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On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, hundreds of demonstrators marched over New York City’s Brooklyn Bridge in honor of King’s legacy. The march—called the Black Liberation March—reportedly started out peaceful but ended in clashes between participants and police officers. Twenty-nine people were arrested, several officers reported suffering minor injuries, and, as usual, demonstrators and police disagree on which group started the violence.
On Tuesday, New York Attorney General Letitia James let it be known which side she’s on by pointing out via Twitter that the clash between the NYPD and what she described as “peaceful protesters,” happened just days after she sued the department over alleged brutality committed by cops against protesters.
New Yorkers were marching in the spirit of Dr. King, who taught us that peaceful protest is the most powerful force in the fight for freedom, equality, and justice for all.
I will continue to fight to protect this most basic right.
— NY AG James (@NewYorkStateAG) January 19, 2021
“Less than a week after I filed a lawsuit against the @NYPDnews for using excessive force against peaceful protesters, last night we saw officers exhibit the same concerning behavior,” James tweeted. “As we laid out in our lawsuit, this is a longstanding pattern that must stop.”
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea told NY1 that the protest was not peaceful. Predictably, Shea claimed that every last bit of the unrest was caused by the crowd of rabble-rousers and that the perfectly innocent and professional members of New York’s finest did absolutely nothing wrong.
“When you march from Brooklyn over a bridge, you try to shut down the traffic on the bridge. You’re bringing bottles. You’re bringing graffiti. You’re spray painting our city. This is our city. You’re spray painting to burn our city down,” Shea said. “This isn’t actions that are caused by police officers so that’s a news flash for the AG. This is actions caused by people that want to destroy our way of life and our city and we’re not going to let it happen.”
I imagine that when King was marching and engaging in peaceful demonstrations—which routinely ended in clashes with police and other assorted angry white people—there were plenty of Americans claiming that protesters wanted to “destroy our way of life,” rather than fight for equality and justice. Shea’s claim that protest violence is never started by police is not only a “news flash” to James, it’s a news flash to reality.
Nypd currently playing a roadway dispersal in a public park, continuing to attack people. pic.twitter.com/iulkfetM1T
— Isabelle Leyva (@isabelle_leyva) January 19, 2021
Isabelle Leyva, an NYC resident who posted videos of the march on Twitter, told NBC News a different story than Shea’s. She said she filmed the chaos from the sidelines of the Manhattan side of the bridge and witnessed dozens of police cars line up on the other side and wait for the crowd.
The protesters crossed the roadway and headed into the public area of City Hall Park, she said in an interview Tuesday.
Riot cops formed a line and started playing a roadway dispersal order, she said.
“At that point, a small group broke away from the crowd and was standing on the roadway a few feet off of the sidewalk,” Leyva said. “Riot police then charged the crowd and ran onto the sidewalk to beat and arrest people.”
She said police “continued this pattern for the rest of the night, grabbing anyone who stepped off of the sidewalk and then charging the entire group.”
At one point, she said, riot cops were in the plaza itself with barricades and batons out playing a roadway dispersal order even though no one was in the road. She said they charged the crowd at least six times.
Man, what do mostly Black anti-racism protesters have to do to be met with police officers who are slow to use unnecessary force? Storm the U.S. Capitol?