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New York City police officers must stop kettling protestors and other “excessive use of force” practices after reaching a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who sued authorities for their response to the Black Lives Matter riots in 2020.
The ACLU’s New York chapter, the Legal Aid Society, and the state Attorney General Letitia James announced the “landmark agreement” with the New York City Police Department after they sued Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, Chief of Department Terence Monahan, the City of New York, and several individual police officers for their roles in the protests over three years ago.
“This landmark settlement holds the NYPD, the nation’s largest and most influential police force, to its oath to protect New Yorkers’ right to protest,” Molly Biklen, Deputy Legal Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a news release. “The NYPD’s violent response to protestors during the 2020 demonstrations for Black lives made clear to the world what too many New Yorkers already knew, that the NYPD is unable or unwilling to police itself. Today’s settlement ensures the NYPD can no longer indiscriminately deploy the notorious Strategic Response Group to protest and no longer escalate force on a whim.”
In the weeks after George Floyd’s death in May 2020, New York City descended into complete chaos after Black Lives Matter protesters and rioters flooded the streets, looted and vandalized private property and businesses across the city. In response, NYPD officers allegedly pepper sprayed and struck demonstrators with batons while others ran into pedestrians with bicycles and trapped protestors in closed spaces.
According to the Attorney General’s office, authorities arrested 2,087 demonstrators between May 28 and June 7, 2020, of which the vast majority were charged with felonies on May 31, when there was widespread plundering of businesses.
But now the city’s police force must abide by a new four-tiered system to determine how authorities can respond to protests.
“During the summer of 2020, the frustrations of a global pandemic, a tragic killing, and the use of spontaneous demonstrations throughout the city drew people from all over the country — some with good intentions and some with bad,” NYPD Commissioner Caban said in a news release. “This presented many unique challenges for officers, who did their best to protect people’s rights to peaceful expression while addressing acts of lawlessness. Now, the NYPD has re-envisioned its policies for policing protests to deal with these unique scenarios. This agreement represents the department’s commitment to continually improving to ensure the public remains safe and individual rights are protected.”
According to ACLU officials, officers must amend their internal discipline matrix, improve the treatment of members of the press, and cannot deploy the department’s aviation unit with “intent of intimidation” or “disrupting, interfering with, or dispersing a lawful protest.” Authorities are also prohibited from using a crowd-control tactic known as “kettling” — unless authorities are encircling an individual or individuals within a crowd who are the target of a particular arrest.
NYPD authorities must create a new oversight review committee estimated to cost city taxpayers upward of $1.45 million.
Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Hendry noted “serious concerns about its impact on the safety of police officers and all New Yorkers in future situations involving coordinated violent actions,” according to CNN.
“Nearly 400 NYPD members were injured during the summer 2020 protests, but there has been zero accountability for the agitators who used the protests as cover to assault police officers,” Hendry said in his statement. “This settlement does not change that. If anything, it may serve to encourage future violence.”
In July, New York City agreed to pay $13.7 million to more than 1,000 protesters who took to the streets during the George Floyd protests in 2020. The city’s huge payout settles a major class-action lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court that claimed police violated protesters’ civil rights.
According to attorneys for the plaintiffs, protesters who are eligible for a payout can receive $9,950 in compensation. Some of the protesters eligible for payouts were arrested, while others were not arrested but had their First Amendment rights infringed by police, their lawsuit claimed.
Protesters who were arrested on charges of violence, including trespassing, property destruction, assaulting an officer, or arson or weapons possession, will not be eligible for a payout, and those who blocked police from arresting other people may also not be eligible.
A judge must still approve the settlement. It would reportedly be one of the most expensive payouts ever over mass arrests if approved.
The lawsuit dealt with clashes between protesters and police at 18 protests that happened the week after George Floyd died in Minneapolis police custody at the end of May, which sparked months of civil unrest and resulted in 25 additional deaths and billions of dollars of property damage in cities nationwide.
Mairead Elordi contributed to this report.