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NYPD Crushes Tiny Anti-ICE Protest With Overwhelming Force And Bloody Arrests

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NYPD officers make one of many arrests during an Abolish ICE protest on September 17, 2020. Nick Pinto / Gothamist

The march calling for the abolition of ICE hadn’t gone more than a few blocks through Lower Manhattan on Thursday afternoon when NYPD officers ran into the crowd, tackling marchers to the ground, and taking them into custody.

Fewer than 100 people had set off around 5 p.m. from Foley Square, next to the federal building that holds the local Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office. During a demonstration against ICE the previous day, motivated in part by reporting that the agency is performing non-consensual hysterectomies of women in its custody, protesters had entered the federal building, where a security officer drew a gun on them.

From the beginning, the demonstrators on Thursday were flanked and followed by well over 100 police officers, including members of the Strategic Response Group, plainclothes officers, bicycle police, police on motor scooters, and an NYPD helicopter. As the marchers filed out of Foley Square, some officers already had their batons out. The protesters marched in the street, and almost immediately police used a Long Range Acoustic Device to warn them that if they did not clear the roadway, they would be subject to arrest.

After the first arrests on Broadway, the remaining marchers, rattled, ran south on Broadway, turning west towards the World Trade Center. At the corner of Greenwich and Cortland Streets, police caught up with them, throwing nine more protesters to the ground and putting them in zip cuffs. At least one man was bleeding from the head after police ground his face into the pavement; 20 minutes after it had started, the protest had met a violent end.

As the officers waited for a Strategic Response Group van to transport their arrestees, they were reinforced by more and more police, including Anti-Terrorism Port Authority Police wearing Blue-Lives Matter face masks, and a fresh unit of 30 or so Strategic Response Group officers massed in orderly ranks. Protesters stood on the eastern sidewalk, calling out to their arrested fellows to get their names and birthdates to help track them through the system, and jeering plainclothes officers who displayed no shields or identifying information.

Immediately after the nine arrested protesters had been loaded into a van, the SRG police raced into position behind the remaining protesters, trapping them on the sidewalk against the phalanx of police already keeping them off the street. In the resulting chaos, police grabbed more protesters, forced them to the ground, and handcuffed them, and the remaining marchers were forced to the sidewalk corners on either end of the block.

Whether police had determined to crush this particular protest almost before it had started because they associated it with the incursion into the federal building the day before, or because the flyer advertising the event on social media had hinted that organizers would not be enforcing respect for property, or simply because the group was very small and there were no legal observers obviously present and it was easy to bring overwhelming force to bear, remains unclear.

For their part, the protesters were nearly as leery of the news media on scene as they were of the police, discouraging photojournalists from taking pictures and reluctant to give their names to reporters, who they feel have not accurately conveyed the disproportionate police violence used against street protesters in recent months.

“We’re here calling to abolish ICE, because of the violence they’re perpetrating against women and children every day,” said one protester who did not wish to give his name. “And instead of defending the safety of vulnerable people, the NYPD, which works hand in hand with ICE, is here perpetrating more state violence to silence our criticism.”

An NYPD spokesperson said they did not have a count of how many people were arrested or what they were charged with, nor could they say why so many officers were dispatched to police a protest of a few dozen people. As part of $1 billion in budget cuts and reallocations, the NYPD is supposed to slash its overtime by $228 million this year. Meanwhile, the city’s Independent Budget Office has stated their prediction that the NYPD will miss that target by $400 million.

After the final wave of arrested protesters had been loaded into a Department of Corrections bus and driven off, the ranks of police fell back, chased by the recriminations of the handful of remaining protesters.

“You guys are literally f*cking nazis, you know that?” one woman standing atop a traffic bollard shouted at the retreating police. “You don’t agree with everything, you’re just following orders? You’re nazis.”

“We’re here protesting ICE ripping the uteruses out of people, and this is how you show up?” one man called after the police. “In 20 or 30 years, when people ask what you were doing now, you’re gonna be like ‘Oh, I beat the s*it out of them for it.’”

[UPDATE / 11:39 p.m.] After this story was published, the NYPD responded that they had made 10 arrests, and issued 12 summonses for disorderly conduct. The most common charge for the arrests was obstructing governmental administration; two protesters were also charged with criminal possession of a weapon, one was also charged with marijuana possession.

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