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New York Taxpayers Foot Bill for Abusive Police

Settlement No Substitute for Real Accountability

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

In an agreement made public yesterday, New York City will pay up to $4-6 million to partially settle a legal case brought by hundreds of people trapped, beaten, and wrongfully arrested by the New York Police Department (NYPD) in the summer of 2020.

A Human Rights Watch report and video produced with Situ Research documents the incident that is the subject of the lawsuit, which took place on June 4, 2020 in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the South Bronx. The report and video reveal how the NYPD – with no provocation or warning – surrounded, assaulted, and arrested hundreds of protesters in the majority Black and brown neighborhood that has long experienced police brutality and systemic racism.

This settlement, while important, is only partial, as many other related claims are ongoing. It is also no substitute for real accountability.

These are just some of the abuses that organizations like Bronx DefendersBrooklyn Defender Services, the Center for Constitutional RightsCommunities United for Police Reform, the Legal Aid Society, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and others have documented for decades.

Just yesterday, the NYPD failed to show up for a city council hearing about the litany of substantiated complaints filed against the Strategic Response Group (SRG), an NYPD unit responsible for many of the abuses Human Rights Watch documented. The NYPD cited ongoing litigation, no excuse for not showing up at an oversight hearing.

The settlement is one of many that the city has made over the years for police abuses, costing taxpayers $121 million in the past five years alone. In 2014 the city paid $18 million to settle police misconduct cases connected to protests during the 2004 Republican National Convention; the actual price tag was even higher because the city spent roughly the same amount defending the cases.

The NYPD has also failed to adequately discipline or charge many of those responsible for this and other incidents connected to NYPD actions during the 2020 protests, according to a Civilian Complaint Review Board report, yet New York Mayor Eric Adams continues to want to boost the NYPD’s $5 billion budget.

Here’s the bottom line: Police misconduct during the Mott Haven protest reveals deep, systemic problems requiring comprehensive reforms. This includes re-imagining community safety, a vision that should include dramatically decreasing the NYPD’s size, the scope of issues police respond to – including peaceful protests – and its funding. Instead, historically underserved communities like Mott Haven need investments that will improve access to education, housing, and health care.

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