Free food is one aspect of college life that comes in clutch when you’ve had a busy day and are just in need of nourishment. Alexander McNab, a senior at Columbia University, was just in search of this particular perk late one Thursday night, but somehow it ended with him being featured in a viral video, pinned down to a table by Barnard College security demanding to see his ID.
According to the Washington Post, McNab went in search of food around 11:30 p.m. on Thursday, following his late-night Afro-beats dance practice. The 23-year-old found out through a page where students can post about free food that there were some recently deposited party leftovers in the Barnard College library, where Columbia students are welcome to study. So McNab made his way over there.
But that quick trip ended in accusations of racial profiling and police brutality.
McNab told the Post that it all started as he crossed the street dividing Columbia and Barnard campuses, passing in front of a Barnard public safety van that was waiting to make a turn. McNab said he picked up his pace in order to make the light before it changed.
As he made his way through Barnard’s gates, he heard someone shouting “Hello, sir” but did not look back. The Columbia senior said that he has been stopped by Barnard officers at least two other times, which he believes are a result of his race, met with demands to show his ID and prove he is a student.
There is a policy on campus to ask students for identification after 11 p.m., which McNab acknowledged that he knew about, but had not thought of in the moment.
And so, McNab kept walking and made it to his destination. He was greeted by students and started to fix a plate of food.
Shortly after, officers started swarming into the library, the Post reports: first two, then four, then more. They demanded to see his ID, grabbing McNab by his arms and pushing him down toward a table, pinning him on his back.
The video taken by Barnard junior Carolina Cutlip started at around this point.
“You have no right to touch me! Take your hands of me,” McNab could be heard insisting even as officers demand his ID…even though he’s pinned down.
“The moment I saw him pinned back on the table, it was so reminiscent of police brutality things I’ve seen online,” Cutlip, the only white student watching, told the Post. “I need to say something. I feel like I am someone who can use my privilege to say something here.”
One officer saw Cutlip filming and released his grip from McNab, who was able to get up and show his ID.
Then officers wanted McNab to “walk outside” with them. McNab refused, explaining to the Post that he wanted to remain near where people could see him.
In the end, after some tension with officers and students arguing about whether or not McNab was running, McNab’s ID was returned to him and officers left. However, the Post reports that several students were crying.
“It showed me that this wasn’t just something I went through,” McNab told the Post. “They went through this, too.”
By Friday the video was going viral, and by Friday afternoon, Barnard College President Sian Leah Beilock released a statement about the “unfortunate incident” saying that they will be reviewing the actions of the officers.
“We deeply regret that this incident occurred, and we are undertaking a thorough review of our public safety officers’ actions, and will address our processes and procedures and how they are applied,” the statement read.
The officers involved have since been placed on paid administrative leave.
That evening, school officials, as well as public safety officials hosted a listening session, where they again apologized for the “incident.”
Only one official, Natalie J. Friedman, the co-interim dean of the college and the dean of studies, referred to the said “incident” as racist.
“To me, that was the most beautiful thing she could do,” McNab said.