“All lives will matter,” echoed through the street as protesters chanted in call and response, “When Black Lives Matter!”
“What’s his name?” they called out.
“Jeremy McDole!” the crowded replied.
Again the crowd cried back, “Jeremy McDole!”
A white-shirted New York City police officer signaled with two fingers to other officers nearby.
Then the voice of a single protester culled from the group shouting, “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” broke the cadence and the protest march ground to a halt.
The NYPD officer began arresting two marchers and only then said, “Out of the street.”
“You’re being placed under arrest for blocking – put the sign down – you’re being placed under arrest, you’re being placed under arrest for blocking pedestrian, vehicle traffic,” said the cop, whose stammering delivery provoked calls of, “unwarranted” from the crowd who quickly took to the sidewalks.
The protesters then started chanting, “Shame. Shame. Shame. Shame!”.
A few individuals shouted “you gave them no warning,” which the video below clearly shows is true.
New York law makes it clear that to violate the code for “obstructing vehicular traffic” one must actually obstruct vehicular traffic, not just merely be engaged in an act that could hypothetically obstruct traffic if traffic were present.
At the time of this arrest, the protesters were marching down a street that police had already closed to traffic by placing a police barricade at the end of the block approximately thirty minutes before.
Earlier in the evening, these police brutality protesters had marched their way through the winding streets of Murray Hill, spreading the story of Jeremy McDole’s untimely death and facts about police violence in general, without any major disruptions to traffic.
At the moment of this arrest, all of the approximately 40 protesters were in the street, making the singling out of these two activists even more suspicious, and indicative of a tactic used to suppress protest, not to enforce any law.
Indeed, a recent federal lawsuit filed by the civil rights firm, Stecklow and Thompson, representing some 200 Occupy Wall Street protesters, claims the NYPD has a policy of violating protesters rights, misusing charges including “obstructing vehicular traffic.”
As the video shows, the two protesters arrested were not engaged in any unlawful activity, or anything that that the rest of the other protesters were not also engaged in at the same time, on a street already closed to traffic. They were targeted.
And both arrestees – Kim Ortiz and Arminta Jeffryes – have been targeted by NYPD in the past.
By arresting two protesters who the NYPD view as leaders, the NYPD unlawfully attempted to end the protest and silence discussion about state violence against people of color, again.
“Illegal arrest, ILLEGAL ARREST,” yelled the protesters who then began a new First Amendment protected free speech call and response…
“Fuck the Police!”
NYPD’s Newest Anti-Free Speech Tactic: Simulated Forced Disapearance
Numerous people, including this author, watched the NYPD walk Ortiz and Jeffryes into their 13th Precinct station house.
No one entered or left the front of the 13th precinct while protesters waited for their colleagues with all the essential elements of jail support: food, water, medical supplies, legal aid, and bail money if needed.
But Ortiz and Jeffryes wouldn’t reappear until they were 2 miles and 20-30 minutes away in the famed neighborhood of Chinatown.
In secretly transporting the political arrestees, NYPD simulated “enforced disappearance” of the protesters, violating their civil rights, and then holding them incommunicado and without telling the interested public of their whereabouts is a dismaying attempt to chill the free speech rights of protesters throughout New York City.
“Enforced disappearance” is defined in Article 2 of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance as
the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.
Ortiz told DNAInfo that, “One officer told us (the transfer) was because they didn’t want us to be able to rejoin the protest.”
This appears to be the handiwork of the NYPD’s new protest specific Strategic Response Group, or SRG. Created under Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Brattorn, the SRG is a thinly-veiled free speech suppression unit. And they seem to be making a practice of transferring arrested protesters to distant precincts without alerting the supporters of the arrestees.
NYPD has staffed this new department with officers who are notorious for unlawful repression of protests, and in part, with military personnel previously in the chain of command at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq during the time of the notorious human rights abuses.
After her arrest on Monday, Ortiz’s lawyer, Will Aronin, called and alerted this author that both arrested protesters were inexplicably and secretly transferred to the 5th precinct in Chinatown and would be released shortly.
Compounding the NYPD’s unlawful behavior, after Ortiz and Jeffryes were arrested, non-Technical Assistance Response Unit members of the NYPD began recording the peaceful protesters.
That’s another NYPD violation of a settled lawsuit known as the Handschu Decree, barring police from recording peaceful protests unless they have reasonable suspicion of a crime.
Copwatcher Jose LaSalle was arrested by the NYPD at a protest on the anniversary of Mike Brown’s police killing in Ferguson.
LaSalle says that his arresting officer, SRG Supervisor Deputy Inspector Andrew Lombardo, told him, “I”m going to take you somewhere no one can find you.”
The trend is troubling, like the rest of the NYPD’s behavior at the protest for Jeremy McDole, for its chilling effect on protesters’ protected right to free speech.
The mere idea of being secretly transferred to a location where you are not sure people know you have been taken or will be able to find you is palpably intimidating.
Additionally, being released where you do not have jail support after your property has been confiscated and possibly not returned is discouraging and potentially dangerous.
Using this tactic against people arrested during First Amendment protected activity could clearly deter people from engaging in similar activity going forward.
By doing so, the NYPD is suppressing the rights they are sworn to protect, and possibly breaching the international convention on the treatment of prisoners.
This piece was co-authored by Grant Stern.