NEW YORK — There were tense moments at the campus of Cooper Union in Manhattan on Wednesday afternoon.
Students who are pro-Israel say they felt unsafe as pro-Palestinian demonstrators banged and chanted outside the library they were studying in. They tell CBS New York’s Lisa Rozner school staff locked them in the library due to safety concerns.
Police say there were no injuries, arrests or property damage, and that this was a planned demonstration. The NYPD is reviewing surveillance video.
Video shows a group of Jewish students standing in the Cooper Union library as other students chant “free Palestine” outside locked doors and hold up signs outside the glass.
“It was tense. People were nervous,” one student said. “They were specifically acting very aggressive in those spaces where outwardly Jewish students were sitting.”
“The librarians ran over to us and they were like, ‘We tried to warn you, but we just got notice that they’re coming down,'” sophomore Taylor Lent said.
“I genuinely don’t know what would’ve happened if the doors were left open,” another student said.
The students say they were studying in the library after attending an earlier rally in Cooper Plaza.
A representative for Cooper Union says the library was closed for approximately 20 minutes in the late afternoon and that students chose to stay in the library until the protest was over.
“Security escorted us from the library to this building or outside to where people left to go home,” one student said.
Photos from hours earlier show pro-Israel students holding up enlarged signs of kidnapped Israelis, and across the way, pro-Palestinian students holding signs demanding the institution support Palestinian causes.
Off camera, several pro-Palestinian students told CBS New York they planned to protest throughout the entire school and did not target or threaten the Jewish students in the library.
Students representing the pro-Palestinian rally sent CBS New York a statement that read in part:
“We, students of Cooper Union, planned a peaceful protest to demand our institutions acknowledgement of the Israeli apartheid. This was in response to the school’s one-sided stance and participation in the occupation of Palestine. We planned to peacefully protest outside the building before walking in and continuing our protest outside the president’s office. We concluded our protest by calling out our demands through the hallways of the entire foundation building. When we reached the library, we were told that it was closed so we continued chanting outside the glass window of the library. Many different students of all backgrounds were in the library at the time. We would like to make it clear that our protest was not targeting any individual students or faculty, but the institution itself. We would like to reiterate that we DO NOT under any circumstance condone antisemitism and many members of the protest were Jewish.”
The NYPD says three community affairs officers were at the school for the planned demonstration.
A spokesperson says about 20 students demonstrated outside the president’s office, who said she did not feel in danger, before they made their way towards the library.
CBS New York saw the commissioner of the Office of Emergency Management on site, and the mayor tweeted in part, “We have been in contact with the NYPD and Cooper Union leadership … While the students at Cooper Union have a right to peacefully protest, hate has no place in our city.”
The governor also posted on X that local and state law enforcement were in touch with the school.
“I’m actually very upset. We’ve been speaking with the school for two and a half weeks. We’ve been telling them that, you know, this is an escalating situation,” one student said.
We reached out to Cooper Union for comment. They tell us NYPD was on site throughout the day.