Human Rights Watch, an organization that specializes in investigating and reporting civil rights abuses all over the world, released a report Wednesday that claims the New York Police Department trapped and then brutally attacked peaceful police violence protesters in a predominantly Black and Latino Bronx neighborhood on June 4.
The report alleges that around 300 protesters marched through the streets of Mott Haven, a lower-income neighborhood in the South Bronx.
From the HRW report:
Less than an hour into the march, and about 10 minutes before an 8 p.m. curfew went into effect, the marchers encountered scores of police officers with riot gear, including helmets, shields, and batons. Bicycle police used their bikes to form a wall and prevented the protesters from moving forward, while other officers pushed from behind – a tactic known as “kettling.” The protesters were trapped, with no way to disperse.
“We were being packed and packed like sardines,” one protester later recalled. Many started chanting, “Let Us Go!” and one person cried out, “You’re gonna kill us – I can’t breathe.”
Just after 8 p.m. and the start of the city-wide curfew – imposed a few days earlier due to looting in other areas– the police moved in on the protesters, unprovoked and without warning, whaling their batons, beating people from car tops, shoving them down to the ground, and firing pepper spray in their faces.
The findings in the HRW investigation are “based on interviews or written accounts from 81 people who participated in the Mott Haven protest, interviews with 19 other community members, lawyers, activists, and city officials, and analysis of 155 videos that were recorded during the protest,” the report explains.
According to the report, at least 263 people were arrested that evening. Most of those beaten and arrested were protesters, but the police also targeted clearly identified medics, bystanders, other essential workers who were exempt from the curfew and legal observers deployed by the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) New York City Chapter and the newly formed Black Legal Observer Collective (BLOC).
More from the report:
Video footage from 8:07 p.m. shows an officer with “NYPD LEGAL” written on his uniform directing other uniformed officers to arrest the legal observers. “Legal observers can be arrested,” he says. “They’re good to go!” Footage also shows one legal observer attempting to show officers the attestation and multiple officers responding by knocking it out of her hand, twisting her arm behind her back, and slamming her to the ground. One legal observer, after being restrained in zip ties, said she overheard a white-shirted officer ask another officer, “Is that all the green hats?”
“People around me started yelling,” one protester said in an interview for the report. “I turned and saw a pregnant woman lying on the ground and clutching her belly in pain/discomfort. I joined the protesters in yelling for medical assistance. For several minutes, we yelled and the officers trapping us did nothing. White shirts passed by for several minutes and did nothing. Eventually, one of the white shirts maneuvered his way into the crowd. He and a few other officers then took her out of the kettle to seek medical attention.”
The report documents myriad testimonies that claim protesters left the scene handcuffed to stretchers while bleeding from the head, people were zip-tied for hours until their hands were numb and people were taken to jail—some of whom had open gashes and other serious injuries—who were forced to endure an hours-long booking process during which they were given no food and little to no water.
If all that wasn’t enough, the whole thing appeared to be planned by the police department.
Protesters said they saw heavy police presence throughout the march but none of them made a move until the imposed curfew was near.
“What I saw that night in the Bronx was a systemic response,” one protester said. “It was strategic. It was planned.”
“There was obviously a plan to get [us] in a closed space, before the curfew,” another protester said. “Then after the curfew, there was this intentional and deliberate operation to arrest people as soon as possible.”
Then there’s this:
The day after the protest, on June 5, Mayor Bill de Blasio held a news conference with the New York Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner Dermot Shea, in which they both applauded the police response in Mott Haven. Commissioner Shea confirmed the premeditated nature of the operation, stating, “we had a plan which was executed nearly flawlessly in the Bronx.” He described the protest as a group of “outside agitators…tearing down society” with the “intent to destroy property, to injure cops, and to cause mayhem.”
In response to questions from HRW, the NYPD claimed that “the intent of this assembly was to engage in violence and inflict harm.” It’s unclear what evidence they had to support that claim and, according to the report, HRW found no evidence of protesters inciting violence in any of the videos that were analyzed.
During public testimony on June 22, as part of Attorney General Letitia James’ investigation into the NYPD’s response to protests across NYC, Shea said social media invites for the march “encouraged injuring police officers and looting, resisting arrest and fire-bombing police vehicles.” He also said officers “recovered a firearm, gas canisters, lighter fluid, hammers, spray paint, fireworks and other incendiary devices from participants,” but that claim was contradicted by other officers who said many of those items were found in areas away from when the march took place or before the event even started.
The report did say there were flyers for the event around the city that featured drawings of police cars on fire and other things cops would find offensive. But those flyers also instructed attendees not to bring weapons and a code of conduct for the protest posted online denounced “goofy irresponsible adventurism” and asked protesters to “follow the lead of the people from the hood.”
Here’s a little about the organizers of the event:
The protest in Mott Haven was one of the many community-driven responses to the police killing of George Floyd. A collective of New York City-based grassroots groups, led primarily by Black and brown women from the Bronx and known as the “FTP Formation,” organized the protest, which they called “FTP4.” These groups are dedicated to police and prison abolition, and they fight for other causes like racial justice, decolonization, anti-gentrification, and anti-capitalism. They also organize mutual aid projects to support community members in the Bronx. For these groups, FTP has had different meanings, including “Fuck the Police,” “Feed the People,” and “Free the People.”
HRW noted in their report that it’s unlikely any officers involved in the events of June 4 will receive any disciplinary action, but the fallout will cost taxpayers plenty as lawsuits related to the march get settled. So far there have been nearly 100 complaints filed.
In the end, if what is in this report is true, cops responded to a police brutality protest by committing unspeakable acts of police brutality. You can read the full report—which includes a roughly 13-minute documentary-style video of events here.