Skip to Content
The Cops

A New Yorker and His Dog Were Swept Up in the Violent Arrests at the City College Protest

Quickly surrounded by NYPD officers in riot gear and with Neptune in his arms, Omar barely managed to hand her off to a stranger.

Neptune, the dog in question. (Courtesy of Omar R.)

In recent weeks, hundreds of people, the vast majority of them students, have been arrested by the NYPD as part of the police crackdown on pro-Palestinian protesters at campuses across the city. NYPD officers have pepper-sprayed protesters, slammed and pushed people to the ground, and beaten students to the point they had to be taken to the hospital. 

The NYPD's indiscriminate mass arrests have also targeted bystanders. That's what happened to 51-year-old Omar R. on the evening of April 30. Omar was walking his family's dog Neptune, a perky Pomeranian, on their usual route by City College when they encountered a swarm of NYPD officers about to raid the CUNY campus. Quickly surrounded by NYPD officers in riot gear and with Neptune in his arms, Omar barely managed to hand her off to a stranger nearby before being handcuffed on the ground and taken to One Police Plaza, where he was charged with disorderly conduct. 

We spoke with Omar about what happened that night—and how he and his family got Neptune back. Spoiler alert—it was the protesters and their supporters, not the NYPD, who mobilized to reunite Neptune and her family.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. 

Hell Gate: Let's start with the night of April 30—what were you doing that evening? 

Omar R.: I live about five blocks away from City College, and we walk to City College every day. I had been taking Neptune on that walk regularly and seen the protest and the encampment. And it was very peaceful and very cool and chill. And I actually had spoken to people there, I felt very supportive of it. I had actually helped a friend of mine drop off some ice one day, like a big cooler of ice. 

On that particular day, I walked out of my house, and when I got up the hill, and I got toward City College, I could see that now there was a big police presence, and they had City College blocked off. There were a lot of people in the street, and now, instead of CUNY police, it was the NYPD around. 

But I didn't think that the vibe seemed chaotic or violent. It was many people chanting, carrying signs, and beating drums; for the most part, I mean, it was just people exercising their right to free speech in the street. And there were some police around, and the police that I saw seemed pretty nonplussed, just kind of saying to people, "Look, you can't get to the school."

And then a few moments later, a van or a bus came by and dropped off a whole contingent of police in riot gear and helmets. And at that moment, there was a part of me thinking, I should witness what's happening, what is going on in my community, and the school. I really enjoy City College, my grandfather went there. We refer to it as Hogwarts, right? It's just a really cool place to spend part of your day. And so I just felt like I needed to kind of bear witness and see what's happening. 

There was another part of me that said, things look like they're going to go down. I didn't want to stay too close, so I started walking away.

And then what happened? 

I'm on the sidewalk and I'm about half a block away from the entrance to City College, and then there was a mic check by protesters. They had a very loud PA system. And they were saying, from what I remember, that there were children still inside the college. There were people who had families in the college, and they either were having trouble getting in or out. But I think they were asking the police for freedom to move. 

And I think the police may have felt like they were losing some control, because then suddenly they started with their own PA system, which was very loud, and they stated that everyone should get off the street onto the sidewalk. And so they started pushing, and I could see that people were starting to get jostled a bit. 

I'm on the sidewalk and I've got my back pressed up against the building, and I'm thinking to myself, all right, I'm far enough away where I shouldn't be considered the epicenter if anything goes down. I don't feel like I'm too close. I feel far enough away, and I'm not bothering anyone. 

I remember at that moment seeing someone in a motorized wheelchair, a young person in the street. And I remember the police following them, but they weren't going fast enough, and they were kind of pushing this person in the wheelchair, and then suddenly out of nowhere, there was like a phalanx of police coming up the sidewalk, like four people abreast. And they're just screaming to people and yelling, "Move, move, fucking move." 

And I just said to them, "I don't have to move. I'm not doing anything." And at that, one of them was like, "Move, get out, move."

