Video shows Barnard College officers pinning down Black Columbia University student

Barnard College public safety officers were shown in a video pinning down a Black Columbia University student as he tried to enter a facility on Barnard’s campus.

The student has been identified as Alexander McNab, a student at Columbia University, by the Columbia Spectator, the university’s newspaper. The two institutions, though separate entities, have a partnership through which students from both institutions can access and use the others’ facilities

On Thursday night, around 11:30pm, McNab was apparently restrained while trying to enter the Milstein Center, a facility on Barnard’s campus, which is across the street from Columbia’s main campus. 

Two separate videos of the incident were originally shared on Facebook by Barnard students Alexis Rabkin and Caroline Cutlip.

In Cutlip’s video, McNab is heard telling the public safety officers to let go of him.

Posted by Caroline Cutlip on Friday, April 12, 2019

“You have no right to touch me, take your hands off me,” he says, repeating the sentence while one of the safety officers is seen twisting his right hand before pinning him down. The other officers remain standing and watching, while one of them continues talking to McNab.

“Take your body off, I didn’t touch anybody,” McNab is heard screaming. “I didn’t violate anybody.”

“Let’s walk outside,” says the officer.

“Let me show you my ID, you wanna see my ID?” McNab says. With his hands now free, he takes his ID out of his wallet. “I’m a Columbia University student.”

McNab is also heard saying in the video this is the third time that Barnard public safety had chased him down. 

One of the officers then instructs him to “walk outside,” to which McNab reiterates that he is a student and won’t leave.

The officer responds that he will hold on to the ID and tries to take McNab outside.

The officer, apparently still expressing doubt that McNab is a student, is heard saying he needs to check further.

Andrew Wang, a junior at Columbia College, shared the video on Twitter; it has since gone viral.

McNab had reportedly refused to show his ID to the public safety officer, which students are required to do after 11pm.

“The point is that this is very loosely enforced and hardly followed rule,” Wang told the Daily Dot. “I’m not Black and this has never happened to me. Usually, I just nod to the security officer and I go through.”

McNab similarly told the Columbia Spectator that he had not noticed white students being asked to show their ID.

“There’s a sort of tacit agreement students usually don’t need to show IDs,” said Wang, adding that McNab had reportedly felt it was “selectively enforced” in his case. “On the other hand, most Columbia students don’t even know that this rule is in place, but often they don’t know this rule is in place because it’s not enforced.”

“The context about the ID checks is important,” said Wang. “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 another video shared by Cutlip, McNab is seen having a conversation with the officer who accuses him of “running” into the building.

“I did not run into the building, I walked into the building,” McNab says.  

A few students from behind the camera are heard affirming that McNab was indeed walking into the building.

Another officer is heard saying he was “crossing awfully fast” on the street, and is heard dismissing other students trying to speak on McNab’s behalf.

Statements since released by Columbia and Barnard have acknowledged the incident, but Wang said they didn’t immediately characterize the situation as a racist incident.

According to a statement from Barnard College, the officers have been put on administrative leave and an independent investigator has been hired to look into the matter.

A protest was organized on Friday evening to address Barnard’s characterization of the event.

“Right now the talk on campus is, ‘check everybody’s ID or check nobody’s,’” said Wang.

Barnard’s media relations did not immediately respond to the Daily Dot’s request for comment.

McNab did not respond available to the Daily Dot’s request for comment by publication time. We’ll provide his comments should they become available. 

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Samira Sadeque

Samira Sadeque

Samira Sadeque is a New York-based journalist reporting on immigration, sexual violence, and mental health, and will sometimes write about memes and dinosaurs too. Her work also appears in Reuters, NPR, and NBC among other publications. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School, and her work has been nominated for SAJA awards. Follow: @Samideque