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Police push a woman in a green hat against a car and handcuff her

Witness: Police ‘Kettle,’ Beat Protesters in New York City

‘It Was Just Innocent People Getting Hurt’

New York City police detain a legal observer during a peaceful protest in Mott Haven on June 4, 2020. © 2020 C.S. Muncy

As Chantel Johnson made her way through her South Bronx neighborhood to meet up with protesters, one thought kept nagging her: Why the heavy police presence? There were police officers on the street in riot gear. Barricades up in front of the train stations. Police whizzing by on bikes.

It was the evening of June 4, 10 days after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis that sparked protests across the United States. Activists in her neighborhood had organized a march, like hundreds that had sprung up across the United States to protest police brutality. She had heard about the local protest on Instagram and wanted to participate – in the neighborhood where she was raised and now worked as a teacher. “I felt really comfortable going because it was right in the neighborhood where I live.”

When she arrived at the corner of 149th Street and 3rd Avenue, in the Bronx neighborhood known as Mott Haven, a group had already gathered. The group started to walk along 3rd Avenue at around 7 p.m., through a number of housing projects as the leaders talked about the history of the neighborhood and the struggles faced by residents. As they headed down Willis Avenue, they were blocked by police so made a U-turn and then turned onto 136th Street. They tried to make a right turn on Brown Place but were blocked by police cars and vans. So, they continued on 136th Street, which sloped downward. More police sped by on bikes as the protesters walked down the hill. At the bottom, on Brook Avenue, the police officers jumped off their bikes and used them to form a barricade. With the path forward now blocked, the group looked to turn back. But police had moved in behind the protesters, on foot and with cars.

“I start to text my mom to let her know I’m stuck, and they have us ‘kettled’ in and we can’t go anywhere,” Chantel said. “It was very uncomfortable.”

Law enforcement officers responded to many of the protests held across New York City and the United States after the killing of George Floyd with violence, excessive force, and abuse. Human Rights Watch’s report on the Mott Haven protest, based on interviews or written accounts from 81 people who participated and a review of 155 videos, concludes the police not only used excessive force, but that the response to the protest was planned in advance.

Read a text description of this video

The Trap


Protesters: I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.

Protests calling for racial justice and an end to police brutality swept the United States in late May following the death of George Floyd.

The police in New York City, as in other cities, responded to many of the peaceful protests with violence and abuse. In a few neighborhoods, some people looted, largely separate from the protests. In response, officials imposed an unprecedented city-wide curfew. 

Mayor deBlasio: The curfew is 8 p.m.

Governor Cuomo: The curfews are designed to help the police deal with the looters. The curfew is not about the protesters.

TITLE: THE TRAP presented by Situ/Human Rights Watch


TEXT ON SCREEN: This video contains violent and disturbing images and profanity. Viewer discretion is advised.

On the evening of June 4, around 300 protesters gather at what’s known as “The Hub” - the intersection of 149th Street and 3rd Avenue in Mott Haven, a predominantly Black and brown neighborhood in the South Bronx, for one of many marches happening around the city that day.

It was a peaceful protest, but this march would end with a violent police crackdown and mass arrests.

Human Rights Watch has interviewed and reviewed testimony from dozens of witnesses and analyzed over 150 videos taken by protesters and bystanders. 

We found that the New York Police Department (NYPD)used the 8 p.m. curfew to justify a plan to trap, assault and arrest the protesters.


The march was organized by a number of local activist groups. Mott Haven has some of New York City’s highest rates of poverty and homelessness and is one of its most heavily policed neighborhoods. Its residents have suffered the consequences of systemic racism for decades.

Protesters: FTP – Fuck the Police!

Andom: It was a FTP rally and FTP can mean a lot of different things – Free the People, Feed the People. Most people know it to mean “F” the Police.

Protesters: FTP – Fuck the Police!

Andom: There was a lot of energy, a lot of anger. But honestly, a lot of optimism.The march twisted and turned through Mott Haven – at one point reaching the Patterson Houses, home to thousands of residents, who were especially hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.


Andom: People were very, very excited as we were passing, and you could just feel the energy from people who were hearing us from their windows.

As the marchers headed down Willis Avenue, more than 50 police officers blocked the street.

