The Human Rights Watch (HRW) revealed their findings that the NYPD’s aggressive response to a peaceful protest in the Bronx on June 4 was a deliberate violation of human rights. The evidence was presented today in a zoom meeting.
The protest in Mott Haven was part of a widespread response to police violence prompted by the death of George Floyd. An 11 p.m. curfew was declared on June 1 and became an 8 p.m. curfew on June 2 . During the June 4 protest, as the new curfew approached, police blocked off the protesters’ route. This tactic, referred to as kettling, caused the group to redirect their path, leading them right into a police trap, effectively preventing them from exiting the area before curfew.
“We became trapped,” protester Andom Ghebreghiorgis said. “A deliberate action was planned by the police to stop us prior to the curfew. There was a lot of uncertainty, folks weren’t sure what was going to happen. We thought if we were just talking to the cops, they would let us go.”
HRW reviewed 155 videos and interviewed 81 participants from the Mott Haven protest and found evidence of at least 61 injuries caused by police.
“Based on this research we were able to document the extent to which the assault in Mott Haven was intentional and in clear violation of international human rights law,” Ida Sawyer, Crisis and Conflict Director at HRW, said. “In all of our research we found no evidence of threats or acts of violence by the protest organizers or protesters. To the contrary, the protest was peaceful until the police responded with violence.”
This particular police crackdown has become known as one of the most aggressive examples of their interference in Black Lives Matter marches in New York City. Protesters who experienced the incident, paint a harrowing picture of the violence.
“We felt like we were being trampled,” Ghebreghiorgis said. “I heard refrains that I had only seen on TV from previous police murders, ‘I can’t breathe, you’re going to kill us’.”
The police arrested at least 263 people. The arrests included 16 Legal Observers from the National Lawyers Guild and medics. Legal observers and medics were formally exempt from the curfew and the NYPD’s arrest of these groups was a direct violation of the NYPD Patrol Guide. The police have not said whether they are investigating these violations. Chief of Department Terrance Monahan did not respond to a request for comment.
“The internal mechanisms to hold police accountable are completely obstructed from public view,” Julie Ciccolini, a researcher at HRW, said. “The system has been designed to prevent any real scrutiny. It’s the police policing themselves.”
Most protesters were charged with unlawful assembly, a Class B misdemeanor. As of January 2020, police officers in the state of New York are not allowed to make arrests for misdemeanors. Instead, officers are supposed to issue a court appearance ticket unless the offender meets a narrow list of criminal exclusions, such as having outstanding warrants. In spite of this law, protesters were detained for hours without cause.
“We were in our cuffs and it was an extremely hot day, [so we all had] our masks [around] our necks,” Ghebreghiorgis said. “We were in close proximity in this police van with no protection from the coronavirus. We ended up waiting in the [van] for a couple hours. It was clear that they had no plan to process all of us.”
The Bronx District Attorney has dismissed the unlawful assembly charges from the protest, but some protesters still face charges and will appear in court on October 2. Over 100 lawsuits have been filed against the NYPD for their handling of this incident. The costs of the arrests continue to mount.
“Initially there is the cost to deploy two helicopters and scores police officers and supervisors that day, including significant overtime cost,” Sawyer said. “The department spent $9 million more on overtime than they spend on an average day. The largest cost will likely come from the resulting misconduct complaints, investigation, and lawsuits. We estimate that this operation will cost New York City tax payers at least several million dollars.”