Video shows campus security officers pinning down a black Columbia University student as part of an altercation over whether or not the student was enrolled. According to The Washington Post, 23-year-old senior Alexander McNab was looking for some free late-night food at a university library on Thursday, April 11, when a Barnard College Public Safety officer demanded to see Alexander’s student ID and it escalated to Alexander being pinned to a countertop.
According to the Post, Alexander was leaving his Afro-beats dance practice and had an anthropology thesis project on his mind. Using a student-centered Facebook page, he saw that some leftovers from a party were available at Barnard College Library, and he made his way to grab a bite to eat. (Barnard College and Columbia University have a partnership that offers benefits to students of both schools, including “access to twenty-two libraries.”)
He told the Post that on his way through the official entry to Barnard College’s campus, Alexander heard someone trying to get his attention, but he didn’t stop, as he’d had two prior experiences with Barnard officers stopping him: once leaving a dance practice (like he’d just had) and another time when he was barefoot and using the bathroom during practice — and he said officers assumed he was homeless because he had no shoes on. Alexander considers the incidents examples of racial profiling.
There is an official policy, the Post reported, to ask students for their IDs, no matter what, after 11 p.m.; Alexander said he knew that was a rule but forgot in the moment. In an interview with his school’s student paper, the Columbia Spectator, Alexander said he felt the rule wasn’t always enforced, especially for white students.
On Thursday night, Alexander made it to the library and was about to dig into some lamb and rice when multiple officers arrived, demanded to see his ID, and then grabbed his arms and pinned him against a coffee-shop counter on the library’s first floor.
“What I didn’t see coming was when they got the other Public Safety officer to come to the side and pin me to the counter,” Alexander told the Columbia Spectator. “I hadn’t made any threats; all I said was I’m not going to show you my ID. I don’t understand where that came from.”
“The moment I saw him pinned back on the table, it was so reminiscent of police brutality things I’ve seen online,” said Caroline Cutlip, who recorded video of the incident and who the Post reported was the only white student watching. Caroline told the Post she thought to herself, “I need to say something. I feel like I am someone who can use my privilege to say something here.” Cutlip added that she started filming because she “had no clue what to say.”
As noted by the Post, when the officers saw Cutlip filming their interaction with Alexander, they tried to command him to come outside. When they released his arms with the cameras rolling, Alexander provided his ID to an officer who tried to take it outside with him. Alexander told the Post that he’d wanted to stay near witnesses. Eventually, the officer said he wanted to confirm that Alexander was an active student and returned with his ID shortly after.
But that wasn’t the end of the encounter, as officers and the other students present had a tense standoff, arguing about whether or not Alexander ran from campus security. Eventually, the officers left, and the Post reported that several Barnard students in the library with Alexander were crying.