Protesters: Yo, we gonna go around. The march redirected down 136th Street. And in the final minutes just before the 8 o'clock curfew, instead of allowing or even directing the marchers to disperse, the NYPD diverted its bicycle officers to block the marchers just as they reached the intersection of 136th and Brook Avenue.



Police: Mobile fence line one!. Move the crowd!

Police: Move back. Move back.”

Protester: Go that way. Go that way.

Protesters: Let us through Let us through!

And from behind the march, a line of officers blocked the protesters from turning back. 

It’s a tactic called “kettling.”

Protester: You’re corralling us. Where the fuck are we gonna go?


Protester: Where do we go?  Where do we fucking go, you’re corralling us. 


Tanya Fields (selfie):

The police have us fucking surrounded right now. Police got us trapped. They fucking out here right now on the bullhorn telling us that we can’t be here after 8. (I got your phone babe.) And we ain’t do nothin’ wrong. At about 7:45, they intentionally started cornering us, they have us pushed in, in a pen. We are trapped. We are trapped right now. Whatever narrative is spun to you later, do not believe it. They have helicopters overhead. Before 8:00 they was already out here trapping us.

Loudspeaker: Beginning at 8 pm, the city-wide curfew…

With most of the protesters trapped on 136th Street, one of the march’s organizers, Shannon Jones, had gotten cut off from the crowd.

Shannon Jones: Can y’all hear me on the other side?

Protesters:  No justice. No peace.

She becomes the focus of Chief Terrence Monahan, the highest-ranking uniformed officer in the NYPD.


Police: Do you want her locked up? OK.

Police: I’m not fucking with you. Get the fuck back.

Loudsepeaker: Thank you for your cooperation.

Soon after the 8 o’clock curfew arrives, the police moved in on the crowd trapped in the kettle.

He’s a legal observer… Why is he being arrested??

On the north side of the block, without provocation, an NYPD Legal department official directs officers to arrest the legal observers, who were clearly identified and had permission to be out after curfew.

NYPD LEGAL Officer: “Legal Observers can be arrested…They’re good to go!”

Conrad Blackburn, Legal Observer: The young lady that was in the middle of the kettle tried to show documentation to the police officers that, you know, we were essential workers and we were allowed to be out past the curfew. They body-slammed the young lady to the ground and arrested her. 

Protester: Do that shit to your mother man.Around the same time, is when they started rounding up all the medical workers.

Loudspeaker:  Other than essential workers.

Protesters: These are essential workers.

Conrad Blackburn, Legal Observer
So once the legal observers and medical workers were out of the way, the police really started cracking down on the protesters with impunity.

Protesters: We are peaceful, what the fuck are you? We are peaceful, what the fuck are you?

The protesters had already been forced to break the curfew. And the police keep ratcheting up the pressure.

Protesters: You guys are on the other fucking side. You guys are on the other side, where do we go?

Police: You’re getting locked up.

Protesters: Where are we gonna go, we’re corralled.

Police: To jail.TANYA FIELDS: We are currently trapped at 136th and Brook Avenue since 7:45. They are pushing us. They are pushing us. They are pushing us.  They are pushing us.  Stay calm. Stay calm.

Police: Move. Move. Move.

Observer watching from window: What are they doing? Why are they doing this? The police officers are like grabbing people. Oh my goodness!

Protesters: You guys are pushing us from the other side.

Police: Move back. Move back. Move back.

TANYA FIELDS: It’s OK. It’s OK. It’s alright Taylor. It’s alright Taylor. It’s alright Taylor.

Police: Move back. Back off.

Woman being arrested: It’s a curfew. It’s a curfew. You’re going to kill someone.

Conrad Blackburn, Legal Observer

What I observed and what I witnessed was just a complete suppression of the protesters’ rights to peacefully assemble and the protesters’ First Amendment rights. It was a moment where the American Constitution was thrown out the window and you had, we had what seemed like vigilante justice by the police officers in the moment. It was a very tragic thing to witness.


Over the next few hours, police arrested over 250 people.

Instead of being given summonses and released, those arrested are brought to jails all over the city and held for hours, overnight and into the next day, with no food and little or no water. 

Many are injured and get no medical help.

The next day, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea attempt to justify the crackdown. 

