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September 5, 2023, 6:08 PM

NYPD agrees to stop penning in demonstrators as part of settlement over 2020 Black Lives Matter protests

By Ben Kochman

The NYPD has agreed to overhaul the way it responds to protests — including by no longer penning in large groups of activists — as part of a settlement announced Tuesday resolving federal suits filed over its response to the 2020 George Floyd demonstrations.

The deal reached in Manhattan federal court, if approved by a judge, will end a crowd-control tactic known as “kettling,” a term that describes officers barricading in protesters before arresting or taking other actions against them.

The NYPD will also create a new “four-tiered” strategy of dealing with protests, starting with a hands-off approach to “peaceful protests,” but still allowing the department to escalate its response if officers find a demonstration to be dangerous or illegal or if it blocks major traffic arteries, under the terms of the settlement.

“Today’s agreement, stemming from the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, sets new protocols and policies in place for the NYPD when responding to spontaneous protests as we ensure that we are both protecting public safety and respecting protesters’ First Amendment rights,” Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement.

The city’s new protest response plan will still allow officers to pen in specific people who they deem to be dangerous or believe have committed a crime. Surrounding and boxing in a large group of people, however, without having “individualized probable cause” to arrest them will no longer be allowed, the mayor’s office said.

The deal also requires the NYPD to create a new, senior role within the department to oversee the city’s response to protests. The compliance officer should have an “extensive knowledge” of how the NYPD can respond to protests without trampling on demonstrators constitutional rights to assemble, court papers state.

The settlement puts to end to lawsuits filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, the Legal Aid Society, New York Civil Liberties Union and other activists who argued that the NYPD used excessive force in its response to protests that formed across the city as unrest spread nationwide after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

During one such demonstration, in the Bronx on March 4, 2020, more than 300 protesters were confined in a barricade for several minutes before officers charged them, pepper-spraying and beating several of them, the protestors later claimed in a federal lawsuit.

The protesters had been called to action that day by activist groups who taunted the NYPD with a flyer of a burning cop vehicle and incendiary language — including “F–k the police” — calling for demonstrators to break a curfew imposed by the city days earlier.

Officers will use a new “four-tiered” system for responding to demonstrations and can escalate their response if protestors are blocking traffic or doing something deemed dangerous or illegal.
Christopher Sadowski

The city in March agreed to shell out $6 million, or $21,500 each, to demonstrators who could show that they were confined and beaten or pepper-sprayed in the episode – in what plaintiff attorneys said could be the highest per-person amount awarded in a mass-arrest class-action lawsuit in city history.

Then-Mayor Bill de Blasio largely defended the cops’ tactics after outrage over the kettling grew in the months following the episode — but said the NYPD was wrong for arresting legal observers.

One Bronx cop told The Post at the time that the kettling tactic was standard practice for officers responding to protests.

“Kettling? That’s what we do,” the officer said at the time. “It’s not like they do it because these guys are model citizens. They’re doing it because they’re committing crimes or not following orders.”

Over the summer, the city also agreed to pay more than $13 million – or nearly $10,000 each – to settle a class-action lawsuit from 1,300 protesters who claimed they were arrested or beaten during 18 demonstrations in Brooklyn and Manhattan between May 28 and June 4 of 2020.

Police Benevolent Association president Patrick Hendry said Tuesday that his union — which represents roughly 24,000 officers across the city — refused to sign off on the latest settlement because of concerns that it could put officers’ safety at risk.

“Once again, police officers on the street are being left to bear all the burden of so-called ‘solutions’ to problems we didn’t create, while the real causes of the chaos remain unaddressed,” Hendry said in a statement.

Nearly 400 NYPD members were injured during the summer 2020 protests, Hendry added.

Additional reporting by Nolan Hicks