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Critics slam NYPD’s ‘aggressive’ response to pro-Palestinian rally

Violent clashes at a pro-Palestinian rally in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, on Saturday reflected what some local officials and protest organizers called a surprisingly aggressive police response, with officers flooding the neighborhood and using force against the demonstrators.

At the rally, which drew hundreds of protesters, at least two officers wearing white commanders’ shirts were filmed punching three protesters who were on the ground in the middle of a crosswalk. A police officer tackled a man to the ground and punched him in the ribs several times, a 50-second video clip shows. Another officer punched the left side of a man’s face as he held his head against the asphalt.

Police arrested about 40 people who were “illegally blocking roads,” said Kaz Daughtry, the department’s deputy commissioner for operations. said on social media on Sunday.

Mr Daughtry shared drone footage of a person who boarded a city bus, “putting themselves and others at risk”. The police department, he wrote, “proudly protects everyone’s right to protest, but lawlessness will never be tolerated.”

Neither Mr. Daughtry nor the police have commented on the officers’ use of force. A spokeswoman for Mayor Eric Adams did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the police response.

Bay Ridge has a large Arab-American population and hosts protests in mid-May each year to commemorate what Palestinians call the Nakba, or “catastrophe” – when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced to leave. their homes during the war that led to the fall of Israel. founded in 1948.

Andrew Gounardes, a state senator and Democrat representing the area, said local politicians had been in contact with the commander of the 68th Police Precinct before the planned protest and said there was no indication there would be a police response as strong. . He called the videos he saw of the events “deeply concerning.”

“It certainly appears that the police were prepared for a much more aggressive and much more confrontational protest than perhaps they had anticipated,” he added.

Justin Brannan, a Democrat who serves as a city councilor in the area, said the protest was smaller than last year’s, but that police officers came from across the city to monitor it. He said their approach appeared to be led by 1 Police Plaza, the department’s headquarters in Manhattan.

“They weren’t our local cops. Obviously there was a zero tolerance decree issued by the 1PP, which made everything worse and made the situation worse,” Mr Brannan said.

“I am still waiting for information and details on the arrests that were made,” he added, “but from my perspective, the response seemed preemptive, retaliatory and cumulatively aggressive. »

The Republican state lawmaker whose district includes part of Bay Ridge, Alec Brook-Krasny, had a different view. He said an investigation would determine whether the officers’ actions were justified, but he said some protesters were “breaking the law” by refusing to clear the street.

“I think these bad apples really hurt other people’s ability to express their opinions,” Mr. Brook-Krasny said.

Some local residents supported the police and said they were tired of the disruptive impact of the protests. “Enough is enough,” said Peter Cheris, 52, a 40-year Bay Ridge resident who said he had watched videos of the protest. “If you break the law, you deserve it,” he said.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, pointed to the police department’s Strategic Response Group, a unit deployed during the protests and which has been the subject of several lawsuits filed by the Civil Liberties Union and other groups.

The police unit’s handling of the protest “constituted a violation of New Yorkers’ right to express themselves and risked paralyzing political expression,” Lieberman said in a statement. “Observers of the NYCLU protests witnessed violent arrests, injuries to protesters, and even arrests of credentialed members of the press.”

She added: “The NYPD’s continued pattern of aggression against pro-Palestinian protesters raises important questions about the city’s disparate treatment of speakers based on their message. »

Abdullah Akl, an organizer with Within Our Lifetime, the pro-Palestinian group that organized the protests, said the response surprised organizers, especially for a protest that takes place annually in Bay Ridge and is known for being crowded by families with children.

“It was really an unusual and unprecedented response,” Mr. Akl said.

He said he saw two men being pushed to the ground. One of them can be seen in a video with blood running down the side of his face. Nerdeen Kiswani, president of Within Our Lifetime, said three protesters – including the two seen being punched – were treated for their injuries at hospitals.

The police department has arrested hundreds of demonstrators since street protests began shortly after Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7 and Israel’s subsequent invasion of Gaza. The protests have been largely peaceful, with few injuries or violent clashes.

On April 30, police cleared Hamilton Hall at Columbia University, which had been occupied by demonstrators since 5 p.m. Many officers showed restraint during arrests, although a handful were filmed pushing and dragging students as they led them out of the building.

On Sunday, Ms. Lieberman said the police response to protests in Bay Ridge underscored the importance of a $512,000 settlement that the civil liberties union and the Legal Aid Society reached with the city this month . The agreement set new conditions for how the police department handles protests.

This settlement is one of several settlements stemming from the George Floyd protests for racial justice in 2020. Last year, the city agreed to pay $13.7 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that alleged illegal killing tactics police had violated the rights of protesters in Manhattan and Brooklyn. . In March, the city agreed to pay $21,500 to each of the approximately 300 people who participated in another Black Lives Matter protest in 2020 in the Bronx. These people were locked up by the police, then charged or beaten with batons, according to a legal agreement.

Andy Newman And Camille Boulanger reports contributed.

News Source : www.nytimes.com
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