Photo: Syed Haq. Some 50 protesters marched in Mott Haven on Jan. 17, demanding NYPD accountability for its violent crackdown on peaceful protesters last June.

Grassroots group demands NYPD accountability for June 4 ‘kettling,’ assault on protesters

Some 50 protesters marched from 136th Street and Brook Avenue to the 40th Precinct station house on Alexander Avenue on Sunday, Jan. 17, demanding accountability for the NYPD’s brutal crackdown on hundreds of peaceful protesters last June at the Port Morris street corner. 

The march was organized by Mott Haven Families, a grassroots group that has held once-weekly, peaceful marches to the station house on Sundays since last summer to demand the city shift funding for police to community priorities such as education, housing and health care.

Before marching to the precinct, the protesters held a press conference at the scene of the now-notorious June 4 crackdown. The march coincided with a lawsuit filed by the New York Attorney General’s office against the NYPD for their violent assault on protesters during protests for the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.  

Jason Epting, an organizer with Mott Haven Families, reminded the crowd that the neighborhood is a welcoming place, but police shattered the usual sense of calm when they surrounded, beat and arrested hundreds on June 4. 

“With the help of top officials and local politicians, they decided to kettle and physically assault protestors,” said Epting. “(Visitors would) be okay otherwise, if they were on this block.”

“I was wondering what was going to happen and why they needed so many officers to make sure a protest didn’t get out of hand,” said Epting’s daughter Candance, who recalled seeing the June 4 incident from her bedroom window. She said it was like a “war,” when she witnessed victims being carried out of the fracas that evening on stretchers. 

“People get fired when they don’t do their jobs well,” she said. “I don’t understand why the NYPD is an exception to that.”

Community groups have demanded more transparency from police following the violent crackdowns of last summer.

“There is no democracy without justice,” said Abdourahamane Diallo, city-director of The African Empowerment project of NYC, who was participated in the June 4 protest. “And there is no justice without transparency.” 

A report by Human Rights Watch in September revealed that the June 4 attack on the protestors was planned, leading to officers “kettling” the peaceful protestors without any prior warning, minutes before the mayor’s 8 p.m. curfew, and used that as an excuse to brutalize them. 

Several medical volunteers and legal observers were also beaten, cuffed and illegally detained, according to Human Rights Watch’s report. Assemblywoman Amanda Septimo pointed out that the observers had the right to oversee the protest, but that the NYPD violated their rights by assaulting and arresting them, even though they were carrying city-approved insignia. By assaulting those observers, police further erode already weak public confidence in law enforcement, she said.

Police cluster in front of the 40th Precinct station house on Jan. 17.

She called on the 40th precinct to meet with the community to acknowledge their mistake, and says the City Council should arrange an investigation into the events of June 4, while urging “good officers” from the NYPD to join them. 

“We all know the phrase ‘It’s only a few bad apples,’” she said, “but what most people don’t say is the rest of the sentence,—-‘a few bad apples spoil the bunch.’”

Michael Beltzer, a candidate for City Council in the south and central Bronx, recalled having to tussle with police on the evening of June 4 when they came down on him.

“It feels like they came to Wrestlemania,” said Beltzer. “That was Wrestlemania 2.0.”

After the press conference, the group marched to the station house on Alexander Ave. to deliver their letter demanding transparency, then clipped a petition onto a steel barricade that police erected in front of the station house to cut off public access to the 100-plus-year-old building.