NYC mayor defends police after violent clashes at pro-Palestinian Brooklyn rally

Eric Adams says video showing police punching protesters as they lie on the ground is ‘isolated incident,’ backs cops’ claim that Nakba demonstrators rioted

Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protesters confront police during a Nakba Day rally and march on May 18, 2024 in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, New York. (Spencer Platt/ Getty Images/ AFP)
Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protesters confront police during a Nakba Day rally and march on May 18, 2024 in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, New York. (Spencer Platt/ Getty Images/ AFP)

New York City Mayor Eric Adams defended the police department’s response to a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel street demonstration in Brooklyn over the weekend, calling video of officers repeatedly punching men lying prone on the ground an “isolated incident.”

“Look at that entire incident,” Adams said on the “Mornings on 1” program on the local cable news channel NY1. He complained that protesters who marched through Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge section on Saturday had blocked traffic, spit at officers, and, in one instance, climbed on top of a moving city bus. “I take my hat off to the Police Department, how they handled an unruly group of people.”

“People want to take that one isolated incident that we’re investigating. They need to look at the totality of what happened in that bedroom community,” Adams added.

Footage shot by bystanders and independent journalists shows police officers intercepting a march in the street, shoving participants toward the sidewalk, and then grabbing some people in the crowd and dragging them down to the asphalt. Officers can be seen repeatedly punching at least three protesters, in separate incidents, as they lay pinned on the ground.

A video shot by videographer Peter Hambrecht and posted on X shows an officer in a white shirt punching a protester while holding his throat. Hambrecht said the arrests took place after police told the crowd to disperse.

“They were aware they might get arrested, but many times people use that to justify the beating which is obviously ridiculous,” Hambrecht told The Associated Press in a text message.

Independent journalist Katie Smith separately recorded video of an officer unleashing a volley of punches on a man pinned to the ground, hitting him at least five times with a closed fist.

At least 41 people were arrested, police said.

The NYPD later released its own video showing misbehavior by protesters, including people throwing empty water bottles at officers, splashing them with liquids, and lighting flares and smoke bombs. It also showed one protester sitting on the roof of a moving transit bus waving a Palestinian flag.

“We will not accept the narrative that persons arrested were victims, nor are we going to allow illegal behavior,” NYPD Deputy Commissioner Kaz Daughtry said in a statement on X.

The City Council member who represents Bay Ridge, Justin Brannan, said the demonstration broken up by police was one held annually in the neighborhood to protest the displacement of Palestinian people following the establishment of Israel in 1948.

“Bay Ridge is home to the largest Palestinian community in NYC,” Brannan wrote on X. “There has been a Nakba Day demonstration here every year for the past decade without incident. I saw no evidence of actions by protestors today that warranted such an aggressive response from NYPD.”

The Nakba, Arabic for “catastrophe,” refers to the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were driven out of what is now Israel before and during the War of Independence in 1948, after the UN-proposed division of mandatory Palestine was rejected by Arabs in Palestine and Arab states.

New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman criticized the arrests and called them an escalation of police tactics against demonstrators.

“The aggressive escalation by the NYPD’s Strategic Response Group yesterday in Bay Ridge was a violation of New Yorkers’ right to speak out and risks chilling political expression,” Lieberman said, naming the NYPD unit that is often called to protests.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams speaks during a news conference at City Hall, in New York, December 12, 2023. (Peter K. Afriyie/AP)

The weekend violence came as Israel continued to battle against Palestinian terror group Hamas in the Gaza Strip. War erupted when Hamas led a massive cross-border attack on Israel that killed some 1,200 people. Israel responded with a military campaign to destroy the terror group and free hundreds of hostages seized by terrorists and taken as captives to Gaza.

The war has prompted anti-Israel demonstrations around the world, some of which have seen clashes with local police and arrests.

A recent spate of pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protests on US campuses was the scene of several standoffs and then clashes with police and over 2,000 people were arrested nationwide.

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