Several public safety officers have been placed on paid administrative leave after a video went viral over the weekend showing Alexander McNab, a Columbia University senior, pinned to a countertop by officers at the Barnard College library.
It all started when McNab got hungry late on Thursday night after he finished an Afro-beats dance practice. McNab had a lot of homework to do, so the 23-year-old Black man searched through a student Facebook group page for some quick free food, a common occurrence on college campuses.
There was some leftover food at the nearby Barnard College library, where Columbia students are allowed to study. McNab crossed in front of a Barnard public safety van on his way to the library. He picked up speed as he crossed the street so he could make it before the light changed.
McNab heard someone yelling, “Hello, sir! Hello, sir!” But he didn’t think it was for him, so he entered the library. A group of campus safety officials walked in as female students handed McNab a plate of food.
At least five men surrounded McNab, demanding to see his student ID. They grabbed McNab’s arms, pushed him against the counter at the coffee shop on the library’s first floor and then they forced him onto his back.
This happened yesterday at Barnard College. A black Columbia University student was entering the library when he was racially profiled by public safety officers. They took his ID. They pinned him down.
?: Caroline Cutlip pic.twitter.com/7CeUDQSuIH
— Andrew Wang (@andrwwang) April 12, 2019
A female student who had been the one to post about the free food in the Facebook group, filmed the entire encounter.
“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, the only white student watching. “I need to say something. I feel like I am someone who can use my privilege to say something here… But I had no clue what to say. So I started filming.”
They demanded to see McNab’s ID card as he yelled at them to take their hands off of him. The lead officer told McNab to come outside with them when he noticed the student filming. But McNab refused to walk outside because he feared for his safety and wanted to stay near witnesses.
The public safety officers eventually confirmed that McNab was an active student. But the officers then tried to turn the blame onto McNab, telling him that he had run into the library. McNab said he had been walking, not running, and the other students in the library backed him up.
Little did McNab know that speeding up to cross the road when he was heading to the library would end up sparking the aggressive encounter. One of the men said that McNab had “ran” in front of their van.
McNab told The Washington Post that this is the third time that Barnard College public safety officers have stopped and questioned him about being a student.
Since the officers assaulted McNab, Barnard has issued two statements and hired an independent investigator. There was also a “listening session” on Friday night, but McNab felt it wholly inadequate because Barnard officials talked about the “incident” and called him “the student” and did not confront the racial elements, now come up with solutions on how to protect Black students on campus.
A friend of McNab’s expressed her frustration on Twitter.
“This racist treatment of my friend was unacceptable and today’s frustrating ‘listening session’ showed that @BarnardCollege does not have a concrete plan to make its campus safer for Black students,” Ana Espinoza tweeted.
“My name is Alexander Cecil McNab,” McNab said at the end of the listening session. “You men may know me as ‘the student.’ I’m a senior at Columbia University. This is my ID. You can check it. It’s real… But I would also appreciate an apology.”
Barnard officials said they did apologize in their statement, but one student asked the burning question: “Why can’t you call it racism?”