New York City Agrees to $13 Million Settlement With BLM Demonstrators

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
July 20, 2023New York
New York City Agrees to $13 Million Settlement With BLM Demonstrators
Police hold off protesters during a solidarity rally for George Floyd in Brooklyn, N.Y., on May 31, 2020. (Wong Maye-E/AP Photo)

New York City has agreed to pay out $13 million in a settlement with more than 1,300 protesters who were arrested or allegedly being brutalized by police officers while attending 18 different protest events in the city in the summer of 2020.

On Thursday, a group of law firms representing the protesters in a federal lawsuit announced a pending settlement agreement with the city. Per the terms of the settlement—now awaiting the approval of District Court Judge Colleen M. McMahon—the city will pay $9,950 to each of up to approximately 1,380 protesters arrested by New York City Police Department (NYPD) members at a series of street protests in Manhattan and Brooklyn between May 28 and June 4, 2020.

This series of protests in New York City came in the days after George Floyd, a black man, died in Minneapolis Police custody. Mr. Floyd’s death sparked protests by Black Lives Matter activists, as well as destructive riots in several parts of the country.

A group of plaintiffs, represented by law firms affiliated with the National Lawyers Guild, filed a federal complaint in New York’s Southern District court, alleging police wrongfully conducted mass arrests. The lawsuit claimed police officers also restrained people with flex-cuffs “in such a manner that caused them unnecessary pain and suffering and, in some cases, possible serious and long-term nerve damage” and subjected those who were arrested to “lengthy and unnecessary arrest processing that put them in dangerously close quarters, all at the height of the global COVID-19 pandemic.”

The plaintiffs in the case compiled footage showing some of the protest events devolving into physical confrontations between demonstrators and police. The plaintiffs argued the footage showed the improper use of pepper spray and improper baton strikes, evidence of mass arrests and general instances of excessive force used by police.

While attorneys for the plaintiffs cited past police responses to large demonstrations, including during the 2004 Republican National Convention, as evidence of longstanding “systemic violations” by the NYPD, attorneys for the city said there was no systematic effort to deprive people of their right to protest.

“There is no history—or present or future—of unconstitutional policing,” Georgia Pestana, an attorney for the city, wrote in a memo. “There is no frequent deprivation of constitutional rights.”

The terms of the settlement state that individuals who were arrested on certain charges—such as trespassing, property destruction, assaulting an officer, arson, or weapons possession—will be excluded from the settlement payouts. The settlement also will not cover individuals who already filed and resolved claims against the city.

In March, the New York City government agreed to settle a similar lawsuit involving around 300 Black Lives Matter demonstrators. The settlement entailed payouts of up to $21,500 per plaintiff for demonstrators who took part in a demonstration in the Mott Haven neighborhood in the Bronx on June 4, 2020. Police in that incident began arresting a large group around the time that city’s curfew was going into effect. Some demonstrators allegedly threw objects like plastic water bottles. Other demonstrators were allegedly found with hammers, wrenches, gas masks, and “additional items that could be used to cause injuries” when they were arrested.

Like the March settlement, this latest settlement agreement includes no admission of wrongdoing by the city or police officers.

“Although the city does not admit liability in this settlement, the size of this monetary settlement, coupled with the earlier settlement about Mott Haven, strongly suggests otherwise,” said Adama Sow, the lead plaintiff in the case. “It is also a testament to the importance of collective action to redress violations of important constitutional rights.”

Several attorneys representing the plaintiffs also argued that the settlement itself is proof that NYPD officers were in the wrong.

“This case is one of many lawsuits filed against law enforcement agencies across the United States for misconduct during the 2020 protests for Black lives,” the attorneys for the plaintiffs concluded in a Thursday press statement. “Like the protests themselves, the resulting litigation, and this settlement and others like it, all send a clear message that police abuse of power and suppression of dissent will not be tolerated, and that fundamental changes to policing altogether are essential.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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