The New York City government has agreed to pay more than 300 Black Lives Matter demonstrators $21,500 each to settle a lawsuit over crowd control tactics policy used in response to demonstrations in the summer of 2020.
In July 2020, a group of four activists brought a lawsuit against the city on behalf of themselves and other demonstrators who were subjected to alleged aggressive policing while they protested in the streets. The lawsuit specifically alleged police used unjustified force, such as strikes with their batons and fists and pepper spray, to subdue protesters.
The plaintiffs also alleged police used a tactic known as “kettling,” in which they surrounded demonstrators to prevent them from escaping arrest. The police were alleged to have excessively tightened plastic handcuffs on arrested protesters, “which caused pain, bruising and, in some cases, led to long-term injury.”
During the course of their lawsuit, which became a class action case, the plaintiffs identified 320 people who fit their proposed class of demonstrators who were “detained and/or subjected to force by police while protesting police brutality on June 4, 2020, in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx.”
On Tuesday, an attorney for the plaintiffs announced they had reached a settlement (pdf) with the city after more than two and a half years. The agreement stipulates that each of the 320 people who met the class description would receive $21,500, with an additional $2,500 awarded to each individual who was given a legal summons after they were arrested. The agreement also covered attorney’s fees for the plaintiffs who brought the lawsuit forward.
Mott Haven Clash
The June 4, 2020, protest in question took place just days after George Floyd, a black man, died in Minneapolis Police custody. Protests and riots spread throughout the United States following Floyd’s death, including in New York City.
The plaintiffs said they were among those “engaging in peaceful protesting” following Floyd’s death.
Some demonstrations in New York City had devolved into violence and looting in the days leading up to the June 4, 2020, protest in Mott Haven. A man was shot during rioting and looting in the SOHO neighborhood of the city on June 1. In response to the violence and looting, then New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio imposed a curfew throughout the city, beginning at 8 p.m. every evening.
According to the Mott Haven Herald, a demonstration began in the Mott Haven neighborhood at around 7 p.m. on June 4, 2020. Participants brought helmets and goggles because, as attendee Shellyne Rodriguez told the publication, “we had seen the violence perpetrated against protesters.”
The lawsuit alleged police began kettling the protesters before the curfew, preventing some of the protesters from being able to leave before the 8 p.m. curfew went into effect. The lawsuit also alleged that plaintiff Charlie Monlouis-Anderle “never heard the police tell the protesters to leave or disperse” and said officers charged at some of the protesters at around 8:15 p.m. on June 4, 2020. Plaintiff Jarrett Payne claimed that he had heard because the protest was peaceful, it was allowed to continue past the 8 p.m. curfew.
While the lawsuit did not claim all those arrested in Mott Haven on June 4, 2020, intended to obey the curfew, the complaint did claim that enforcement of the city-wide curfew was “inconsistent” and that “police used the curfew as a pretext for perpetrating mass violence on and arresting protesters, with no apparent justification for the differential treatment.”
Following the June 4 Mott Haven arrests, NYPD officials said some of the marchers were “screaming and yelling at officers, throwing plastic bottles with unknown liquids, and acting in a disorderly manner,” the New York Daily News reported. NYPD officials also claimed they recovered hammers, wrenches, gas masks, and “additional items that could be used to cause injuries” from among the protesters they kettled and arrested in the Mott Haven neighborhood.
Several protesters were left bloodied by the clash with police, according to the lawsuit. Plaintiff Jarrett Payne said that after he and other demonstrators were handcuffed, a police officer standing nearby told him, unprovoked, “you got what was coming to you.”
In his initial response to the June 4, 2020 protest, de Blasio said he had reviewed evidence showing that individuals at the protest were prepared to commit and encourage violence and that he wanted the New York City Police Department to intervene, and that “they did it effectively.”
Human Rights Watch subsequently published a report disputing claims that those arrested had weapons and intended to commit acts of violence and vandalism. The HRW report pointed to a flyer for the event that advised attendees “DON’T CARRY ANYTHING YOU DON’T WANT IN THE HANDS OF THE POLICE (IE: WEAPONS, DRUGS, FAKE IDS, ORGANIZING PLANS OR ADDRESS BOOKS, CASH OVER $100).” The HRW report also contended that weapons police found were never definitively linked to Mott Haven protesters.
“The police have not provided any evidence that they found these items on protesters in Mott Haven or that these items were intended to be used for violent acts, saying only that they were “seized from individuals arrested in the Bronx last night,” the HRW report said.
By October 2020, de Blasio appeared to reverse his stance on the police response to the Mott Haven protest, saying NYPD officers were in the wrong with their handling of the incident.