Caroline Cutlip grab

A Columbia University student was pinned down by college public safety officers as he tried to enter a campus library to collect food.

The university’s newspaper, the Columbia Spectator has identified the student as senior Alexander McNab.

On Thursday night after 11pm, McNab had gone into the Milstein Centre, a library facility on the Barnard College campus, after a Facebook group informed him that they were handing out free food inside.

According to The Washington Post, he had crossed the road and went through the gate to the campus when someone shouted, “Hello, sir!”

McNab ignored the voice. He had been stopped on two other occasions and forced to show his ID to officers. Though it is campus policy to ask students for their identification after 11pm, both McNab and people who witnessed the incident inside the library said the rule was hardly enforced, and the Columbia senior insisted his being stopped was racial profiling.

Picture: Caroline Cutlip

He walked into the library and reached for the free food when a number of officers walked in after him – more than four – and demanded to see his student ID.

At this point students began filming the incident, which escalated and had officers grab his arms and push him down on the counter of the coffee shop.

One of the students who filmed the incident, Caroline Cutlip, told the Post: “The moment I saw him pinned back on the table, it was so reminiscent of police brutality things I’ve seen online."

She said she thought to herself: “I need to say something.

I feel like I am someone who can use my privilege to say something here. But I had no clue what to say. So I started filming.

“Take your hands off me!” McNab yells, and repeatedly tells the officers that he is a student at the university.

Take your body off, I didn’t touch anybody… you have no right to touch me. I didn’t violate anybody.

One of the officers holding McNab down glances at one of the cameras recording, and then glances away. He steps back from McNab and asks him to go outside.

NcNab takes out his wallet and presents his student ID and an officer plucks it from his hand and starts to walk outside to check if he was an 'active student'. Eventually his ID is returned.

Afterwards, the officers claimed he had been running fast, and another claimed he ran in front of his van. Both claims were refuted by other students, who defended McNab and said he had not been running.

Picture: Caroline Cutlip

Andrew Wang, a fellow student, shared the video on Twitter and told The Daily Dot: “The point is that this is a very loosely enforced and hardly followed rule.

The context about the ID checks is important.

We’re not just talking about how campus safety treated him because he’s black, we’re also talking about how a confrontation might have not occurred had a white or non-black student gone through those gates.

In response, the university conducted a listening session about public safety on campus, and followed up with a statement: "We recognise that the events of Thursday evening deeply impacted our community and we appreciate the honest conversations that occurred at the listening session tonight. The college is committed to the safety of our students, faculty, staff, and guests. We should always hold ourselves to the highest standards.

The college is hiring an independent investigator to review what transpired Thursday night and to provide us with recommendations for further action. The public safety officers involved, as well as the public safety supervisor, have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of this investigation.

We are taking this very seriously and look forward to further engaging the community on this topic. Barnard values inclusivity and is committed to ensuring a safe, respectful, and welcoming place for each and every member of our community, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or national origin.

Students have demanded the college call it racism, and in the session, Natalie J. Friedman, the co-interim dean of the college and the dean of studies, finally did.

She is reported to have said: “I also apologise on behalf of the college for the racist incident that happened.”

McNab responded:

To me, that was the most beautiful thing she could do.

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