NYC mayor defends police response after videos show officers punching pro-Palestinian protesters

May 20, 2024, 9:04 AM | Updated: 11:58 am

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City Mayor Eric Adams defended the police department’s response to a pro-Palestinian street demonstration in Brooklyn over the weekend, calling video of officers repeatedly punching men lying prone on the ground an “isolated incident.”

“Look at that entire incident,” Adams said on the “Mornings on 1” program on the local cable news channel NY1. He complained that protesters who marched through Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge section on Saturday had blocked traffic, spit at officers and, in once instance, climbed on top of a moving city bus. “I take my hat off to the Police Department, how they handled an unruly group of people.”

“People want to take that one isolated incident that we’re investigating. They need to look at the totality of what happened in that bedroom community,” Adams added.

Footage shot by bystanders and independent journalists shows police officers intercepting a march in the street, shoving participants toward the sidewalk, and then grabbing some people in the crowd and dragging them down to the asphalt. Officers can be seen repeatedly punching at least three protesters, in separate incidents, as they lay pinned on the ground.

A video shot by videographer Peter Hambrecht and posted on X shows an officer in a white shirt punching a protester while holding his throat. Hambrecht said the arrests took place after police told the crowd to disperse.

“They were aware they might get arrested, but many times people use that to justify the beating which is obviously ridiculous,” Hambrecht told The Associated Press in a text message.

Independent journalist Katie Smith separately recorded video of an officer unleashing a volley of punches on a man pinned to the ground, hitting him at least five times with a closed fist.

At least 41 people were arrested, police said.

The NYPD later released its own video showing misbehavior by protesters, including people throwing empty water bottles at officers, splashing them with liquids and lighting flares and smoke bombs. It also showed one protester sitting on the roof of a moving transit bus waving a Palestinian flag.

“We will not accept the narrative that persons arrested were victims, nor are we going to allow illegal behavior,” NYPD Deputy Commissioner Kaz Daughtry said in a statement on X.

The NYPD agreed to change the way it handles public protests last summer after it had to pay out at least $35 million to settle claims of police misconduct during the large protests against racial injustice after the 2020 murder of George Floyd.

The legal settlement required the department to reduce the number of officers it sent to most protests. It also required police to allow most demonstrations to take place on public streets, even if they temporarily block traffic, as long as they are nonviolent and don’t involve a threat of major property damage. Police can still step in under the settlement to redirect protest marches to prevent them from blocking access to bridges and tunnels, or places like hospitals and police precincts. But the written agreement says “the fact that some individuals in a crowd have engaged in unlawful conduct does not by itself provide grounds” to end demonstrations and order a crowd to disperse.

The City Council member who represents Bay Ridge, Justin Brannan, said the demonstration broken up by police was one held annually in the neighborhood to protest the displacement of Palestinian people following the establishment of Israel in 1948.

“Bay Ridge is home to the largest Palestinian community in NYC,” Brannan wrote on X. “There has been a Nakba Day demonstration here every year for the past decade without incident. I saw no evidence of actions by protestors today that warranted such an aggressive response from NYPD.”

New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman criticized the arrests and called them an escalation of police tactics against demonstrators.

“The aggressive escalation by the NYPD’s Strategic Response Group yesterday in Bay Ridge was a violation of New Yorkers’ right to speak out and risks chilling political expression,” Lieberman said, naming the NYPD unit that is often called to protests.

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NYC mayor defends police response after videos show officers punching pro-Palestinian protesters