Mayor Bill de Blasio defends NYPD officers during post-election protests

Mayor Bill de Blasio | Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Mayor Bill de Blasio defended the actions of NYPD officers who repeatedly clashed with anti-Trump protesters demonstrating in Manhattan over the last two nights and attempted to discredit widely shared video posted to social media capturing officers’ harsh response during a Friday interview. 

“I’ve been in enough of these after-action discussions to know that what you see in front of your eyes is not always the whole story,” de Blasio told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer. “When we are debating over videos or ‘evidence’ over what happened, I really don’t think we are getting a clear enough picture from anywhere…The videos are often inconclusive.”

The evening after Election Day, hundreds of New Yorkers took to the streets surrounding Manhattan’s Washington Square Park to demand that all outstanding votes be counted during this year’s contentious presidential election between former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump. 

The peaceful protest took a violent turn after demonstrators at the #CountEveryVote march converged with protesters taking part in an Everybody Out! rally around Greenwich Village Park.  NYPD officers dressed in hard plastic-covered uniforms on bicycles encircled protesters using a tactic known as “kettling” at 7th Ave. and Leroy St. Officers then began swinging batons and shoving bicycles at demonstrators seemingly unprovoked, according to reports from Gothamist and the New York Times. The massive scuffle late Wednesday night resulted in the arrest of nearly 60 people. 

NYPD Patrol Commissioner Juanita Holmes later told reporters that officers saw people during the demonstrations with “ the intent to disrupt the peaceful protest and cause destruction.” Officers claimed to have recovered a taser, hammer, knives and fireworks from the area. 

As state election results continued to trickle in on Thursday, election-related protests continued in lower Manhattan where officers again clashed with demonstrators at Union Square. Videos plastered across social media show NYPD officers again dressed in motocross wear called “turtle uniforms” shouting “move back!” in unison while shoving some protesters, journalists and even Public Advocate Jumaane Williams with bicycles. 

The NYPD’s use of “kettling” was heavily criticized during this summer’s citywide protests calling for police reform after the death of George Floyd particularly after officers trapped hundreds or marchers on the Brooklyn bridge for hours and used the tactic to crack down on protesters in Mott Haven in the Bronx. 

De Blasio told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer that he had a long conversation with NYPD leadership on Thursday to instruct officers to use the “lightest touch possible” adding that kettling is not an acceptable practice. 

“It’s not part of the NYPD tactics in the patrol guide, it’s not something I want to see,” de Blasio said. “If there is an individual who has committed an act of violence or broken the law and is going to be arrested surrounding that person to arrest them is something acceptable but not surrounding a crowd.” 

However, de Blasio would not directly say whether he believed the NYPD acted wrongly towards peaceful protesters on Wednesday or Thursday night and questioned the validity of videos on social media from protesters and reporters on the ground covering the post-election protests.  

“I don’t have the information that tells me that, I want to be very straightforward…the goal is to de-escalate to use as little police presence as possible but it’s not always a simple equation,” de Blasio said.