West Village clash between cops and protesters prompts calls for investigation

A line of bike-riding NYPD officers at Washington Square Park on Sept. 26, 2020, as they broke up a protest party. (Photo by Jeremiah Moss)

Lawmakers in the West Village and beyond are calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD to investigate clashes between police and protesters on Saturday night caught on camera. 

Twelve demonstrators wound up in handcuffs at the corner of Hudson and 10th Street on Sept. 26 after a standoff with police. Video footage shows the cops, including bike-riding members and officers in riot gear, charging at the crowd — wrangling some of them near outdoor dining areas where patrons were eating.

That occurred about 90 minutes after police broke up a protest party in Washington Square Park that drew scores of residents.

According to local journalist Jeremiah Moss, “a shockingly massive police presence” converged upon the park at about 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 26, including 100 bike-riding officers and other cops in riot gear. Attendees at the park claimed that some of the cops flipped over a table of art and related supplies, and confiscated a DJ’s equipment.

Moss said that the cops had blockaded a small corner of the park when an activist, while using a megaphone, urged onlookers to start recording video and photos and share it on social media. That prompted the police to leave the park along Fifth Avenue. 

Washington Square Park has been the site of several large parties among students from nearby New York University, which drew the attention of Governor Andrew Cuomo. The gatherings, many of which were caught on tape, showed hundreds of revelers — many of whom were unmasked — gathering at these events amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Moss, police presence has increased significantly at Washington Square Park since NYU resumed in-person classes and residents living near the park began returning home “from their pandemic retreats.”

“Last night, however, they (the police) took it to an aggressive, and ultimately violent, new level, suppressing what was a very mild and peaceful form of protest organized by young Black and Latinx New Yorkers,” Moss said.

The West Village standoff happened at about 9 p.m., when lines of bike-riding cops and protesters stared each other down just a few steps from the 6th Precinct stationhouse. 

According to NYC Protests Update, a Twitter account managed by “young, independent journalists” covering Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the city, the protest occurred in the West Village as a result of the seizure of the DJ’s equipment at Washington Square Park. 

Multiple videos on social media shows the line of cops on one side of Hudson Street, and protesters gathered on the other side. A few protesters were standing in a bike lane and on a concrete median. 

One video then shows a number of cops charge at protesters after a silver van passed through the intersection. They grabbed one man who had stepped out into Hudson Street off the median, and then went after other individuals as they retreated.

Up to seven officers then swarmed another protester and began restraining him. A cop in riot gear then appears to grab another individual, prompting someone in the crowd to shout, “What are you doing?” Other officers arrested that individual in an outdoor dining area.

Police reported that 12 people were arrested in the clash, which they said was occurred while responding to “a large disorderly group obstructing vehicular traffic.” 

Two of them, residents of Brooklyn and Queens, were charged with resisting arrest. The other arrested  individuals, who live in Queens and Harrison, New York, were booked for obstructing governmental administration.

On Sunday afternoon, Sergeant Mary Frances O’Donnell of the NYPD issued a statement about the incidents: “In response to numerous noise complaints from area residents, the NYPD responded to Washington Square Park. After multiple warnings regarding loud music went unaddressed, officers gave the individual playing music a summons to address the condition. Following, a group of roughly 150 demonstrators came to the 6th Precinct and blocked traffic. After multiple warnings to clear the sidewalk, officers took 12 individuals into custody and they were given desk appearance tickets.”

The episode sparked backlash among elected officials across the city, including Bronx state Senator Alessandra Biaggi. She tweeted that her policy advisor, Molly Dillon, happened to walk by the scene on the way home from a wedding — but “narrowly managed to run away whe aggressively charged by this group of police.”

“This is police misconduct,” Biaggi declared on Twitter, then turned her attention to Mayor Bill de Blasio. “@NYCMayor, there must be consequences for this, and I will be following up.”

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, whose district includes the West Village, similarly condemned the police action.

“What happened last night in the Village was unacceptable,” he tweeted. “The right to protest is sacrosanct. Or at least it should be. We keep seeing incidents that show this right being disregarded. This is unacceptable and must end.”

State Senator Brad Hoylman also tweeted his frustration with the use of force, and demanded an investigation.

“My office is in contact with the NYPD about the use of force on New Yorkers on 10th and Hudson tonight,” Hoylman said Saturday. “But we’re exhausted of seeing video after video, and hearing from constituents in person, of inexplicable escalations that undermine an already fragile trust.”

amNewYork Metro reached out to the Mayor’s office for comment, and is awaiting a response.

Meanwhile, a protest in response to Saturday night’s clashes is scheduled for Sunday afternoon in Washington Square Park.