In the weeks after George Floyd’s killing at the hands of police in May, New Yorkers flooded the streets demanding – among other things – that police be held accountable.
Over and over again, after a Black person’s life is taken by police, the officers responsible almost never suffer legal consequences. But this near-total impunity extends well beyond incidents in which police kill people. As the NYCLU’s recently published database of NYPD misconduct complaints shows, police officers are almost never sanctioned when they abuse or mistreat New Yorkers.
When people went into the streets to call attention to this unwarranted protection from punishment, the NYPD reacted exactly the way you would expect an unaccountable agency to behave.
NYPD officers ran over, beat, pepper-sprayed, and tossed peaceful protesters to the ground. In one incident in the Bronx, officers intentionally trapped protesters so they couldn’t escape and then unleashed waves of toxic gas on them before moving in to attack members of the helpless crowd.
In many instances, these violent tactics were explicitly approved and even praised by NYPD higher-ups and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. At the very least, these actions were undertaken by officers who have no fear of consequences, no matter how lawless and violent their behavior is.
Behind these incidents of mass cruelty are the personal stories of protesters.
This week the NYCLU and the Legal Aid Society filed a lawsuit against de Blasio, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, Chief of Department Terence Monahan, the City of New York, and several individual police officers for their roles in the indiscriminate attacks on protestors. The lawsuit aims to uncover the extent to which the mayor and police leadership authorized the brutal treatment of demonstrators and hold the City responsible for these unlawful policies and practices. The case covers the first month of protests between May 28 and June 28.
Some of the most notorious incidents during this time were the attacks and mass arrests on protesters in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the South Bronx on June 4. The police response is the subject of a recent Human Rights Watch report, which details what took place that night.
Prior to the 8 p.m. curfew that was in effect at the time, NYPD officers surrounded or “kettled” protesters so they could not leave. Once the curfew hit, the police indiscriminately released pepper spray and beat protesters who were unable to escape. Police arrested more than 250 people.
The pre-planned operation was overseen by Chief of Department Monahan, and carried out “nearly flawlessly,” according to Commissioner Shea.
It is difficult to imagine a scenario that better showcases an out of control police department. Police officers – under the direction of the NYPD’s highest-ranking uniformed officer – trap, attack, and badly injure a group of protesters that pose no threat, and the commissioner describes this all as a “nearly flawlessly” executed mission.
Behind these incidents of mass cruelty are the personal stories of protesters. One of our plaintiffs, Charlie Monlouis-Anderle, (who uses they/them pronouns) had their arm fractured by police after being tackled without warning and detained during a protest in Brooklyn on June 3.
Monlouis-Anderle repeatedly asked for medical attention and begged officers not to touch their injured arm. But even after these pleas, an officer continued to pull on Monlouis-Anderle’s injured right arm and bring it up over their head.
After hearing our client’s screams, the officer’s response was not to call for immediate medical assistance, but instead to tell Monlouis-Anderle, “You should be ashamed of yourself, you’re an embarrassment!”
It’s the NYPD that should be ashamed.
Though this case covers incidents that took place in May and June, the violence has not stopped. New Yorkers who come to exercise their right to dissent are repeatedly met by police officers hell-bent on snuffing out calls for change.
It’s clear the NYPD won’t let up until it is forced to.
As Monlouis-Anderle told us, “I am bringing this lawsuit because it is one way among many that we can demand justice and ensure the safety of future protesters. I want the cop who brutalized me, the NYPD, and our appointed officials to be held accountable for the terror they caused me and my community."