYPD officers and higher education officials have also expressed frustration, suggesting that the lack of accountability could embolden further disruptive actions on campuses and elsewhere, The Post report pointed out. Critics argue that the decision undermines the rule of law and fails to address the concerns of those who were negatively impacted by the protest.

 

Among those who had their charges dropped is Aidan Parisi, a 27-year-old postgraduate student in social work at Columbia. According to The Post report, Parisi is known for his involvement in previous protests and was among the 31 individuals who will not face further legal action.

James Carlson, the only remaining defendant from the Hamilton Hall protest, faces serious charges including hate crime, assault, and petit larceny. Carlson, who has been labeled as the “possible leader” of the protests, is accused of setting an Israel supporter’s flag on fire and assaulting a 22-year-old by hitting him in the face with a rock, according to the information contained in The Post report. Furthermore, Carlson allegedly destroyed a camera inside a holding cell at One Police Plaza after his arrest.

Carlson, a scion of millionaire ad executives who owns a $2.3 million home in Park Slope, has become a focal point of the legal proceedings. Noted in The Post report was that prosecutors plan to move forward with charges against him, and he is scheduled to appear in court on July 25. His attorney, Moira Meltzer-Cohen, has stated that Carlson disputes the “validity of many of these allegations.”

In addition to the 31 cases dismissed outright, the DA’s office has informed another 14 individuals, including 12 who are not affiliated with Columbia, that their cases would be dismissed under certain conditions. The report in The Post said that these conditions have not been specified but typically involve community service, educational programs, or other restorative justice measures.

Defense attorney Matthew W. Daloisio argued for the immediate dismissal of the cases, asserting that the protesters did not harm anyone or damage property. “The only allegation that was different is that they weren’t enrolled or currently a faculty member,” Daloisio told the judge, according to The Post report. He emphasized that the group included alumni and community members concerned about “genocide,” suggesting their motives were rooted in genuine humanitarian concerns rather than malice.

In addition to the Columbia University cases, prosecutors also dismissed charges against nine individuals involved in a separate protest at the City College of New York on the same day, The Post reported. This included six students who were charged with occupying a building.

The reaction from law enforcement was one of disbelief and frustration. Several police sources expressed their incredulity to The Post, questioning the adequacy of the evidence cited by prosecutors. “Lack of evidence?” one source said. “Apparently body-worn camera wasn’t enough?” Another veteran officer criticized the decision, arguing that it effectively gives protesters a mandate to escalate their actions without fear of consequences, The Post reported.

Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, who served for 15 years as a trustee on the governing board for the City University of New York (CUNY), echoed the sentiment of disbelief.  “How can it be that you can’t identify a single person?” Wiesenfeld asked when speaking to The Post. He called the situation unacceptable and detrimental to the city.

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