Given the NYPD’s pervasive lack of transparency, there will probably never be a public accounting of why they so dramatically shifted gears last night in deciding to aggressively corral, arrest, and terrorize demonstrators marching in solidarity with the protests in Baltimore.
Last night’s emergency march was organized by the Millions March and other groups to respond both to the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of police and the aggressive and demeaning response of Baltimore’s political and police leaders. The crowd of several thousand was racially diverse and included families with small children and the elderly. Given the police handling of previous protests on this issue the crowd assumed that a march would be allowed despite the threatening tone set by the NYPD through leaflets and announcements ordering people to stay off the streets.
According to National Lawyer Guild member Gideon Oliver, quoted in Gothamist, the police were well aware that people intended to march in the street regardless of police threats and that the police were given every opportunity to arrange a march restricted to one lane of 6th Ave. The police adamantly refused, setting the stage for a major and totally unnecessary and avoidable confrontation.
As demonstrators moved out of Union Square and into the street, they were immediately confronted by hundreds of police who pushed and shoved them, knocked people down and arrested dozens. Families with children were terrified and attempted to flee the scene. Dante Barry of Million Hoodies tweeted: “I watched 10 year old scream for his life last night in fear that the NYPD would kill him while protesting. Never forgetting that moment.” Journalist Rashad Drakeford reported, “They were pushing kids and knocking women in the head with nightsticks. One mother came over to us with her young son asking for protection because the cops were literally pushing and knocking down kids in the crowd. Her son couldn’t have been over 13 years old and was in tears and I mean bawling, uncontrollable tears. He just stood behind his mother as she tried to console him.” Russell Simmons’s political director Michael Skolnik was clearly shaken by the police response, tweeting: “I’ve protested my whole life in NYC. Anti-war, immigration, climate, anti-police brutality marches… Never seen anything like I saw tonight. The @NYPDnews was completely different force tonight than during all of the marches in December and January. They came out swinging…”
In their attempt to contain the march, the NYPD’s aggressive actions served to splinter the crowd, sending several marches off in different directions, some with police escort and some without. At different times groups of marchers blocked the Holland Tunnel entrance on Canal St, occupied the West Side Highway, and took over Times Square more than once. Throughout the night police acted aggressively against anyone who strayed into the street, making numerous arrests that often involved pushing and shoving crowds and tackling demonstrators being arrested. In all over 100 people were arrested.