The NYPD has once again used aggressive and overwhelming force to break up a very small protest. This time the incident occurred in the West Village on Saturday night, after a march for Breonna Taylor. Videos show police officers charging at a handful of demonstrators on the sidewalk outside of a restaurant, tackling them and arresting them at the feet of bewildered diners.
In one of the videos, a few protesters are seen standing in the crosswalk at West 10th and Hudson, steps from Cowgirl restaurant. Dozens of officers, some carrying batons, face them on the other side of the street. The NYPD's recorded message can be heard warning protesters not to disrupt the flow of traffic. Moments later, after a driver passes through the two groups, an officer runs toward one of the protesters; other officers sprint toward the demonstrators as they scatter.
The confrontation spilled over to the sidewalk in front of Cowgirl, as officers physically subdued other protesters in front of outdoor diners, who recorded the melee on their phones.
Rebecca Fishbein, a former reporter with Gothamist, was at the scene after coming from a wedding, and said that she and other bystanders were "shoved up against the restaurant" by the police.
"The cops swarmed us, and started pushing people and shoving people into tables and making arrests," said Fishbein. "I've been to protests—I've seen the cops do their thing, but this was—I have not seen this. It was an unexpected attack."
Sue Williams, the owner of the Cowgirl who was at the scene, said she thought the NYPD's response was over-the-top.
“Screaming in people’s faces—completely unnecessarily. I mean, it was just crazy,” Williams told WCBS-TV. “There were peaceful protesters, there was nothing really going on, and all of a sudden, all these cops on bikes rushed over here and they were running down, people were running down the street, and they ran into this whole restaurant area and were pushing people back and all our tables were scared.”
According to the NYPD, four people were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, obstructing governmental administration, and for stepping on the roadway. Eight others were given summonses for disorderly conduct.
The NY Post reports that the arrests happened after police broke up what was described as a peaceful, art-inspired protest in memory of Breonna Taylor in Washington Square Park, confiscating music equipment. The NYPD told Gothamist that officers arrived to Washington Square Park, several blocks from West 10th Street, after receiving complaints of loud noise, later issuing a summons to one person playing music. Protesters then headed to the neighboring 6th Precinct in an attempt to retrieve the equipment, before heading to Hudson Street, where they were confronted by police, according toWNBC-TV.
“There was a DJ there but there is always music in Washington Square Park. It wasn’t louder than it usually is,” one protester told the Post.
NYPD officers have recently taken an aggressive stance with small protests. On September 19th, several dozen anti-ICE protesters were arrested after they locked their arms, refusing to leave the street in Times Square. A handful of anti-ICE protesters in Foley Square were tackled and arrested by NYPD officers on September 17th, with most charges boiling down to "disorderly conduct."
At a news conference on Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said there has been "no strategy change" in the way the NYPD has handled protesters who have blocked streets, despite the increased level of aggression toward protesters who do so.
"The bigger reality here is returning to what worked and did protect peaceful protest of all kinds, all beliefs for decades is just clear ground rules, usable ground rules, and then if someone chooses to violate, for example, through civil disobedience, fine. Then you're warned you're going to be arrested, and many people choose to be arrested.”
State Senator Brad Hoylman, whose district covers the neighborhood where the latest skirmish occurred, posted on Twitter that his office has reached out to the NYPD for an explanation over the use of force to arrest the dozen protesters.
The NYPD did not respond to inquiries on why it's employing more aggressive tactics to apprehend protesters. In a statement, the NYPD insisted that roughly 150 protesters "blocked traffic" when they arrived at the 6th Precinct earlier in the evening.