NYPD Response to June Bronx Protest Violated Human Rights Law, Watchdog Charges

Ese Olumhense, THE CITY

Logo for THE CITY This article was originally published on by THE CITY

Several protesters were injured after NYPD officers swung batons into a crowed during protests in Mott Haven, The Bronx, June 4, 2020.
Several protesters were injured after NYPD officers swung batons into a crowed during protests in Mott Haven, Bronx, June 4, 2020. | Gregory Berg/gbergphoto.com

Cops filmed boxing in and beating hundreds of demonstrators during a Bronx protest of police violence committed violations of international human rights laws, a new report charges.

The nearly 100-page report by Human Rights Watch includes the accounts of more than 80 people, among them medics and legal observers, who attended the June 4 protest in Mott Haven at the height of the spring protests.

Videos recorded at the protest — which ended after police encircled marchers, effectively trapping them — show officers beating some of those in the crowd with batons.

Terence Monahan, NYPD chief of department, was also on the scene, according to the report.

Working with a visual investigations firm, researchers also created a video, using 3D modeling, to illustrate how police corralled the protesters.

“Police conduct during the Mott Haven protest on June 4 amounts to serious violations of international human rights law which the federal, state, and local governments are obligated to observe,” the report said.

Among the protesters interviewed by the group was Andom Ghebreghiorgis, a former Bronx Congressional candidate, who described rampant violence. 

“There was a woman with blood gushing from her head, five or six rows ahead of me,” Ghebreghiorgis said “She was taken away and I don’t know what happened to her. There was a young woman to my right — she was lying down next to me and was unresponsive. The cops were trying to figure out if she was breathing but they weren’t moving with any urgency.” 

Over 260 protesters were arrested for violating the city-imposed curfew that night. That’s a higher arrest toll than at any other New York City protest that followed the Memorial Day police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, according to Human Rights Watch.

The Bronx District Attorney’s office has dismissed the summonses and desk appearance tickets, according to the report.

Initially, Human Rights Watch investigators wanted to do a comprehensive report on police crackdowns at the U.S. protests that followed Floyd’s death, said Ida Sawyer, a co-author of the report. “But when we heard about this incident in Mott Haven and started digging into it deeper, we felt that it was a really powerful and important story to understand more deeply.”

“This whole incident, looking at all of those factors, really emphasizes the importance of what protesters were out on the street protesting in the first place, and their demands to massively reduce, divest and take resources away from the police and invest in the community,” Sawyer added.

In an emailed statement to THE CITY on the new report, police officials said the NYPD “has conducted an ongoing review of the department’s response to protests and riots.”

“Enhanced training and techniques have already been put into practice,” a spokesperson said.

The Wednesday report comes just days after Physicians for Human Rights, another non-profit group, issued a report condemning “unlawful and excessive force against peaceful protesters, medics, and others,” at the same June protest.

‘This Isn’t Going to Go Well’

Demonstrations had been relatively peaceful in Mott Haven in the days before the June 4 protest in the South Bronx, residents told THE CITY. Unlike in other parts of the borough and Manhattan, businesses in Mott Haven had not been looted.

The 8 p.m. curfew that week, imposed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, was aggressively enforced in the neighborhood, said residents. Barricades had been erected near the 40th Precinct to limit traffic, frustrating residents who lived nearby and needed to show identification to get through, like Monxo Lopez, a local activist.

“During that week, when the barricades came up and the curfew started, it was basically like a state of siege,” said Lopez. “At least, that’s the way that it felt to me.”

“At some point, I just didn’t dare to come out of the house,” he added.

Although there was a feeling of “increased solidarity” in the community that first week of June, there was also “a lot of tension,” said Ivelyse Andino, an entrepreneur who lives in Mott Haven and rendered relief to medics at her home during the protests.

“There was an element of ‘This isn’t going to go well,’” Andino said. 

All of the Mott Haven residents who spoke with THE CITY said the protest was peaceful until just before the 8 p.m. curfew, when police officers “kettled” the crowd — penning demonstrators in.

U.S. immigration officers were also present that night, community members said.

“It felt like a war zone,” Andino said, recalling the rush of officers and noise from police helicopters. “I say that never having been in a war zone, but that’s what I can imagine it felt like.”

Lawsuits Already Moving Forward

Lawsuits against the NYPD are already underway, lawyers for some of the demonstrators said.

“We represent dozens of protesters from that night on claims against the NYPD,” said Jenn Rolnick Borchetta, managing director of impact litigation at the Bronx Defenders.

“Our clients were all trapped before the curfew,” Borchetta said. “They were trapped to such a degree that people reported that they couldn’t breathe. Then police descended on a trapped crowd, not allowing them to leave despite pleas to leave, injuring them physically and also, we think, causing them deep trauma.”

The financial fallout of the crackdown on June 4 “will likely reach into the millions of dollars,” according to the Human Rights Watch report.

Beyond the initial costs of personnel and helicopters needed for the June 4 event, researchers highlighted the costs of arresting, transporting and processing protestors.

“The largest cost, however, will likely come from the resulting misconduct complaints, investigations, and lawsuits,” Human Rights Watch said. “With at least 98 claims filed with the Comptroller’s Office since the protest, Human Rights Watch estimates that lawsuits related to the Mott Haven protest could end up costing New York City taxpayers several million dollars.”

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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Ed García Conde

Ed García Conde is a life-long Bronxite who spends his time documenting the people, places, and things that make the borough a special place in the hopes of dispelling the negative stereotypes associated with The Bronx. His writings are often cited by mainstream media and is often consulted for his expertise on the borough's rich history.