The NYPD's Moment of Restraint Is Over: 200+ Arrested

Police douse protesters in pepper spray at 14th Street and Eighth Avenue. See all the photos from last night's protests.
Police douse protesters in pepper spray at 14th Street and Eighth Avenue. See all the photos from last night's protests.

No sooner had the NYPD received praise for respecting peaceful protests than the force doubled back and reminded everyone that while officers might have let people on a couple bridges this week, they're still very adept with a bottle of pepper spray.

More than 200 protesters were arrested through the night of December 4, the highest number since protests began. On Wednesday, December 3, a total of 83 people were arrested. On November 24, during the first anti-police-brutality protests after Ferguson, Missouri, Police Officer Darren Wilson was not charged for shooting Michael Brown to death, only two people were arrested -- one for pouring fake blood all over NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and his security detail and the other for throwing an aluminum can at an officer.

See more: As New Yorkers Protest Eric Garner Decision, NYPD Appears to Show Restraint

Photographer and activist Stacy Lanyon says the vibe was fine as she walked with protesters along Eighth Avenue around 9 p.m. Thursday. "People in shops had their fists up in support of us," she says. Car drivers honked their horns in solidarity. "It was a very jovial mood."

Earlier that night on the West Side Highway, Lanyon says she saw police giving marchers some of the "breathing room" to express their dissent Police Commissioner Bill Bratton had promised two weeks prior. "Nobody lunged or attacked any of the protesters I saw," she says. "So I don't think anyone was expecting anything different."

See also: Photos: More Than 200 People Arrested in Eric Garner Protests

But by the time the group hit 14th Street, they were met with about 12 officers who started lunging into the crowd and making arrests, she says. As photographers got close to get their shots of the action, protesters circled police. Then police began to baptize the crowd in pepper spray. Luckily, says Lanyon, officers did not hit the lens of her camera.

"It got in my throat," says Lanyon. "I'm still coughing."

Protesters say the NYPD went even further, pulling out handheld LRADs -- sound cannons that can be used either to amplify police communication like an extra-loud megaphone or cause severe pain and annoyance with an extra-loud "warning tone" -- and using the latter function.

Keegan Stephan, a 30-year-old paralegal and activist, says that after he saw three officers arresting someone, another cop used pepper spray on a crowd of onlookers.

"A cop walked by and liberally pepper-sprayed all of us without any warning," Stephan says. "You could smell it halfway across the block," he says. "This horrible cat-piss pungency permeated the whole corridor there. Protesters started running away. And then police started using the small, handheld LRAD.

"They were using the weapon function," he says. "And then they were using the speaker function." The officers started yelling at protesters to get on the sidewalk or they would be arrested. As protesters ran away, they started throwing garbage behind them to try to block officers from following with the noisemaker, he says. "The police just gave chase for a really long time. Eventually, they regrouped and fell back and gave the march breathing room."

In response, the protesters took the sidewalks, stopping at traffic lights. "It was just this sense of 'Let's do everything right,' " Stephan says.

Earlier in the evening, the mood was completely different. "Are you coming up?" one officer asked me, as I lurked behind her in the dark, checking my phone near the Brooklyn Bridge. "You can come on the bridge or you can head out, but you can't stand behind me like that."

According to one CNN report, officers were arresting crowds seemingly arbitrarily just for doubling back on their plans:

Stephan says he was disappointed to see the new tack from the cops. "During the Mike Brown protests, people nationally were noticing how peaceful the protesters were in New York. And I chalked it up to the NYPD," he says. "I don't think protesters want to be violent; it's a response to police aggression."

Now, though, the protests aren't about the death of Mike Brown in Ferguson. They're about Eric Garner, in Staten Island, New York.

"Before, our criticism was of an entity far away," says Stephen. "Now it's of the NYPD and the D.A. And we all know the NYPD doesn't take criticism very well."

More photos of last night's protests are on the next page.

 

A scene from Thursday night's protests. See more photos from last night's protest.
A scene from Thursday night's protests. See more photos from last night's protest.
C.S. Muncy
A scene from Thursday night's protests. See more photos from last night's protest.
A scene from Thursday night's protests. See more photos from last night's protest.
C.S. Muncy
A scene from Thursday night's protests. See more photos from last night's protest.
A scene from Thursday night's protests. See more photos from last night's protest.
C.S. Muncy
A scene from Thursday night's protests. See more photos from last night's protest.
A scene from Thursday night's protests. See more photos from last night's protest.
C.S. Muncy
A scene from Thursday night's protests. See more photos from last night's protest.
A scene from Thursday night's protests. See more photos from last night's protest.
C.S. Muncy

Send news tips to ktoth@villagevoice.com Follow @kat_toth on Twitter


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