One protester says police corralled a group of demonstrators 15 minutes before a temporary curfew was set to begin, refused to let them leave, and then arrested everyone for staying out too late.
Civil rights advocates have launched a lawsuit against New York City on behalf of protesters who say they were assaulted or otherwise mistreated during Black Lives Matter protests.
According to The Associated Press, the complaint was filed Monday in federal court. The lawsuit accuses New York and city administrators of doing little to limit police brutality during the protests.
The complaint was filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Legal Aid Society.
Together, the two groups are seeking monetary damages for at least 11 Black Lives Matter protesters as well as law enforcement reform. The plaintiffs are asking both that New York police officers receive additional training along with pledges of swift discipline for law enforcement personnel who violate protesters’ rights.
Furthermore, the NYCLU and Legal Aid Society want a judge to officially condemn the NYPD’s actions as unconstitutional.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said it is imperative that city police immediately reconsider their approach to protests—in large part because the city is expecting to see some unrest following next week’s general election.
“It’s imperative that there be a whole retraining of the police department that they have to respect the right to protest, and that their response to protest cannot be violence, cannot be abusive, and that they need to protect everybody’s rights,” Lieberman said in a statement.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, has expressed some skepticism of the filing and complaints outlined therein.
“From what I’ve heard of the lawsuit’s allegation, it doesn’t sound right at all to me,” de Blasio said earlier this week. “There’s been a conscious effort for seven years now to change the relationship between the NYPD and communities.”
However, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has already asked state Attorney General Letitia James to launch an investigation into the police response to Black Lives Matter and George Floyd protests.
In a preliminary report issued in July, James said her office had received more than 1,300 reports from protesters, most of which accuse the New York Police Department of using excessive force, such as “indiscriminate use of pepper spray, brandishing firearms at protesters, and pushing vehicles or bikes into protesters.”
And law enforcement, state the plaintiffs, routinely employed similarly aggressive and potentially dangerous crowd and riot control techniques, including the frivolous use of pepper spray, mass arrests, and “kettling.”
“Kettling” refers to a controversial containment method in which police officers cordon protesters into small areas before carrying out arrests. The technique has been criticized by human rights advocates because, as officers form a human wall and driver protesters back, they risk corralling innocent bystanders and passerbys.
Andom Ghebreghiorgis, a protester and former New York congressional candidate, told The Intercept that cops used “kettling” to keep demonstrators on the street after curfew—and then arrest and cite them for violating the same.
“We were kettled before 8pm, and they intentionally held us so that we were outside after curfew,” Ghebreghiorgis said. “When the police began moving through the kettle, they started pushing us from the front and the back so we ended up essentially trampling over each other, trying to escape the violence of the police on the front line and the back line […] It was really scary—you just heard screaming and crying throughout the entire ordeal.”
Some protesters suggested that police targeted particular groups of demonstrators to punish them for using anti-police slogans and rhetoric.
Other complaints, adds The Associated Press, related to detention practices, such as the use of “extremely tight zip ties,” putting transgender individuals into “misgendered” holding cells, and cramping detainees into small units meant for far fewer people.
The A.P. and NYCLU both observe that, even as Mayor de Blasio insisted police officers were doing little wrong, many were caught on tape violating protesters’ rights. Nevertheless, few officers faced consequences for misconduct.
“It’s time,” Lieberman said, “for the police department to stop acting like cops are incorrigible children and they have no control over them.”