In the week since a raucous subway party turned into a battle between police and protestors outside a former community garden on East 7th Street, witnesses have told the Voice that officers overreacted.
During the early morning hours of Sunday, March 5, several hundred people calling themselves the Subway Liberation Front held an outlaw “Mardi Gras” party on the L and A trains. Jubilant from their success (transit cops gave them their own cars), the boisterous crowd paraded through the East Village and eventually hopped the fence of Tompkins Square Park.
With shouts of “Free the Land!” about 150 marchers continued toward East 7th Street and tore down the fence of the former Jardín de la Esperanza, which was bulldozed on February 15 to make way for mostly market-rate housing.
Police—who until then had been remarkably tolerant—called in a helicopter and more than 100 reinforcements to the block. Witnesses say that with no initial warnings to disperse, the cops, who had been gathering on Avenue C, stormed the crowd.
According to protesters and local residents, Henry Shackelford, 34, was dragged outside the garden. “I saw about five cops huddle around him and start beating him with billy clubs and kicking him,” says Andrew Kennis, 23, who filed a complaint about the incident with the Civilian Complaint Review Board. Shackelford was carried by police to a squad car.
With shouts of “Amadou!” protestors surrounded the car. Two of them sought to free Shackelford and were arrested. As word of the melee spread to a nearby squat on Avenue C, Jessica Howard, 26, says she and a friend ran to the corner of 7th Street, where a policeman ordered them to disperse. “He was pushing his [billy] club into my friend, and I said, ‘That’s not necessary, don’t touch her,’ ” says Howard, who is five feet two inches and weighs 125 pounds. As he and two other officers tried to cuff her, Howard says, the first officer “yanked my arm behind me then smashed my head into the pavement and held it there.”
“I was screaming, ‘Please don’t kill me,’ I thought my head was going to explode,” says Howard, who was hospitalized for two days with a dislocated jaw. Besides riot and resisting arrest, Howard was charged with felony assault for allegedly tripping the arresting officer. She and several others arrested plan to sue the city. Eight persons, including Shackelford and Howard, were arrested, five on felony charges of riot and assault. Seven officers were treated for minor injuries.
The NYPD declined to respond to accusations of excessive force pending an investigation by internal affairs.