Sirens are forever wailing around town, but the sirens I heard as I walked down Houston Street Tuesday night sounded extra-menacing. And judging by the sheer number of squad cars flying past me, and the intensity with which they ran red lights and drove against traffic up Orchard Street, it was evident something bad was about to transpire.
Shortly after midnight, a gang (and I use that in a very literal sense) of New York Police Department officers rushed Tammany Hall on Orchard Street, interrupting a peaceful Pete Rock/Smif n Wessun event.
Witnesses say the attack by police was unprovoked. Several onlookers captured much of the chaos on camera; judging from the footage, the police were the aggressors.
Officers from the Seventh Precinct gathered outside the popular spot, then pushed their way into the venue. After arresting Louis Pena, a rapper by the name of Louie Skaggs, on stage, they proceeded to shove, mace, and club partygoers and bystanders, according to witnesses. (Read the Post‘s account here.)
Outside the venue things quickly escalated. Pete Rock’s daughter was assaulted, say witnesses, and placed under arrest for trying to defend her mother from further abuse. Gabriel Diaz, a.k.a. Sincere, was hospitalized after being severely beaten by several cops and then kicked after he’d been handcuffed.
As people detained by the police trickled out of central booking on Thursday afternoon, details kept emerging. Below are firsthand accounts by witnesses of the melee. A police spokesperson was not available for comment.
Kenneth Montgomery, attorney for Pete Rock and Smif n Wessun:
Why were the police there in the first place?
You got me. Their presence was absolutely unwarranted ,and their actions were unprovoked and completely unjustified. I’d even go as far to say as they came fully prepared to start a riot.
The first batch of officers came. They loitered outside [Tammany Hall]. When more officers showed, they all put on their black gloves and went into the party. A Sergeant Vasquez goes in, grabs artist Luis Pena aka Louie Skags. He puts Pena in a yoke of sorts and arrests him.
Why did they go in the club?
To “clear the venue.”
Why? And what does that entail?
No idea. Even if that was what they wanted, people were exiting in an orderly fashion. But once [NYPD] came back outside they started pushing and shoving people. No direction, just bullying people. Then they mace people exiting the club. Total chaos. No order whatsoever. Completely aggravating a harmless situation. Sadly, a couple of girls got thrown against gates and hit with batons and shoved. Gabriel Diaz, who is also an artist, was beaten by police so severely he wound up at Bellevue. Also, James Ayala, who Pete Rock had personally invited to videotape the event, was arrested for filming while Pete Rock’s wife and daughter were being abused.
How many people were arrested?
Are there any other pending lawsuits?
None at the moment. We’ll be in talks. We have 90 days to file a claim.
It’s crazy that you were there. How many people did you actually see get abused?
A lot. I saw at least five people who were assaulted with pepper spray and hit with batons.
What was NYPD’s response?
To show how unremorseful the NYPD is about the whole travesty, Commissioner Ray Kelly outright lied in his statement when he said bottles were thrown at officers and that the footage had been edited.
Steele, Smif n Wessun:
Why do you think the police responded the way they did?
I think they have anger and aggression issues. They’re undertrained and probably overworked. And it being a hip-hop event gave them carte blanche to do what they did.
So you think they responded in such a manner because it was a hip-hop event?
Absolutely. Order was not the incentive. They weren’t even trying to communicate. They came to fuck shit up. They were just being physical with everybody. Overwhelmingly excessive, man.
You’ve traveled the world. Do you think police share this distaste for hip-hop worldwide?
I think most police have this similar mindset. Police are supposed to keep law and order. And police did the exact opposite outside our show, and this happens worldwide. I got hit up on Facebook right after the footage went up online from people in Germany and Paris, and everywhere really, that could identify with extreme abuse.
Were you injured in the melee?
I was injured slightly, but I can take a hit or two from a baton. Gabriel Diaz was hospitalized. His mom was sitting in court all this time waiting for his release from jail. There has to be accountability.
How many people did you actually see get abused?
Twenty, thirty people were getting hit and shoved and maced. There was no communication. It was just shoving and hitting and “Get the fuck off the block now!” Like six or seven cops swarmed on Rock. Had it not been for Mike Hands, who used himself to block Rock from the officers, Rock would’ve probably ended up in Bellevue as well.
Pete Rock and Smif N Wessun released a joint statement yesterday:
“On Tuesday, June 28th, Pete Rock, Tek & Steele (of Smif N Wessun) were celebrating the release of their collaborative album, Monumental. It was a peaceful gathering inside of a sold-out Tammany Hall (lower-east side Manhattan, NY) to see the group perform new music from the project. Earlier in the evening some guests wanted to enter the event but were turned away by the management and bouncers employed by the club. A minor argument ensued, but eventually was diffused by the bouncers. Thirty minutes after that minor skirmish 15-20 uniformed Police Officers from the Seventh Precinct arrived at the venue. Shortly after even more uniformed officers arrived. The officers then hurried into the club and began macing and assaulting individuals inside the club, dragging one of them out and pummeling him directly in front of the club. Present at the event were artists, industry tastemakers, fans, photographers, and cameramen. Several people began filming and recording the unprovoked brutality, much to the dismay of the police. The officers then began to mace and assault anyone within arms length, including several women. Kenneth Montgomery, the group’s attorney, who was in attendance at the event, stated that the Police ‘behavior was unjustified, unprovoked, and simply barbaric considering there was no provocation.’ Pete Rock, Tek and Steele fortunately were not harmed, however some of their friends & family were assaulted by the Police. The group’s attorney, Kenneth Montgomery, is addressing the situation now with local community leaders & is available for comment with more detailed information.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 1, 2011