A report recently published by the Global Justice Clinic (NYU School of Law) and the Walter Leitner International Human Rights Clinic at the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice (Fordham Law School) has been making headlines, as it meticulously shows how the New York Police Department has systematically violated the rights of participants in the Occupy movement over the past months.
Ninety-seven specific examples where the NYPD used “bodily force” are highlighted. The examples include instances where individuals were shoved, tackled or thrown “forcefully backwards, to the ground, or against a wall,” dragged on the ground, had their hair pulled, were hit or punched (sometimes in the head or face) and/or were kicked (also sometimes in the head or face).
A first example describes police violence that just so happens to have occurred on the same day that Officer Anthony Bologna pepper-sprayed female protesters:
On September 24, a café employee at work near Union Square heard a passing Occupy march, went outside, and decided to begin filming after seeing police using what he felt was excessive force on protesters. Video evidence shows a white-shirted police officer pushing the café employee, camera in hand. It appears that the employee then began speaking to the officer while holding both hands in the air as the officer approached him. In an interview, the employee stated that he asked the officer why he was pushing and told the officer, “I’m just taking pictures.” Video then shows the officer grabbing the employee by the wrist, and flipping him hard to the ground face-first, in what was described as a “judo-flip.” The employee stated that he was subsequently charged with “blocking traffic” and “obstructing justice.” On the same day, in a separate incident, video shows that an officer reached across orange netting, which police were using to kettle several protesters, and grabbed a protester by the strap of her backpack. The officer then dragged the protester underneath the netting, where other officers then grabbed her. The officers proceeded to drag her to the curb, also by the straps of her backpack. While being dragged, video shows that the strap of her backpack appeared to be choking her. At least three officers are then seen holding her face down in the street, arresting her.
Video of police dragging this protester by her backpack strap can be seen here (dragging happens just after the 3:00 mark) —
Other examples include City Council member Ydanis Rodriguez, who was tackled to the ground and struck in the head by officers on November 15, the day Occupy was evicted from Zuccotti Park. Another involves “one protester,” who had typically tried to de-escalate between police and protesters, being “punched in the left temple by an officer, without any apparent provocation or notice” on December 17. The same da,y an officer grabbed a Guardian journalist by the collar, jammed his fist into the journalist’s throat, and then “turned him ‘into a de facto battering ram to push back protesters.” Also, on March 20, “a woman said she was thrown by an officer and that she suffered a concussion.”
On the six month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, some of the most violent police action in the history of Occupy Wall Street occurred. A woman was punched in the side of her head. A journalist reported police had shoved, stomped, and kicked people. On May 30, a protester lying on the ground told police his shoulder “had just been dislocated.” Officers “aggressively handcuffed” the protester, who “screamed out in pain repeatedly.” Officers said he was lying about his injury and “intentionally pushed and pulled” on his shoulder. He eventually received treatment and found out he had a broken clavicle. And, on June 13, an officer pulled back the leg of a protester who was lying face-first on the street and kicked him “hard in the face.” Police refused to identify the officer when they were asked.
These few examples do not include the multiple incidents where police used batons, pepper spray, barricades, scooters, or horses on Occupy participants. On October 5, officers swung their batons at protesters who posed no physical threat whatsoever. Pepper spray was used by Officer Bologna on September 24, on October 5, when individuals were trying to protest on Wall Street, and during the Zuccotti Park eviction in November. Barricades were picked up by police on November 17 and used as a “weapon” to “push people.” This happened again on December 31/January 1, March 17 and March 21. Scooters have been used “dangerously” as a “direct contact crowd dispersal tool and driven either recklessly or intentionally at and into protesters’ bodies.” And horses have been driven directly into crowds in a manner that has caused “panic and fear among those present.”
Officers have also put flex cuffs on participants they have arrested so tightly that they have caused injury. When protesters call out to officers to loosen them so they do not suffer pain, officers ignore them, even if they cry out multiple times for mercy like this arrested protester does at about the 4:00 mark of this video from March 24:
The NYPD has denied arrestees medical care when they’ve informed police they were injured. A particularly disturbing example of this occurred on March 17 to Cecily McMillan. Her rib was bruised. She was under arrest and hyperventilated, convulsed and seizured in the middle of the street. This was clear to police yet they refused to provide timely medical assistance to her from an ambulance and would not let EMTs that volunteered to give her attention go near her.
Then, there’s the many instances that have occurred where NYPD officers have deliberately obstructed press freedom and made certain there was no documentation of how they handled Occupy protests. The worst example appears to be the enforced blackout of the eviction of Zuccotti Park in November. As detailed in the report, “A New York Times journalist and a reporter for a local cable news channel stated that they witnessed police abuse a New York Post freelance reporter. The cable news reporter said the New York Post reporter was “thrown into a choke hold,” and she described the 20 minutes of confrontation with the police as “some of the scariest [minutes] of my life.”
A journalist on October 14 was reportedly punched by an officer. On November 17, a photographer wearing credentials issued by the NYPD was “grabbed by a third officer and thrown to the ground, hitting her head on the pavement,” as she tried to comply with commands from officers. The same day a female journalist was forced backwards by an officer, fell on her right elbow yelling out in pain.
In total, according to Josh Stearns who has tracked arrests of journalists covering the Occupy movement, 85 arrests have occurred. Forty-one of these arrests have happened at protests in New York City.
Finally, legal observers on the scene to hopefully act as a buffer between police and protesters and ensure protesters’ rights are not violated have been victims of police violence. On October 5, a female legal observe was jabbed in the stomach with a nightstick. On October 14, a legal observer’s leg and face suffered injuries and another legal observer was grabbed and pushed and suffered bruising. A legal observer was thrown against the wall on November 15. A legal observer was thrown on to the “top of the hood of a car” on January 1. Another legal observer was pushed to the ground and suffered bruising on January 29 and yet another was knocked to the ground on May 30.
Four legal observers have also been arrested for “observing arrests and protests.” They often have faced harassment and intimidation while trying to “document arrests, uses of force, and closures of public space.” Sometimes they’ve even been threatened for asking police officers questions.
Going forward, the report’s contents may serve to further validate the accusations of police brutality and violence that many Occupy protesters have been making. Not only is this report invaluable to those seeking accountability for police who violated their civil liberties or rights, but it also clearly lays out the ways the police have been used to suppress dissent. The conduct and operations of the NYPD have unmistakably served to deter and dissuade citizens from publicly exercising their right to assemble and speak out against the city, state, and federal governments and, most importantly, Wall Street.
Politicians, businessmen and government officials have benefited from the NYPD’s aggression against Occupy Wall Street. It has greatly stunted the movement. Few in government have said anything about the police force used to repress the movement. In fact, one could say the police force against Occupy is part of why journalists and reporters now look at the Occupy movement and consistently ask if it is dead.
In conclusion, the comprehensive and methodical report put together by these law clinics is over one hundred and twenty pages long. The above is not an attempt to distill all of the report’s contents. This post focused on police aggression and the use of excessive force on protesters.
The full report gets into “over-policing and poor communication,” police surveillance, more specifics related to the Zuccotti Park eviction, public space closures, arbitrary “rule” enforcement by police and failures of accountability and transparency. The first part of the report contains extensive background on the Occupy movement, how it compares to recent global protests, a brief history of public protest in the United States, how police have typically policed protests, and the different methods that are used and what international laws and protest rights should be adhered to by police but have not been respected.
The report certainly merits further coverage, and in the coming days, this blog will hopefully revisit this report, which is the first in a series of reports on how major cities in the US have responded to the Occupy movement.