The six public safety officers involved in pinning down a black Columbia University student late last week were placed on paid leave, and the school is conducting an investigation into the incident, the university said in a statement on Sunday.
Public safety officers for Barnard College — which is affiliated with Columbia — reportedly physically restrained 23-year-old senior Alexander McNab against a counter after he entered a building to work on his thesis and get some free food set out for students. Another student, Caroline Cutlip, recorded the incident and posted it on Facebook.
Posted by Caroline Cutlip on Friday, April 12, 2019
Officers are seen restraining McNab, who is a black student, before shoving his back into the counter as McNab repeatedly asks them to take their hands off him. According to other students present who spoke to the Columbia Spectator, the officers restrained him when he didn’t immediately show his ID when entering the building. It is university policy to either show public safety a student ID or scan it to enter a building.
Officers reportedly followed McNab and requested his ID, which he initially declined, until he was physically restrained. McNab later told the Spectator that he was frustrated that officers inconsistently enforce the ID rule with white students.
“I didn’t violate anybody; get your hands off of me,” McNab is heard shouting in the video. After he hands officers his ID, they try to make him go outside while they determine if he is an active student. McNab refused to leave the building and told the Spectator that he’s been questioned by Barnard Public Safety officers at least twice in the past year.
After the incident, Barnard College told students that it would hold a listening session on campus Friday evening to discuss the issue. Several students organized a protest on Friday against the incident and the school’s initial statement in response to it, which did not mention the racist targeting that witnesses said took place.
In a second statement released Sunday, Barnard President Sian Leah Beilock addressed the racial profiling that students believe took place and announced the officers had been placed on leave and that the school hired an outside firm to investigate what happened. Those findings will be made public, she said.
“The confrontation puts into stark relief what some members of the Barnard College community, particularly people of color, have been saying about their relationship with the Office of Public Safety and the lack of trust they have in it to keep them safe,” she wrote. “What has come across is a pervasive sense that racial bias remains pernicious on our campus. In particular, people of color have expressed to me feeling excluded or singled out in campus life, in the classroom, and, yes, in dealings with public safety. I want to say directly that I hear you and am committed to change.”
Correction: This post’s headline originally identified the officers as Columbia University officers.