Bill deBlasio: In terms of what happened in Mott Haven, this is something that the NYPD saw coming, an organization that  literally was  encouraging violence…

They respond to questions with an admission that the crackdown was pre-planned.

Dermot Shea, Police Commissioner:  We had a plan which was executed nearly flawlessly in the Bronx. This wasn’t again about protests, this was about tearing down society. They had firearms.

NYPD told Human Rights Watch that “the intent of this assembly was to engage in violence and inflict harm.” But Human Rights Watch found no evidence of protesters using violence.

The police’s actions in Mott Haven could come with a heavy price. Human Rights Watch estimates that the crackdown may cost New York City taxpayers several million dollars. In addition to the cost of the large-scale police presence, around 100 protesters, observers and medical workers have filed notice of their intent to sue the city.Instead of cracking down on peaceful protesters and stifling their calls for change, local governments should finally do what it takes to end the structural racism and systemic police abuse that people in Mott Haven and communities like it have experienced for far too long.



Chantel and the other protesters were now packed together, blocked in the back and front. Police in the rear began shoving people forward, while the police in front were pushing back. “People were getting pushed, elbowed, and people are losing their footing,” said Chantel.

Chantel started to video the melee on her phone, but when she saw a police supervisor – identifiable by his white shirt, worn by the highest-ranking officers – smack a phone out of someone’s hand, she quickly put her phone away.

Over a loudspeaker, a recording announced that it was now 8 p.m., the curfew imposed recently by the mayor in response to looting in other parts of the city.

Then things turned ugly.

Police officers leaned over the line of bicycle police, whaling on protesters with their batons. “One of the officers, I saw him before he hit me,” Chantel said. “He was hitting a bunch of people. It was so aggressive, I was shocked.” Chantel’s lip was split by a blow from a baton; she was hit on her fingers, too.

© 2020 SITU Research for Human Rights Watch

A police officer hit a white man next to her. “You wanted to hang out in the ‘hood?” the officer told the man. “Well, welcome to it.”

Protesters were putting their hands up saying, “Don’t shoot!” Chantel could hear bones crack as the blows rained down. Police officers were jumping on parked cars to beat down on people; pepper spray wafted through the mayhem.

Chantel clutched a Black man next to her as he was being pummeled. “Every time he got hit, I felt the hit and now I’m feeling his tears on my face. I just kept telling him, ‘I got you, I’m not gonna let you go,’ and he just rested his chin on my forehead and held me tight.”

Police began arresting people, zip-tying their hands and sitting them on the ground to wait for transport.

“I kept saying, ‘I want to go home, I live in the neighborhood, I’m an educator, I’ve been trying to go home since 7:30.’ I kept repeating that over and over, like 100 times.”

Police arrest a street medic during a peaceful protest in Mott Haven, New York City, on June 4, 2020. © 2020 C.S. Muncy

Chantel knew some of the police from the neighborhood – police officers she’d see on the walk to work, at the local grocery store or deli, even officers that came once to speak at Career Day in her class. “That was very overwhelming for me. So when I was saying, ‘I live in the neighborhood, I’m an educator,’ I was begging them for help.”

Eventually a supervisor grabbed her by the wrist and started leading her out of the snarl of protesters and cops. Chantel believed he was going to arrest her. But then another police officer came over to help. He took her to the edge of the protest, pushed her, and told her to hurry up and go home. Chantel isn’t sure why the officer chose to let her go, unlike the 263 people who were arrested and detained during the protest.

She went home, hurt and terrified. She couldn’t sleep, troubled by the fate of the others. She got up at 5 a.m., gathered some snacks, got in her car, and started making rounds of the Bronx police stations. No one could tell her anything about the fate of her fellow protesters. She was told to go to central booking in Queens, where she saw arrested protesters trickle out. “That was another shocker. You saw people coming out with head injuries, shirts ripped, bruised arms.” She took one protester with a head injury to Urgent Care.

Chantel has been anxious since that night. “I get very emotional; sometimes I’m crying for no reason. I often think about the man that I was holding or seeing a pregnant woman dragged by her shirt out of being kettled. And I just remember officers hitting people. I remember hearing someone’s bone break. I never heard someone’s bone break before that.”

“It was just innocent people that got really hurt.”

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