Overseers from the New York City Council on Wednesday criticized how the NYPD policed a chaotic immigration protest last month in which demonstrators blocked an ambulance carrying a deportee, a cop was videotaped grabbing nonviolent participants by the neck and two councilmen were among 18 arrested.
Council members of the Public Safety Committee, which has jurisdiction over the NYPD, got few specifics from a panel of NYPD brass appearing before the panel at City Hall to discuss what happened on Jan. 11, when demonstrators came to lower Manhattan to protest the detention of Ravi Ragbir, a felon who has become a respected immigration activist in left-leaning circles.
“The response was overwhelming force,” said Democrat Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn, one of the arrested councilmen. On Wednesday, he questioned why the NYPD was in any way assisting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Oleg Chernyavsky, the NYPD’s legislative affairs director, said an internal probe into what happened at the protests was unfinished, but said: “The officers at the scene took enforcement action based on probable cause to arrest for violations of the law.”
One cop from the protest-policing unit has been transferred to patrol. The officer’s identity has not been disclosed.
Democrat Ydanis Rodriguez of Manhattan, also on Wednesday’s panel and the other arrested councilman, said that the United States should place a moratorium on all deportations.
Chernyavsky frustrated Councilman Brad Lander of Brooklyn, a Democrat, when Chernyavsky insisted that the NYPD hadn’t provided an “escort” to an ICE caravan containing Ragbir, as Ragbir was transported through the Holland Tunnel, bound for a New Jersey immigration lockup.
“Your cars were present during the trip, but you don’t call that an escort?” Lander said. “Really?”
Committee chairman Donovan Richards, a Queens Democrat, said the NYPD should consider splitting up its protest unit, the Strategic Response Group, which also handles counterterrorism.
Both the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama have sought to deport Ragbir, a native of Trinidad who came to the United States legally with a visa in 1991. In 2001, he was convicted of felony wire fraud in connection with a mortgage scheme and served 30 months in federal prison.
Since his release from custody in 2006, Ragbir, 53, has become an immigration activist and executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition, which fights on behalf of immigrants. ICE has allowed Ragbir a succession of temporary stays provided that he periodically checks in with the government; the dispensation ended Jan. 11, when the agency ordered him deported and he suffered a medical episode requiring an ambulance.
Late last month, a federal judge in Brooklyn ordered Ragbir freed from detention, ruling there is a constitutional “freedom to say goodbye.”