By Eric Klein and Kevin Deutsch
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The NYPD’s mass arrests of peaceful protesters in Mott Haven on June 4 constituted human rights violations under international law, the group Human Rights Watch said in a report released Wednesday.
The crackdown, led by the department’s highest-ranking uniformed officer, Terence Monahan, was among the most aggressive police responses to protests across the United States following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the report’s authors found, adding that the action “could cost New York City taxpayers several million dollars in misconduct complaints and lawsuits.”
“The police conduct during the Mott Haven protest amounts to serious violations of international human rights law, and it also appears to violate civil rights protections of the US Constitution and the police department’s Patrol Guide,” HRW investigators found.
HRW said its report shows how the city’s “ineffectual accountability systems…protect abusive police officers” and reveals the “shortcomings of incremental reforms.”
HRW said that about 10 minutes before the 8 p.m. curfew – imposed after looting elsewhere in the city – scores of police officers surrounded and trapped the protesters – a tactic known as “kettling” – as they marched peacefully through Mott Haven.
Just after 8 p.m., a large group of cops led by Monahan, “unprovoked and without warning, moved in on the protesters, wielding batons, beating people from car tops, shoving them to the ground, and firing pepper spray into their faces before rounding up more than 250 people for arrest,” the report states.
“The New York City police blocked people from leaving before the curfew and then used the curfew as an excuse to beat, abuse, and arrest people who were protesting peacefully,” said Ida Sawyer, acting crisis and conflict director at HRW, and co-author of the report. “It was a planned operation with no justification that could cost New York taxpayers millions of dollars.”
HRW said investigators interviewed or reviewed written accounts from 81 people who participated in the protest and 19 other community members, lawyers, activists, and city officials, and analyzed 155 videos recorded during the protest.
HRW said it documented at least 61 cases of protesters, legal observers, and bystanders who sustained injuries during the crackdown, including lacerations, a broken nose, lost tooth, sprained shoulder, broken finger, black eyes, and potential nerve damage due to overly tight zip ties.
Most of those injured did not receive any immediate medical care, as police “arrested or obstructed volunteer medics in medical scrubs with red cross insignia.”
“Dozens of people spent hours in detention with untreated wounds and their hands bound behind their backs,” the investigators found.
At least 13 legal observers – who wore identifiable hats and badges – were also detained, in some cases violently, before being released, HRW found.
Footage from the crackdown captured an official from the NYPD’s Legal Bureau instructing other officers: “Legal Observers can be arrested.… They are good to go!” according to the report.
Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark’s office recently moved to dismiss the more than 300 summonses the NYPD issued to protestors at the demonstration, leading to the summonses being dismissed by a judge.
“I believe in and encourage our Bronx residents to raise their voices to protest social and racial injustice in a peaceful way,” Clark said in the written statement.