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The Cops

Mayor Adams: Forget About the NYPD’s Protest Settlement, Unpatriotic Outsiders Are ‘Radicalizing Our Children’

A legal settlement requires the NYPD to reform its handling of protests—someday. In the meantime, the mayor is just fine with the department’s heavy-handed approach.

(Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

At his weekly off-topic press conference on Tuesday, Mayor Eric Adams was asked how the police violence against protesters and journalists at a Palestinian solidarity march Saturday in Bay Ridge squared with the police reforms the mayor committed to in September when his administration settled a group of civil rights lawsuits filed by the NYCLU and Attorney General Tish James arising from the NYPD handling of the 2020 George Floyd protests. 

A key tenet of those reforms is the notion of tiered police responses to protest, with the presumption of a light police presence whose numbers and tactics may escalate as specific conditions are met. Were those conditions met in Bay Ridge, where large numbers of riot police were present from early on?

Before Adams could finish his answer, his lawyer, Lisa Zornberg, jumped in to make a factual point: "The phase that [the settlement is] in, is creating training and policies right now. So the events that happened over the weekend, have nothing to do with the city's compliance with the settlement. And the NYPD is complying with the settlement."

Zornberg's statement is factually true. Indeed, it is one of the weaknesses of the settlement that it offers no fixed timeframe for how long the NYPD has to implement those new policies and trainings. The NYPD could drag out the unenforceable Phase I of the settlement for a very long time, and the only way the Attorney General or the 2020 protesters could do anything about it would be to go back to court and try to argue that the foot-dragging had crossed some hazy line not spelled out in the signed agreement.

But Zornberg's comment conveniently dodged the more significant implicit question: If the NYPD and the Adams administration are committed to the reforms laid out in the settlement, if they are even now creating policy and training to implement those reforms, then why do they seem to be moving in the opposite direction at every opportunity, deploying overwhelming swarms of heavily armored Strategic Response Group officers, needlessly antagonizing protesters, conducting arrests for rinky-dink violations, arresting journalists, and regularly busting heads?

Doing all that may not be technically in violation of the settlement terms at this stage. But it's the same behavior that got the NYPD sued for constitutional violations in the 2020 protests—suits that the City was likely enough to lose that its lawyers decided it was safer to settle them. Wouldn't this be a great time to start experimenting with the philosophy of protest policing the NYPD will (eventually, theoretically) be bound to under the settlement? The NYPD might learn something, and the City might avoid a whole new tide of expensive civil rights lawsuits filed by nonviolent protesters who got concussed by police on camera.

No, it would not be a great time for that, Adams evidently believes. The NYPD has been deviating from the spirit of the settlement virtually since it was signed and it's no secret that he doesn't like the settlement or the reforms that it mandates. Last winter as the City's lawyers were in court arguing that the reforms were reasonable, they had to contend with the mayor undercutting them in public, telling reporters "As soon as I read the settlement, I said, 'This is a problem'... Anyone who polices this city should be concerned about what's in the settlement."

So instead, we are back where we have often been with the NYPD's heavy-handed response to protests: blaming protesters for any violence visited upon them, conjuring the shadow of a malevolent external threat manipulating protesters, and, in those instance where police violence caught on camera is sufficiently extreme that the preceding strategies don't work, brushing them aside as unrepresentative exceptions that the NYPD will investigate itself in the fullness of time.

"You don't have the right to spit in the face of police officers, you don't have the right to ride on top of a bus. You don't have the right to stop the flow of traffic," Adams said, addressing Saturday's protest. "You don't have a right to disobey the rules. You were told to get on the sidewalk. You were told to do it in a peaceful way."

In the aggregate, the mayor said, the police response was appropriate, and if there were any isolated incidents of police using excessive force, that is a distinct issue, to be investigated separately and apart from any consideration of whether the deployment of large numbers of aggressive riot cops wielding truncheons is a prudent response to a street protest that is by no reasonable definition out of control. "If officers use more force than necessary, we're going to do an investigation," he said. "When you look at the behavior of three, four officers—we had close to 40 arrests!"

Protests are okay if they follow the rules and don't disturb neighbors, Adams said, but these demonstrations have been infiltrated by unpatriotic chaos agents from some unspecified other place. 

​​"Many of them did not live in Bay Ridge, many didn't even live in the city," Adams said. "Let's stop playing this game. There are people in this city that don't like our city, don't like our country, and they're radicalizing our children, and I'm not moving away from that."

According to the NYPD, 41 people were arrested on Saturday at the Bay Ridge protest; 24 of them walked away with a summons for disorderly conduct. The NYPD provided charges and addresses for 15 others who received Desk Appearance Tickets and two "live arrests" headed for arraignment. Of those 17 people, 12 live in New York City and four live in the greater metro area. One lives in Kingston.

If the sincere, local people protesting against a war whose architects could soon be facing arrest warrants for war crimes and crimes against humanity from the International Criminal Court want to avoid the sort of police response seen on Saturday, Adams suggested, they should purge their ranks of the unruly, impolite, and insufficiently local. 

"I'm saying to those who want to peacefully protest now, police yourself," Adams said. Tell people this is not what we stand for. Calling for 'death to America,' spitting in the face of police officers, throwing devices at police officers—that is not what you stand for. So police yourself so the police won't have to police you."

People and organizations who express concern when police are captured on film brazenly punching prone protesters in the head should actually express gratitude to the police, the mayor said. "Those organizations who are writing letters of how bad they perform, I would just love one day to write a letter about the agency that brought down crime and removed 15,000 guns off our streets and double digit decrease in homicides and shootings and ride our subway system," Adams said. "How about a letter for that, once? Just one letter. One letter saying, 'Thank you, detective who put your lives in, sealed the crime or closed the crime.' How about just say, 'We're proud of the men and women.'"

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