I just stood there and they pushed me, and I guess I didn't move fast enough, and they just took me as a threat. That whole time, I'm holding my dog in my arms, and next thing I know, I'm surrounded. And I'm like, "All right, I'll go." They were like, "No, no, no, no. That's too late. You're going down."

And I'm holding my dog, and they're all over me, and I'm screaming for people, I'm trying to get attention, because I don't know what to do with my puppy. I've got so many people around me, I can't put her down. And there's no officer saying to me, like, "Hey, we'll take your dog. You're under arrest. We'll take your puppy." They're grabbing me and telling me, "You're going down. Don't resist. You're going down." It's just, you know, "Put your hands behind your back," and I can't do that. I'm holding her. If I put her down, she's gonna get killed, or run away. I remember the officers trying to kick my feet out from underneath me. 

I was thinking, too, if I resist being arrested, there's a chance I could get killed. I could be suffocated, I was thinking of George Floyd. I mean, I'm not in the best shape right now. I don't feel really unhealthy, but I'm 51 years old. I don't know what I would do if I was down on the sidewalk with, like, people like sitting on me. 

What did you end up doing with Neptune?

So I'm going down on the sidewalk, and I saw a woman in front of me. I yelled at her, like, "Take my dog." [laughs] She's like, "What?" I handed her my dog, and she said, like, "What do I do?" And I yelled, I gave her my address and my apartment number, and she gave me her name, but I couldn't remember it. And at the moment, I was just thinking, "I'm gonna probably never see my dog again," and I was hoping this was the right thing to do.

How was Neptune handling all of this?

She didn't seem too jostled or frightened or anything. She's a New York dog, so she knows the sounds. But when people were trying to get at me, she was stressed out. I heard her squeal, because she was getting pressed. 

I gave that woman the dog, and I knew that she had her. Then I let go. She put her own neck out. It was the most fortunate thing to happen, that she was there at that moment. 

All the while, you're still surrounded by police in riot gear. 

Yeah, I was surrounded by the police. I couldn't see anything. And then right after that, they put me down onto the sidewalk, on my stomach, and, you know, the handcuffs, all of it. And then they had to lift me up. Somehow I walked a block with them through the crowd to the paddy wagon, all the time screaming about my dog—and I'm the most quiet person, like I never raise my voice. I was a mess. I was crying, literally, and yelling about my dog. 

And the police processed me and about five other people and then drove us to One Police Plaza. The police are friendly, telling me, "Don't worry about the dog. We're gonna take care of it." 

I'm in jail. And then maybe, like, 25 minutes sitting in there, in comes one of my neighbors who I know from the dog walk. And he walks in, and I'm like, "Wow." He got beat up. He was beaten up pretty bad. He's not a big dude, he's not a fighting guy, but they beat him up, like he had knots on his head.

You were charged with disorderly conduct and released several hours later. What happened next?

My wife knew I had been arrested, because when I got put into the paddy wagon, there were people that were asking for your contact information from across the road. There were people that were organized enough to say, "What's your name, what's your phone number, who can we call for you?" So they had already called my wife. 

She met me at One Police Plaza with my son, and she was highly stressed out about our dog and everything. It was a little charged, to be honest with you. She and my son were highly upset at me because they didn't understand what happened. They thought that I had intentionally taken the dog out for a walk to go to the protest and for some reason or another, decided to get arrested and to give our dog to a complete stranger. So they were very upset, understandably so. 

Thankfully, y'all got Neptune back. How? Did the NYPD in fact "take care of it," as one officer told you? 

So when I got out of jail, there was the legal team that were trying to get an idea of who you were, how you are, and if you need anything. I was like, "I need to find my dog." And they were like, "Okay, well, we're gonna work on that." At that moment, I don't think anyone really had any detailed information. 

My wife stayed at One Police Plaza, and I decided to take the train back uptown to where I live in Harlem to start the search for Neptune. My idea was to start an Instagram account. Like, what can I do at 3 o'clock in the morning to find my dog? I started an Instagram page with a couple of photos, and then I tagged the CUNY Palestine encampment movement, anything that had CUNY or City College and Palestine. I left a note saying, hey, this is my name, phone number. I did all that on the train. 

