- The Washington Times - Friday, June 21, 2024

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is being accused of a political double-standard after dropping charges against most of the anti-Israel activists arrested in the occupation of a Columbia University academic building.
Prosecutors at the Thursday hearing dismissed the cases against 30 of the 43 Columbia protesters in the April 30 takeover of Hamilton Hall, citing their absence of criminal histories and a lack of evidence, given that the perpetrators wore masks during the siege.
The district attorney’s office also offered to drop the charges against another 13 defendants if they avoid arrest for the next six months, although the defendants rejected the deal and are scheduled to reappear in court July 25, according to the Columbia Spectator.
The decision to let the suspects walk drew outrage from Jewish groups and Israel supporters, as well as comparisons to Mr. Bragg’s much-decried prosecution of former President Donald Trump on hush-money charges. He was found guilty last month on 34 counts of falsifying business records.

“Pro Hamas protesters caused tens of thousands of dollars in damages and attacked a custodian at Columbia University,” Joel Petlin, superintendent of the Kiryas Joel School District in New York, said on X. “How much damage do you need to do in order for the Manhattan DA to prosecute you if your name isn’t Donald Trump?”
Cleta Mitchell, senior legal fellow at the Conservative Partnership Institute, quipped that “Alvin Bragg’s creativity in fashioning bogus charges against Pres Trump seems to have vanished.”

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, said Mr. Bragg “can fabricate charges against President Trump with ease, but gives actual criminals nothing but a slap on the wrist. Pathetic.”

Others blasted Mr. Bragg for sending the wrong message to pro-Gaza protesters amid rising antisemitism on campus and beyond. The Democrat vowed after being elected in 2022 not to prosecute crimes such as trespassing in the interest of “safety and fairness.”

Rep. Marc Molinaro, New York Republican, said he was “deeply disturbed by the recent news that nearly all charges against the Columbia University protesters have been dropped by DA Alvin Bragg’s office.”
“This decision undermines the rule of law and sends a dangerous message that unlawful behavior will be tolerated,” he said. “Peaceful protest is a fundamental right, but these protests were anything but. Breaking into and occupying campus buildings. Threatening students. Supporting terrorist organizations … There needs to be consequences.”
All 30 of the protesters who saw their charges dismissed were affiliated with Columbia, meaning that they could still face university-imposed discipline, including expulsion. The university said Friday that the disciplinary process is ongoing.
Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of the pro-Israel group StandWithUs, urged Columbia to hold the students accountable. 
“Although the criminal charges against some students were dropped, those students remain subject to university discipline,” Ms. Rothstein said. “One of the goals of our civil lawsuit against Columbia, representing over 45 students, is to ensure that the administration takes this and other criminal conduct seriously and holds the student perpetrators accountable.”

StandWithUs filed a federal lawsuit against Columbia in February charging that the university has failed to protect Jewish students from virulent antisemitism.
One problem for prosecutors: The Columbia occupiers covered surveillance cameras at Hamilton Hall and wore masks, a practice left over from the COVID-19 pandemic that activists have adopted to obscure their identities.
“Extremist anti-Israel hate groups have been encouraging their followers to wear face coverings to evade accountability for hateful crimes they commit during their demonstrations,” Ms. Rothstein said. “It is unfortunate that the masks appear to have succeeded in hindering law enforcement’s ability to hold participants in these protests accountable for unlawful behavior, which underscores the need to strengthen — and consistently enforce — mask-wearing policies and laws to prevent such exploitation.”
The organization StopAntisemitism said it was “flabbergasted” by Mr. Bragg’s decision, adding: “Is paying off porn stars the only way to get Bragg to actually do his job?”
Still facing charges is James Carlson, an activist lawyer who has no affiliation with Columbia. He is also under investigation for a previous incident in which he allegedly grabbed an Israeli flag from someone and set it on fire.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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