A professor at Columbia desired to write history. He was detained by the NYPD outside his house

Gregory Pflugfelder had just finished his last Columbia class of his professional life. He was awarded several honours throughout his 28 years at the institution as a history professor who led a well-liked course on Japanese monsters, with a particular emphasis on Godzilla and “the role of monsters in the cultural imagination.”

Unbeknownst to him, a monster of a different kind would soon knock on his door.

The 64-year-old professional with silver hair went outside his apartment block the following Tuesday night, which is off campus and across the street from Columbia. His goal was to record, using an iPhone, hundreds of police officers reacting to a historic student demonstration against Israel’s Gaza War. He was detained by the NYPD fifteen minutes later.

According to police documents acquired by USA TODAY, Pflugfelder was one of 112 individuals detained in Columbia on Tuesday night by the New York Police Department. Pflugfelder, however, never visited the school.

Universities and police have increasingly painted “foreign militants” and off-campus disruptors as terrorists hiding behind the university as protests and opposition to the Gaza War have extended to American campuses. One of the first of 282 arrests made during police searches at or near Columbia and the City College of New York was Pflugfelder, who was charged with impeding public administration. Reports of forceful police methods used to quell mainly nonviolent demonstrations against Israel’s conflict with Hamas have surfaced as a result of the arrests.

The NYPD was contacted by Columbia University with inquiries regarding the professor’s arrest. USA TODAY sent emails to the NYPD and the office of New York Mayor Eric Adams, but neither provided a response.

Columbia University professor Gregory Pflugfelder was among 112 people arrested by police as the Ivy League school resumed. But he was never on campus.

“Historical errors.”

Pflugfelder has been teaching Introduction to Japanese Civilization since 1996, and this is his final semester. He works solely as an Ivy League teacher. He remembered that his intention for Tuesday was to do “nothing.” This involved perusing literature and seeing the Hulu series “Shōgun.”

He heard a demonstration going on in the vicinity of his West 114th Street apartment in the afternoon. His flat block is located across the street from the university, where demonstrators have been camped out for weeks demanding that the school cut its ties to Israel.

He was aware of the heightened police presence following a demonstration at Columbia University on April 18 that resulted in the arrest of over 100 individuals in a camp located in the centre of campus. Pflugfelder Road was blocked by police buses carrying demonstrators to NYPD headquarters.

He backed the freedom of protest for students. He sent a letter to Minouche Shafik, the president of Columbia, requesting that the NYPD address the camp on campus. He had never written for the president’s office before. On April 23, he wrote, “I implore you not to exacerbate the historic error we have made by committing it.”

April, 30, 2024, New York, NY, USA; Hundreds of police officers stand outside Columbia University April 30, 2024 as they prepare to evict protesters from the campus. Mandatory documentary: Seth Harrison-USA TODAY NETWORK

He intended to write about the news that history will be repeated that he heard on Tuesday, one week later. He went outside his flat to take a video using his iPhone.

He estimated that at around 9 p.m., a queue of hundreds of police officers with batons and helmets had formed on the street. He captured footage of people kicking down windows and being dragged inside dorms and fraternity homes. He then turned to face the street, where police were forming a queue in anticipation of encircling the university.

Basically, he said he stood 7 feet on the road from the curb. Police ordered him in, but he told them his address was about 300 feet down the block. They told him to go home, but he said he wanted to continue recording. Nonetheless, he ended up being zip-tied.

The police in New York City are known for “precision policing,” according to Adams.

According to Mayor Adams, police made a number of expert mass arrests on the university campus, including breaking into the occupied Hamilton Hall at Columbia University with a SWAT car.

On Wednesday, the day following the arrest, Adams told reporters, “The NYPD followed proper police procedures to ensure that the operation was orderly, calm, and that there were no injuries or violent confrontations.”

However, Pflugfelder’s arrest, according to lawyer Jennvine Wong, who manages the charity Legal Aid Society’s officers’ liability project, raises concerns about whether the NYPD has really made things worse rather than better. It could have also broken rules that defend people’s freedom to videotape encounters with the police.

Wong told USA TODAY that, “in general, there is still a First Amendment right to write in public as long as they don’t interfere with the police.” “This sounds like a sneaky arrest to me.”

Pflugfelder said that he was the third arrested individual to go inside the NYPD vehicle. The vehicle that drove him into the city was crowded with ten people. Pflugfelder claimed to feel slender at 6 feet 5 inches. Additionally, he suffers from “territorial panic attacks.” In an attempt to distract himself from his feelings while driving, he questioned others about his lessons. Based on inquiries made, he deduced throughout the journey that the majority of those inside were Columbia students.

He was in a holding cell at NYPD headquarters with roughly sixty other inmates. Sitting behind him on the bench was a man who identified himself as from Columbia. He had seen Hamilton Hall, an inhabited school building that had been ringed by police with pellet grenades and into which rounds had unintentionally been fired by the police. Pflugfelder noticed a man with bruises, including a black eye.

At a recent news conference, Corinna Mullin, an assistant professor of political science at the CUNY-affiliated John Jay College of Criminal Justice, stated, “The violence against the protesters was excessive.” Among those taken into custody at City College on Tuesday night was Mullin.

On April 30, 2024, riot gear-clad police raid Hamilton Hall at Columbia University in New York. A pro-Palestinian organisation was initially let to camp on Columbia campus by students, and since then, other American colleges have followed suit.

After conclusions were reached, information was gathered

Around five in the morning, Pflugfelder was freed from police custody and given a ticket to appear in Manhattan criminal court on May 20. Even though he hasn’t slept much since, he summoned an Uber home. He has not yet gotten in touch with the management of the university. He is not excited about it.

The American Association of University Professors’ president, Irene Mulvey, stated that the organisation has many draft reports that show what she described as needless violence and improper reactions to what started out as nonviolent demonstrations.

Mulvey, a mathematician and retired professor at Fairfield University in Connecticut, claimed that the information made public by the police, particularly the number of “foreign insurgents,” fails to address crucial concerns regarding the motivations for the deployment of police to universities, including Columbia. Oops… Although officials haven’t provided much evidence yet, the main reason police rushed to Columbia was because outsiders were teaching pupils drills and attitudes.

He told USA TODAY, “Scientists, we would collect data and make decisions.” “It seems like a decision was made in this instance, and data was gathered that may or may not support it.”

Despite working as a teacher for almost thirty years, Pflugfelder has not yet received his desired retirement day. When he was arrested, the cops forced him take off the laces from his white and black Vessi trainers. As a reminder, he has kept them free ever since.

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