By the time I got to City College, Iike at 3:30 in the morning, it was all blocked off for blocks, the police had pushed the barricades well past the college. I saw some women and a guy on the corner wearing keffiyahs, chatting. They looked organized. They just looked like they had their shit together. I approached them. It was kind of weird, it was 3:30 in the morning, there's a guy walking up to you on the street corner. But I was just like, "Hey, I got separated from my dog here. Have you guys heard anything?" 

They were like, "Yeah, oh my God!" And then they showed me a picture of Neptune on a Signal chat they were part of. 

They weren't able to communicate directly with the person that had her, but they were able to show me a picture of Neptune that somebody had posted, saying, "Hey, I have Omar's dog." And I was like, wow, this is amazing. And then at that moment, they said, "Okay, we're gonna get in touch with you." And I gave them my phone number, and then they said, "I'm sorry, but we have to go." At that moment, their Uber came. And off they went.

I felt like, at least my dog is in safe hands, but I wasn't closer to her. 

(Courtesy of Omar R.)

You still didn't know who had her, where she was. You just knew she was somewhere. 

Yeah, and that the person that had her, had the intention of finding me. A part of me was thinking, why didn't I just insist that they stay? Why didn't I insist on getting into that car? Like, how can I just let them leave like that? Because I'm still standing alone in the street, at 3, 4 o'clock in the morning, and I don't have my dog. 

Then I got home, and then early that morning, there were people that were pinging me, saying, "Omar, your wife is on her way to Queens, and she's gonna pick up the dog." The legal team at One Police Plaza, they connected my wife and the woman who had Neptune over Signal. 

When you take a step back and look at what happened that night, to you and to Neptune and also to other people who were there, has it changed anything about the way that you think about the NYPD?

We's so heavily policed here in New York City. You see police constantly. They're just all around you. I think my overall pedestrian view of the police in New York has been generally, for the most part, you know, if you're law-abiding, you're staying out of trouble, there shouldn't be any cause for alarm or getting beaten up or pushed to the ground. 

I think my takeaway was that when these cops came back with the helmets and all the gear that they put on, it definitely kind of transformed them a bit—how I looked at them, how the people reacted, and how they perceived themselves. They weren't just your neighborhood patrol officers who are kind of like, you know, a little schlubby or whatever. This is a paramilitary group willing to push out students. 

You never see the police pushing into a right-wing crowd. Here they are, pushing around women, young people, people with drums and signs. I have a fear that this is kind of like another normal, of what people are willing to accept, that police would barricade our colleges. It was a little dystopian. 

At the same time, I have really good feelings about the state of youth right now. I have a lot of faith in people, young people. They're highly organized and serious, not just about what their movement is doing, but they got Neptune back—they figured the whole thing out, how to reunite a guy and his dog.

How would you describe the reunion when you got Neptune back?

When Neptune came back, I felt like everything will be better now. When she was missing, it was more than just missing a dog. She had been the glue for the family, because the family's been under a lot of stress and anxiety, and she's just been kind of what has been able to pull us together. Now our family's complete.

Already a user?Log in

Thanks for reading!

Give us your email address to keep reading two more articles for free

See all subscription options

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Hell Gate

MAGA Loons, Drill Rappers, and Unlikely Voters: The Never-Ending Trump Rally Comes to the South Bronx

"If Trump is here, and he's asking for a second chance, I can't judge that."

May 24, 2024

Finally, NYC Gets the Bird We Deserve

All hail our new beady-eyed queen, Astoria the wild turkey! And more news to take you into the long weekend.

May 24, 2024

Is the NYPD Solving Crimes? Who Knows—Their Last Published Clearance Data Is From 2022

City law requires the NYPD to report its clearance rates quarterly. Under the Adams administration, it just…stopped.

See all posts