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Friday, June 05, 2020

‘Kettling’ of Peaceful Protesters Shows Aggressive Shift by N.Y. Police - The New York Times

"Officers have charged and swung batons at demonstrators after curfew with seemingly little provocation. The mayor said he would review any reports of inappropriate enforcement.

Officers surround protesters in Brooklyn on Wednesday before making arrests.
Officers surround protesters in Brooklyn on Wednesday before making arrests.
It was about 45 minutes past New York City’s 8 p.m. curfew on Wednesday when a peaceful protest march encountered a line of riot police near Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn.
Hundreds of demonstrators stopped and chanted for 10 minutes, arms raised, until their leaders decided to turn the group around and leave the area.
The protesters had not seen that riot police had flooded the plaza behind them, boxing them in. The maneuver was a law enforcement tactic called kettling. The police encircle protesters so that they have no way to exit from a park, city block or other public space, and then charge in and make arrests.
For the next 20 minutes in Downtown Brooklyn, officers swinging batons turned a demonstration that had been largely peaceful into a scene of chaos.
The kettling operations carried out by the police department after curfew have become among the most unsettling symbols of its use of force against peaceful protests, and have touched off a fierce backlash against Mayor Bill de Blasio and the police commissioner, Dermot F. Shea.
In the past several days, New York Times journalists covering the protests have seen officers repeatedly charge at demonstrators after curfew with seemingly little provocation, shoving them onto sidewalks, striking them with batons and using other rough tactics.
Credit...Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
The escalation in the use of force in New York is part of a national trend. Across the country, local police have resorted to increasingly violent crowd control techniques to control the protests ignited by the death George Floyd, a black man, as he was being held down by a white officer in Minneapolis.
In Minneapolis, the police have used tear gas, rubber bullets and projectiles to deter peaceful protesters and journalists. In Los Angeles, the police were recorded using batons to strike demonstrators, and in Philadelphia, police officers corralled and tear-gassed an entire crowd.
Two Buffalo officers were suspended after they were filmed by a local news outlet shoving a 75-year-old protester to the ground. And in Atlanta, six police officers were charged after they were recorded pulling two college students out of their car, and using a stun gun on them.
Several incidents are under investigation in New York, too, the authorities said, including a moment when two police S.U.V.s drove forward into a crowd that had been blocking them, knocking several people to the ground.
The kettling strategy has been broadly defended by both Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Shea, who said it was necessary escalation to deter looters who ransacked parts of Manhattan over the weekend. “There comes a point where enough is enough,” Mr. de Blasio said on Thursday.
But there have been few reports of looting in the last three days of unrest, and the police are deploying their more aggressive tactics against protesters who have done little beyond continuing to march after the city’s 8 p.m. curfew. About 270 people were arrested on Thursday night.
The police department’s crackdown suffered a blow on Friday from the district attorneys in Manhattan and Brooklyn, who announced they would not prosecute anyone arrested during the protests on low-level charges.
The Brooklyn district attorney, Eric Gonzalez, said he would not prosecute those charged with violating curfew or unlawful assembly, while Manhattan’s prosecutor, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., said that “in the interest of justice” he would decline to pursue convictions for unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct.
“Our office has a moral imperative to enact public policies which assure all New Yorkers that in our justice system and our society, black lives matter and police violence is a crime,” Mr. Vance said in a statement. Mr. Gonzalez’s said, “We stand for the right of people to protest.” Both said they would continue to prosecute people accused of violence against officers and of looting.
As images of police officers using force to arrest seemingly peaceful demonstrators have circulated online, Mr. de Blasio, who ran on a platform to reform the police, has come under sharp criticism from some elected officials, community leaders and even his former aides. He was jeered and booed at a memorial for Mr. Floyd on Thursday.
By Friday, after more than a week of protests, the mayor had softened his tone, pledging to review reports of police officers behaving inappropriately and promising he would announce disciplinary measures against some officers shortly.
Later, in an interview on WNYC, the public radio station, the mayor said that the encircling of protesters was sometimes necessary for public safety, and that the police were charging into crowds only when their commanders had evidence of imminent violence.
“I don’t want to see protesters hemmed in if they don’t need to be,” he said, but he added “that sometimes there’s a legitimate problem and it’s not visible to protesters.”
On Thursday, the police commissioner said he was reviewing at least seven videos that showed potential police misconduct and promised he would hold the officers accountable if the allegations were proven.
But Mr. Shea also stressed that some protesters had come to the demonstrations with the intent to attack the police. He also said the anti-police rhetoric of the demonstrators — and some elected officials — was encouraging attacks on officers, several of whom had been injured with sticks, or thrown bottles and bricks.
“We need healing,” Mr. Shea said. “We need dialogue. We need peace.”
For many protesters, however, the hard-nosed tactics the police have employed to shut down marches after curfew have only exacerbated the violence.
Axel Hernandez, 30, was protesting at Cadman Plaza on Wednesday night when officers rushed into the crowd. Mr. Hernandez, who had marched several times this week, said that up until that point it had been one of the calmest demonstrations he had attended.
“That was the most peaceful, no bottles thrown, no anything,” he said. “The next thing I know, police rush in, with batons, and started moving people, and start hitting people.”
Experts on crowd control say kettling is a technique the police have used for decades, not just in New York City, but around the world, including Northern Ireland. In theory, officers surround protesters, cutting off exits until they tire, then let them disperse in small groups.
But because demonstrators have nowhere to go, the maneuver often ends with a charge and mass arrests. Since the city put a curfew in place this week, the police have used the technique in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx.
“Kettling is basically when you take the crowd and drive it into a box, which is a great idea if you’re wanting to capture people,” said Dennis Kenney, a criminal justice professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “It’s generally a way to greatly increase the likelihood of conflict.”
On Thursday night, in the Bronx, rows of officers surrounded protesters from all sides, pinning them in before running at them with batons and striking several people. At least one was taken away in a stretcher.
Asked about the incident on WNYC, Mr. de Blasio said the police believed some in the crowd had intended to be destructive.
“The groups organizing that event advertised their desire to do violence and create violence,” Mr. de Blasio said.
“If any protesters were there peacefully and not associated with that, and they got hemmed in at all, that’s something I don’t accept that and we have to fix,” Mr. de Blasio said, promising a full review of the incident.
Mr. Shea said Friday that police officers recovered gasoline and weapons, including a firearm, from the crowd.
Many demonstrators whom the police have been trapped in kettle formations have had no way to disperse before being arrested, witnesses and protesters said. On Wednesday night, for instance, the police would not to let protesters encircled near Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s official residence in Manhattan, comply with an order to leave.
“We were asking them, ‘Where should we go?’ Everyone’s hands were in the air,’” one of the protesters, Lucas Zwirner, said. Many demonstrators told the police they would disperse and go home, Mr. Zwirner said, but officers would not let them through.
Police officers have used the maneuver to end some marches, but not others. At one demonstration n Brooklyn on Wednesday, the police waited until 9 p.m. — an hour beyond the 8 p.m. curfew — to surround protesters and charge.
The day before, they allowed thousands to march peacefully across the Manhattan Bridge hours after curfew had ended, and escorted a group of thousands back to Brooklyn before letting them disperse. It was a different story in the Bronx on Thursday, when officers surrounded a group of demonstrators and began making arrests just minutes after the 8 p.m. curfew.
“We are continuing to exercise discretion,” Mr. Shea said Thursday evening. “Where we have made arrests, we have made them strategically.”
Jan Ransom contributed reporting."
‘Kettling’ of Peaceful Protesters Shows Aggressive Shift by N.Y. Police - The New York Times

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