Dozens of NYPD officers in riot gear and full body armor violently arrested 11 demonstrators in Manhattan on Sunday afternoon. The officers shoved some people with their batons and tackled others, apparently for standing on the street, in a show of force two days before the 2020 presidential election.
Around 100 demonstrators initially gathered in Madison Square Park to confront caravans of Trump supporters, who were expected to drive through Manhattan. The group marched from the park to the West Side Highway, where they’d heard one of the Trump caravans was slated to pass by, but they never showed up.
The remaining protesters started to walk away from the area, moving east along 23rd Street. Police officers who’d been trailing the group suddenly charged from behind, dividing the group on the sidewalks, then arresting demonstrators and at least two photographers.
"The bikers started pushing people off the walls and pulling people, just randomly,” said 26-year-old protester Kyla, who declined to give her last name. "They're doing it before the election as a scare tactic, trying to scare us to not be out here.”
Eleven people had been arrested for mostly disorderly conduct and obstruction of governmental administration, an NYPD spokesperson said.
Other demonstrators said the Sunday afternoon arrests were more evidence of a recurring double-standard, since the caravans of Trump supporters had been allowed to drive around for hours, some with their license plates brazenly covered, while the counterprotest had been squashed after about an hour, when it was already winding down.
"This is a planned attack," Desmond Marrero, 25, told Gothamist/WNYC. "All the arrests today. It's a scare tactic. And they might even be trying to hold people so they won't vote."
Activists and reporters on the scene identified one of the arrested journalists as independent photographer Chae Kihn, who regularly covers Black Lives Matter protests. A video of her arrest was posted to the Instagram account of a Freedom News TV reporter, who goes by the name Scootercaster. Video also shows police arresting Hawk Newsome, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter Greater New York.
In a tweet, the NYPD maintained that no photojournalists were actually arrested, because none of the arrestees were NYPD-credentialed members of the press.
Reached after her release, Kihn said she was bruised and rattled.
"This has to stop. They are targeting photographers. It could be anyone next," said Kihn, who said she was given a criminal court summons for standing in the roadway. "I don't have an NYPD [credential] but I have other news accreditations and have been working as a photographer for over 20 years."
"Just because I don't have an NYPD badge doesn't make me less of a journalist," she added "Why do the police get to decide who is a journalist and who isn't?"
An NYPD spokesperson said it was not yet clear what exactly precipitated the arrests.
An order to disperse was played over a loudspeaker, and those who did not move to the sidewalk were arrested.
“You want to get arrested? Move back," an officer told people observing and filming arrests.
Another person wearing a helmet was cuffed while face down on the ground.
Mike, a 45-year-old protester, said police effectively kettled the group after forcing them onto sidewalks — a tactic the NYPD used earlier this summer during mass demonstrations against police brutality after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd.
"I'm not surprised. This is a war now. This ain't a protest," said Mike, who declined to provide a last name, urging other activists who hadn't yet voted to leave the area to avoid being arrested and potentially kept from having an opportunity to cast a ballot. “We didn’t come out here and cause no type of harm, we exercise our First Amendment right, and they putting us on the sidewalk and still kettling us.”
The head of the NYPD's Strategic Response Group, Deputy Chief John J. D’Adamo, told the New York Post that his unit, which includes the bike cops in "turtle gear," is preparing for mass demonstrations following the election.
“Are we [a] deterrent?” D’Adamo said of a recent planned protest in Fort Greene that never materialized. “I’d like to think so. I hope they saw we meant business. We are all about de-escalation.”
He added, "We aren’t against peaceful protests. The last thing we want to do is make arrests. We want people to be able to scream at the top of their lungs about whatever they want — and we also want them to finish what they have to do safely and get home safely."
This article has been updated with additional information.