Mayor relatively mum on NYPD clashes with protesters at City Hall on MLK Day

Police officers stand next to detained demonstrators near Washington Square park the day after Election Day in Manhattan, New York City
Police officers stand next to detained demonstrators near Washington Square park the day after Election Day in Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S., November 4, 2020. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon


Mayor Bill de Blasio held his tongue Tuesday in reacting to an NYPD crackdown on protesters outside City Hall in Lower Manhattan during Martin Luther King Jr. Day demonstrations on Monday night. 

About 300 demonstrators gathered in the late afternoon at the entrance of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, a now common start point for BLM demonstrations, to call for Black liberation and honor the Civil Rights Movement leader. 

Demonstrators marched north to cross the Brooklyn Bridge and make their way to City Hall with dozens of NYPD officers trailing behind them. The march remained peaceful until the growing number of protesters reached City Hall about two hours after the demonstration began in Brooklyn when NYPD officers in riot shields began blasting messages to the crowd of nearly 500 to disperse.

Video from NYC Protest Updates shows officers rushing protesters and violently grabbing and detaining multiple demonstrators by pinning them to the ground seemingly without provocation. A total of 29 protesters were arrested last night and 11 uniformed officers were injured, according to an NYPD spokesperson. Out of those arrested–12 men and 17 women–21 received summonses for disorderly conduct while seven were issued desk appearance tickets. 

The NYPD claims arrests began after protesters threw glass bottles at officers who formed a circle to “protect and remove” a woman using her iPhone to film demonstrators in front of the Municipal Building at 1 Centre Street after she had ” protesters move in to harass her,” DCPI Spokesperson Sergeant Edward Riley told amNew York Metro. 

“Other officers used a public address system to give clear, audible directions for protesters to leave the roadway,” Riley added.

Police conduct during protests has come under scrutiny over the last year amid the second wave of the Black Lives Matter Protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in May of 2020.

During last year’s protests, NYPD officers repeatedly used excessive force against peaceful protesters prompting several investigations, including an internal one from the city, into the department’s behavior and disciplinary actions over the summer.

New York state’s top law enforcement agent, Letitia James, filed a lawsuit against the NYPD and its leadership last week for failing to fix the department’s longstanding history of abuse by not “properly training, supervising, and disciplining officers to prevent misconduct.” 

Tuesday morning, de Blasio touched on police reform stating this year the NYPD will redouble its efforts to gain “trust and understanding and mutual respect at the community level”  in order to improve public safety.   

“There’s a lot of ways to do that,” de Blasio said. “Neighborhood policing tells us that the number one way is just to communicate, a lot of person to person communication locally, and that’s been really clear, strong element over the year’s that has helped us a lot.” 

In response to the violent turn of Monday night’s protest, de Blasio told reporters he had only “seen a few videos” of the “small protest” and was therefore unable to comment on police conduct.

“It was in close proximity to City Hall, and that was obviously a concern after what happened at the Capitol just 12 days ago,” said de Blasio, referencing the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by an angry mob of Trump supporters. “But the bottom line is a host of changes are happening right now at the NYPD.” 

De Blasio then urged New Yorkers interested in police discipline to visit the NYPD’s new “discipline matrix,” a lengthy document on the city’s website outlining new penalty guidelines for officers found guilty of misconduct. 

James, on the other hand, didn’t hold back in condemning how the NYPD responded to the MLK Day protests.

“Once again, we are seeing and hearing accounts of NYPD officers infringing on the rights of New Yorkers. The images of officers using excessive force against peaceful protesters is alarming and cause for deep concern,” James said in a statement Tuesday. “Less than a week after I filed a lawsuit against the NYPD over these very exact issues, we saw officers exhibit the same behavior. As we laid out in our lawsuit, this is a longstanding pattern that must stop. These New Yorkers were marching in the spirit of Dr. King, who taught us that peaceful protest is the most powerful force in the fight for freedom, equality, and justice for all.”