ABC News

(NEW YORK) — New York City Mayor Eric Adams on Sunday defended the police crackdown on campus protests there, which have become the epicenter of demonstrations around the country against the Israel-Hamas war.

“We want to ensure we protect democracy and the right to protest,” Adams told ABC News “This Week” co-anchor Jonathan Karl, “but we have an obligation that when those protests reach the point of violence … we have to ensure that we use a minimum amount of force to terminate what is perceived to be a threat not only by our intelligence, but also the school and college officials.”

Adams said that the large-scale police intervention seen so far in the city, most notably at Columbia University, resulted from communication between the police and school officials.

“We knew we had to get permission unless there’s imminent threat to life, or severe threat to property,” he said, referring to Columbia, adding, “We were not going to overstep our legal authority.”

Pressed by Karl about criticism, including from some other Democrats, that the response to protesters was disproportionate and improper on school grounds, Adams said, “One has the right to have his or her opinion, and I respect that. … And I have an obligation and responsibility to ensure the city is safe.”

New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman wrote last week that “the militarization of college campuses, extensive police presence, and arrest of hundreds of students are in direct opposition to the role of education as a cornerstone of our democracy.”

But Adams, on Sunday, suggested that the protests had become problematic — despite what many of the student organizers have said is their goal of criticizing Israel’s government and denouncing the treatment of Palestinians.

“This has left a point of advocating for a particular item, and as I say over and over again, there’s a real attempt to radicalize our young people,” he said, “and when you look at some of the information and some of the people who were there, we need to be clear that we cannot take this lightly.”

Despite the arrests and violent disruptions on campuses, Adams encouraged universities to stick to planned graduation ceremonies as it is a “wonderful experience.”

“I don’t think we should allow anything to get in our normal way of life,” he said. “We will do our job.”

“And if the institution decides to graduate their students and celebrate a beautiful experience for their families, we will make sure it’s done in a peaceful manner,” he continued.

New York City officials have alleged that the protests have been “co-opted” by professional “outside agitators,” a charge that pro-Palestinian supporters have rejected.

When Karl questioned that characterization, Adams stood by it.

Overall, officials say that more than 2,400 protesters both affiliated and not affiliated with educational institutions have been arrested in connection with the ongoing campus protests across the U.S.

“Anyone can protest in the city, but when you are on college grounds and you do not attend that college, you are an outsider,” Adams said. “And then when you train people to do disruptive things, you are an agitator.”

“So I’m not trying to be politically correct,” he said. “I’m trying to be correct for the city of New York as we make sure this continues to be safe.”

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