More than half the people charged with besieging Columbia University’s Hamilton Hall won’t be prosecuted, the New York District Attorney’s (DA) office announced last week, citing lack of evidence.

Of the more than 200 people arrested for “occupying” and vandalizing the building in April, only 46 were charged with crimes like trespassing, criminal mischief, assault and petty larceny, according to The New York Post.

Manhattan Assistant DA Stephen Millan declined to prosecute 31 of these cases in court Thursday, explaining that prosecutors “were unable to establish these defendants caused property damage or bodily harm.”

Millan blamed “extremely limited” video footage from inside the building for prosecutors’ lack of action, as well as difficulty identifying protesters through their masks. He further admitted decisions to drop charges were made, in part, by whether the individual faced consequences from Columbia.

All 31 of the dismissed cases included at least one charge for misdemeanor trespassing, according to The Free Press — a charge worth up to $500 in fines and three months in jail. It’s unclear why the DA’s office neglected to go after these charges, which spokesman Doug Cohen implied wouldn’t require video evidence to prosecute.

The DA offered to dismiss the remaining 16 offenders’ charges pending community service or other good behavior.

The DA’s leniency is characteristic of New York’s long-time policy to avoid prosecuting misdemeanors in favor of “more serious crimes” — a controversial approach defended by many, including Manhattan defense attorney Martin R. Stolar.

The former president of the New York City chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, Martin R. Stolar, calls the DA’s textbook treatment of the Hamilton Hall case “a wise use of prosecutorial resources” in a comment for The New York Times.

After all, says Stolar, the protesters “weren’t throwing bombs, they weren’t shooting people, they weren’t robbing people, they weren’t dealing drugs.”

While technically true, Stolar’s position cherry-picks crimes pro-Hamas protestors didn’t commit to minimize the ones they did — including, but not limited to vandalism, assault and breaking-and-entering.

Contrary to Millan’s claim, many offenses were caught on tape.

Here, you can see protesters breaking into the locked building with hammers.

A demonstrator breaks the windows of the front door of the building in order to secure a chain around it to prevent authorities from entering on Tuesday, April 30, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Alex Kent/Getty Images)

Footage from after police cleared the building show extensive damage to the building’s furniture, which was used to barricade doors against police entry, as well as apparently purposeless damage to glass windows and partitions.

Chairs, desks, and barricades are used to block the doors as demonstrators from the pro-Palestine encampment on Columbia’s Campus barricade themselves inside Hamilton Hall. (Photo by Alex Kent/Getty Images)

Cracked glass inside Hamilton Hall (video courtesy of CBS)

Most infuriatingly, photos and victim testimony confirm protesters assaulted employees inside the building.

A trapped professor reportedly told a 911 operator, “Hundreds of college students are taking over [Hamilton Hall], destroying it, breaking windows, causing commotion.”

One worker yelled, “They held me hostage!” as he fled the building, recalls the Post.

Another with a fresh wound on his hand told Politico, “They swarmed the building. I got into a scuffle with a couple of them.”

A maintenance crew member confronts demonstrators attempting to barricade themselves inside Hamilton Hall at Columbia University on April 30, 2024.(Photo by Alex Kent/Getty Images)

Lester Wilson, a janitor held inside the building, told the Free Press he “could have been killed in there.”

Faced with Millan’s announcement, Wilson reiterated:

I feel it’s wrong, I feel it’s wrong, I feel it’s wrong. Somebody should be charged. Somebody should be held accountable. … We as workers, [the protesters] violated us. [They] really violated us, keeping us in that building. By taking over that building, [protesters] affected all our lives.

The unruly group, which demanded Columbia provide them food and water as “basic humanitarian aid,” required a massive police effort to kick out of the building — an operation mounted at enormous taxpayer expense.

Once inside, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Operations Kaz Daughtry reported finding gas masks, ear plugs, helmets, goggles, tape, hammers, knives, ropes and a book on terrorism.

Items found in Hamilton Hall (photo courtesy of NYPD, Kaz Daughtry)

Poster from inside Hamilton Hall (photo courtesy of NYPD, Kaz Daughtry)

“These are not the tools of students protesting,” Daughtry noted of the suspicious items in a post on X.  “These              are the tools of agitators, of people who were working on something nefarious.”

He continues:

Thankfully, your NYPD was able to prevent whatever they were planning and stop them before they could do it. Continue to peacefully and lawfully protest; but know that if you engage in illegal conduct, the NYPD will hold you responsible and hold you accountable — someone has to.

But, apparently, no one is going to — and police are among the most frustrated by the DA’s inaction.

“Lack of evidence?” one officer told the Post. “Apparently body-worn camera wasn’t enough?”

Another believed the DA’s lack of prosecution damaging:

We have a DA giving [protesters] what amounts to a mandate to push the envelope further now.

Has the threat of prosecution scared protesters straight? Apparently not.

(Post courtesy of Jessca Schwalb @jessicaSchwalb7)

Of the 16 people offered plea deals, 14 refused them on principle, the Free Press reported, arguing their charges should have been dismissed outright.

The Daily Citizen believes people respond to incentives and consequences. New York’s DA’s office doesn’t punish crimes — so protesters continue to commit them.

Until the legal system resolves itself to enforce existing laws, New York will be continually disrupted.

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