A neighborly barbecue in the courtyard of a Crown Heights building ended in allegations of police brutality last Thursday night, after a swarm of NYPD officers came to break up the gathering and arrested several residents for violating curfew -- in the lobby of their own building.
Officers arrived to break up the barbecue around 11:30 p.m. on June 5th, hours after the 8 p.m. curfew imposed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in response to looting that had followed some of the citywide demonstrations against police brutality. According to people present at the scene, the barbecue had continued peacefully since approximately 6 p.m. in a fenced-off courtyard in front of the building on Eastern Parkway. Friends and families had gathered there; some fireworks were set off, though there were no other disturbances reported. All those present at the barbecue were people of color.
According to Dequan Blue, who helped organize the barbecue, police first said they were responding to a noise complaint. They then asked the barbecuers to disband and go inside because of the curfew, even though the city's curfew did not apply to activity on private property. Blue said he and his neighbors started to comply and clean up, but that before they had a chance to finish, officers began physically forcing people back into the building.
Cecele Hartmann, a schoolteacher who resides in the building, said she heard the commotion from her apartment. When she followed the noise to the building’s entrance, she saw her neighbors face-to-face with numerous police officers who had forced themselves into the building’s vestibule. Some residents were linking arms to stop them from entering a second door, which led to the foyer.
“We were just like, ‘No, you can’t come in our building,’” said Hartmann. “‘This is private property, we pay rent here, this is a residence… This is our home.’” Video of the incident shows police officers shoving residents backward, many of whom have their hands up, including Blue, who was pushed into the corner.
At least ten officers finally pushed their way into the foyer and pinned residents against the wall. Hartmann said she saw one woman hold up her hands in self-defense and get struck in the face with a baton, and video shows an officer trying to force himself into another resident’s apartment.
According to Hartmann and Husan Blue, Dequan’s brother, a higher ranking white shirt officer pinned one man to the floor by placing his knee on the back of the man’s neck, in a method that was shockingly similar to the way a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd.
“I just thought to myself, they’re about to kill this man,” Hartmann recalled.
Tracey Blue, Husan and Dequan’s mother, was standing in the foyer when Husan saw the white shirt officer shove her to the ground. After trying to intervene, Husan was tackled to the floor, while Dequan says officers beat him with batons and one officer kneeled on his neck.
Footage shared with Gothamist captures Husan being detained by at least seven officers as screams fill the crowded lobby of the building. Husan claims officers whispered racial slurs in his ear, dragged him outside, and beat him while handcuffed. He had undergone shoulder surgery the weekend prior, and doctors have since told him he is suffering nerve damage in the arm that was operated on, and his wrists were bruised by zip-ties that cinched too tightly. He also had bruises on his neck and collarbone and a split lip.
The Blue brothers were among many who sustained injuries; although none were hospitalized, many said they went to urgent care and visited doctors.
The mayhem continued outside the building, where videos show dozens of police in riot gear forcibly dispersing a large crowd in the street.
By the end of the evening, multiple individuals, including Husan and Dequan Blue, were arrested, although the NYPD would not confirm exact numbers. Husan spent twelve hours in the 71st Precinct, and then another twelve in Central Booking where he was arraigned, before being released with a court date in October.
In a criminal complaint obtained by Gothamist, Husan and two others were charged with obstruction of governmental administration, resisting arrest, unlawful assembly, disorderly conduct, and harassment, among others. According to the complaint, officers asked the crowd to disperse more than once, but those present refused, swore at officers, and used threatening language. One defendant allegedly tore his shirt off and threw it at an officer. Officers also claimed the crowd was openly drinking alcohol.
The NYPD has confirmed that this incident is under internal review.
The aggressive and chaotic NYPD response came on the seventh straight night of unrest in Brooklyn. Protests that began over the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by police officers in Minneapolis had escalated over the course of the week, with some demonstrations devolving into looting overnight.
“A curfew should not become an excuse to criminalize peaceful activity,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams in response to the incident. “What we saw last week in Crown Heights, where police officers arrested people at a cookout on private property, was completely unacceptable, and unfortunately fit a broader pattern of using excessive and unnecessary force against people whose only crime was being outside. That's why I called for the curfew to be lifted. We are demanding answers from the NYPD on what happened and why arrests were made.”
“The desperation I felt was crazy,” recalls Hartmann. “There was no one for me to call to help us… That’s the biggest thing that people of color feel: knowing no one is there to help them.”