The New York City Police Department has agreed to adopt new policies intended to protect the rights of protesters as part of a legal settlement stemming from its response to the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.
The 44-page agreement, filed in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday, requires the nation’s largest police department to deploy fewer officers to most public protests. It creates a tiered protest response system that prioritizes de-escalation, while banning the practice of New York City police kettling, a controversial tactic of trapping and arresting large groups of protesters.
The proposed changes still need to be approved by a federal judge. But the agreement portends a likely resolution inin 2021, which detailed a pattern of civil rights violations by police during the protests that swept the city following the death of George Floyd in May 2020.
“Too often, peaceful protesters have been met with force that has harmed innocent New Yorkers who were simply trying to exercise their rights,” James said in a statement. “Today’s agreement will significantly change how New York City police engage and respond to public protests in New York City.”
In a video statement, Mayor Eric Adams, a former police captain, said the agreement strikes an appropriate balance to “ensure that we both protect public safety and uphold the rights of First Amendment protesters.”
The 2020 protests saw chaotic street fighting as riot police aggressively tried to quell protests — both peaceful and unruly — with batons, pepper spray and their own vehicles. Some protesters torched police vehicles and threw bottles at officers. In several locations across the city, nonviolent protesters were herded by police without provocation, leading to hundreds of arrests for minor offenses such as disorderly conduct or blocking traffic.
Under the tiered enforcement approach, police commanders will designate protests as one of four tiers, with higher levels of mobilization in response to direct threats to public safety or critical infrastructure. . As part of the lower-level response, which is the default for most protests, the NYPD must adapt to street protests, including those that impede traffic.
The Strategic Response Group, a heavily armored police unit specializing in crowd control, cannot be deployed until a police commander has authorized a level three mobilization, based on certain offenses committed by the participants in the demonstration. Otherwise, NYPD should rely on community affairs officers trained in de-escalation tactics.
“The NYPD has always controlled protests by sending as many officers as possible,” said Corey Stoughton, attorney at the Legal Aid Society. “That kind of overwhelming force and presence that we saw in 2020, which escalated violence against protesters, is a thing of the past.”
The settlement also covers separate lawsuits brought by the Legal Aid Society, the New York Civil Liberties Union and other private attorneys, which were combined with the Attorney General’s lawsuit. The plaintiffs are expected to receive a monetary reward, which has yet to be announced.
The settlement requires the city to pay $1.6 million to the state’s Investigative Department, which will help oversee the deal with other parties, including police leaders and civil rights groups. .
New York City has already agreed to pay at least $35 million for complaints of police misconduct during the 2020 protests, including about $10 million forat a protest in the South Bronx. More than 600 people have filed individual complaints against the city, many of which are still pending.