(New York) – New York City authorities have yet to hold police accountable for the planned assault and mass arrest of peaceful protesters they carried out on June 4, 2020, in the predominantly Black and brown Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx, Human Rights Watch said today. Five civil and human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, wrote to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on December 2, calling on him to urgently take action against members of the New York Police Department (NYPD) responsible for abuses.
The crackdown led by Chief of Department Terence Monahan, the NYPD’s highest-ranking uniformed officer, was among the most aggressive police responses to protests across the United States following the police killing of George Floyd. Scores of police officers surrounded and trapped the protesters before an 8 p.m. curfew, using a tactic known as “kettling.” Then, just after 8 p.m., the police–unprovoked and without warning–moved in on the protesters, wielding batons, beating people from car tops, shoving them to the ground, and firing pepper spray into their faces, before rounding up more than 250 people for arrest.
“With the abundance of available information about what happened, and the resources the city has at its disposal, it is hard to understand why no action has been taken, six months on,” the letter read. “Ensuring timely accountability for past abuses is critical to showing there are consequences for such actions and to deter future abuse.”
A 99-page Human Rights Watch report, “‘Kettling’ Protesters in the Bronx” and a 12-minute video released on September 30, detail the incident. It is based on interviews and written accounts from more than 80 participants and other witnesses, and an analysis of 155 videos. On October 2, de Blasio stated that an independent investigation of the incident was underway. “If things were done wrong,” he said, “anyone who did something wrong should be held accountable in the appropriate way.” Yet no findings have been announced or made public.
The police assault injured at least 61 people, who had lacerations, a broken nose, a lost tooth, a sprained shoulder, a broken finger, black eyes, and potential nerve damage from overly tight zip ties used as handcuffs. Human Rights Watch did not learn of any police officers being injured during the protest.
Most of those injured did not receive any immediate medical care, as police arrested or obstructed volunteer medics, clearly identifiable in medical scrubs with a red cross insignia. Dozens of people spent hours in detention with untreated wounds and their hands bound behind their backs. At least 13 legal observers–who wore clearly identifiable hats and badges–were also detained, in some cases violently, before being released.
In an apparent attempt to justify the police action, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea provided misinformation about the protest and its organizers, with unfounded allegations that other city officials either debunked or contradicted. Human Rights Watch also found no evidence of threats, or acts of violence, or vandalism by the protest organizers or protesters. The only violence was in the police response, Human Rights Watch said.
“It’s scary and it’s sad that six months later, there’s still nothing, and that the voices and lives from the South Bronx didn’t matter then and they don’t matter now,” Chantel Johnson, a teacher who participated in the Mott Haven protest, told Human Rights Watch. “That’s what law enforcement is showing us. That’s what the mayor is showing us, the people that serve in this community, that live in this community. We want to see accountability.”