A video of Columbia University senior Alexander McNab recently went viral, in which campus police are seen pinning him to a counter.

What allegedly drew police to target McNab, who is black, was when he quickly crossed an intersection near the Milstein Center for Teaching and Learning at Barnard College (Columbia and Barnard are partner institutions) in order to make the traffic light. That’s according to one of the officers who spoke with a group of students who filmed the initial encounter.

The first video, which was taken by student Caroline Cutlip, shows several officers surrounding McNab at the Milstein Center, with one of them pinning him to a nearby counter at a Peet’s Coffee.

“Take your hands off me! Take your body off me! I did not touch anybody!” McNab is heard saying as the officers are pinning him down.

According to the officers on the scene, McNab didn’t flash his student ID card when entering the building after 11 PM Thursday night. While showing ID is school policy after 11 PM, Columbia student Andrew Wang, who tweeted Cutlip’s video, said the policy is rarely enforced, if ever.

In the video, when McNab shows the officers his Columbia ID card, the officer walked away with it, prompting McNab to follow him and demand the officer give back his ID. The officers repeatedly try to get McNab to walk outside with them for further discussion, but McNab refused, saying he did everything he was required to do. The Columbia Spectator reported that McNab wanted to make sure he stayed inside the building so the bystanders’ video would corroborate his experience.

Perhaps the most telling video, however, is the second one Wang tweeted, in which one of the officers reveals his reason for targeting and stopping McNab.

“You ran into the building,” one officer said.

“I did not run into the building, I walked into the building,” McNab responded. “Nobody saw me running.”

“OK,” the officer said.

Then, several of the students who were documenting the encounter on their phones told the officers they had seen McNab walk into the building, corroborating his account.

“He ran across the courtyard. He was crossing awfully fast,” the officer said after McNab walked away.

Then, a black female student remarked on how she saw McNab walking into the building. The officer responded in a sarcastic tone, and then proceeded to point his finger at her and tell her to calm down.

“Really? You have a gauge? You have a gauge where you can measure how fast he was walking?” The campus police officer talking to the bystanders said to the black female student. “Were you there?”

“Does it matter?” She responded.

“It does matter. And you know why? I’m gonna tell you why. Because he crossed in front of the [police] van. Relax.”

“I am relaxed,” the student said.

According to the Spectator, the school hosted a listening session about the encounter on Friday. Students protested outside of the Columbia University campus police station, chanting “public safety is not safe,” and “public safety is anti-black.” Law and Crime reported Saturday that the officers in question have been placed on administrative leave while Columbia investigates what happened.


Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.

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