Members of the NYPD detain demonstrators against police brutality sparked...

Members of the NYPD detain demonstrators against police brutality sparked by the death of George Floyd in Manhattan on June 2, 2020.  Credit: Charles Eckert

A Manhattan federal judge cleared the way Wednesday for immediate implementation of police reforms for handling demonstrations following the settlement of a lawsuit over NYPD tactics after allegations of police misconduct surfaced during protests in 2020 in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.

By rejecting a motion by the Police Benevolent Association to oppose the settlement reached in September, Judge Colleen McMahon has given the green light for the NYPD to use a four-tiered level of responses to demonstrations with an emphasis on the employment of de-escalation techniques before more forceful tactics are used to control crowds and violence, according to the Legal Aid Society, which brought the lawsuit with state Attorney General Letitia James and the New York Civil Liberties Union.

“The policing reforms led by my office, The Legal Aid Society, and NYCLU, and agreed to by the NYPD, will better protect New Yorkers’ public safety and their constitutional right to peacefully protest,” said James in a statement.

“We know the NYPD cannot police itself, and we won’t let the PBA destroy a common-sense settlement to address the violence and reckless over-policing New Yorkers experienced firsthand when standing up for Black lives in the summer of 2020,” said a statement by the CLU.

Plaintiffs brought the litigation after allegations arose that the NYPD used excessive force in some cases against protesters and employed a tactic known as “kettling” to corral crowds. There were also allegations that police officers mistreated reporters covering the demonstrations at the end of May and early June of 2020.

The demonstrations, which roiled the city, led in some cases to arson and looting. The NYPD said over 400 officers were hurt and scores of police vehicles damaged during the protests. Thousands of demonstrators also said they were hurt. The federal lawsuit was filed in October 2020.

In a statement, James said, “The agreement also requires the NYPD to create a senior role within the department to oversee response to all public demonstrations, amend its internal discipline matrix, and improve its treatment of members of the press.”

The civil liberties groups chided the opposition that had been raised by the PBA to the settlement and cited the approval for the settlement voiced by Mayor Eric Adams and other police unions. The NYPD did not release a statement on the settlement; the city's corporation counsel did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

The PBA raised concerns that the four-tiered system of response would keep police officers from responding in time to quickly changing demonstrations and blockages of public transport terminals. PBA president Patrick Hendry again voiced concerns of the settlement Wednesday, saying it holds the potential for future problems.

“The next time a peaceful protest is hijacked by rioters, the next time our roads, bridges or subways are shut down by agitators, New Yorkers should remember that their city chose to encourage these disruptions by signing onto this misguided settlement,” Hendry said.

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