“They killed my brother, now they’re going to kill me,” said Akeem Browder while being arrested at a protest in NYC last night. His brother, Kalief Browder, committed suicide after being imprisoned on Rikers Island for three years without trial.
In total, the NYPD arrested 15 people at the peaceful protest, which was held in solidarity with the #4thPrecinctShutDown in Minneapolis, where five protesters were shot by reported white supremacists earlier this week, and protests in Chicago, where video of the horrendous police murder of Laquan McDonald was released two days ago. (All protesters were released from the 7th Precinct by 1 a.m. with Desk Appearance Tickets for various minor offenses, mostly Disorderly Conduct.)
Within hours, those organizers received threats of violence.
However, they did not back down, and hundreds of marchers turned up to NYC’s Washington Square park to show their support for the activists in Minneapolis and Chicago.
Threats of violence from civilians did not materialize, but the NYPD delivered on those threats, violently arresting the peaceful protesters. The wing of the NYPD policing the protests, was the new protest and crowd control specific Strategic Response Group (SRG).
For alleged minor traffic violations, such as jaywalking and obstructing pedestrian traffic, the NYPD slammed protesters to the ground, threw them against cars and buildings, and arrested them, as can be seen in the video below.
(SRG is also policing the Macy’s Day Parade today. So far no reports of them slamming parade goers to the ground and arresting them for crossing against the light or stepping off the curb.)
The two most egregious arrests were that of Akeem Browder, and the arrest of a credentialed member of the press who was run over by a taxi cab.
After an initial round of police assaulting protesters for minor traffic violations just south of Washington Square, the protesters largely stayed on the sidewalk and obeyed all traffic signals, but the NYPD intensified their tactics to break up the march, arresting protesters who stepped off the sidewalk to avoid obstructions, and ultimately forcing protesters to stop at intersections even when they were in the crosswalk and had the pedestrian walk signal.
The NYPD arrested Akeem Browder on 14th Street and Union Square West. The march was crossing Union Square West from east to west when several protesters began marching north along Union Square, against the flow of traffic on the cobble stone street, where no vehicular traffic was present.
I was walking next to Akeem.
We were in the crosswalk, crossing Union Square West, with the light, when officers on motor scooters turned into us, apparently attempting to apprehend the protesters marching in the empty street north of us.
One of the NYPD officers plowed his scooter into another protester who was in the crosswalk with us, Mike Bento, pinning him against a van, which is also in the video below.
The NYPD then grabbed Mike and Akeem and arrested them both.
— Keegan Stephan (@KeeganNYC) November 26, 2015
After these arrests, the march proceeded North. At the intersection of 38th St and 8th Ave, Photojournalist Lanier Lewis, a photographer with the German Daily News, was out in front of the march taking photographs, visibly wearing his press credentials. Lewis was crossing the street with the light, when a cab driver tried to accelerate through the gap between him and the march.
I spoke with Lanier when he was released from the 7th Precinct late last night, and he told me that he would have been hit “square on” by the cab driver if he had not flashed his speed light at the driver to alert him of his presence.
The cab driver then swerved, and stopped directly on Lanier’s foot.
Lanier could not move, but instead of aiding him, Deputy Inspector Timoney, the Commanding Officer of the NYPD’s 13th Precinct, detained him for obstructing vehicular traffic.
Lanier presented Timony with his international press credentials, but they arrested him anyway. He was charged with Jaywalking (VTL 403(a)) and Disobeying A Lawful Order To Disperse.
Courts have noted in rulings this year related to Occupy NYC protests in 2011, that ordering a single individual to “Disperse” is an improper charge. Additionally, journalists are protected from such unlawful orders by the First Amendment.
Once again, the NYPD openly suppressed the right to freedom of the press.
Mike Bento, who was arrested next to Akeem Browder, was charged with Disorderly Conduct 5 and also Disorderly Conduct 6 (VTL 240.20(5) and (6)), which are obstructing vehicular traffic and obstructing pedestrian traffic, respectively.
It is hard to imagine how he was doing both at once, especially given the fact he was crossing the street in the crosswalk, with the light. But for good measure, the NYPD also charged him with VTL 1156(a), a violation for pedestrians in the roadway walking parallel to a sidewalk, which he was also not doing.
It is safe to say that there were hundreds of other people in NYC committing the exact same traffic violations that these protesters were allegedly committing, at the exact same time they were allegedly committing them, who were not thrown to the ground and arrested, indicating that the NYPD employed targeted enforcement specifically because these people were engaged in first amendment protected activity – one of the rights police ostensibly exist to protect.
At least, that’s what the Oath to Defend the Constitution, which police are required to swear on, says.
At last night’s protests, the NYPD’s SRG was once again armed with military weapons (in this case, an LRAD, or “Sound Cannon” which they used to make announcement throughout the march) and led by Deputy Inspector Lombardo, who was previously the Operations Sergeant of Camp Bucca Prison in Iraq during the infamous human rights abuses.
When the creation of the SRG was announced this last year, NYPD Commissioner Bratton said they would be armed with assault rifles and police protests and terrorist attacks. After public outrage about the conflation of the two and heavily armed officers policing protests, the NYPD recanted, saying SRG would leave their assault rifles in their vehicles, and a separate unit would police terrorist attacks. This week, after the terrorist attacks in Paris, the SRG has been seen throughout NYC with assault rifles, including at peaceful protests.
But instead of liberating Free Speech from those who would chill dissent, like those who threatened the protest with violence earlier in the day, NYPD themselves carried out the threats of violence conveyed toward march organizers.
— Keegan Stephan (@KeeganNYC) November 25, 2015