Outrage over police violence at pro-Palestine rally in Brooklyn

<span>The rally in Bay Ridge on Saturday.</span><span>Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images</span>
The rally in Bay Ridge on Saturday.Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Outrage was growing on Monday to a “cumulatively aggressive” response by the New York police department to a weekend pro-Palestine street rally in Brooklyn, in which officers were caught on video beating protesters who had already been detained.

Cellphone footage by witnesses at Saturday’s gathering in Bay Ridge showed NYPD officers – including two wearing the uniforms of police commanders – punching at least three people on the ground.

One man was repeatedly punched in the ribs by an officer who had him pinned – while another protester was struck violently on the left side of his face as an officer pinned his head to the asphalt, according to the New York Times.

“From my vantage point, the [NYPD] response appeared pre-emptive, retaliatory and cumulatively aggressive,” the Democratic city council member Justin Brannan told the newspaper.

“These were not our local cops. Clearly, there was a zero-tolerance edict sent down, which escalated everything and made it worse.”

A spokesperson for the NYPD said Monday that 41 people were arrested at the event, held annually in Bay Ridge to commemorate Nakba Day, the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948.

“I saw police indiscriminately grabbing people off the street and the sidewalk. They were grabbing them at random,” Nerdeen Kiswani, an organizer with the pro-Palestinian activist group Within Our Lifetime, told the Times.

In an earlier tweet, Brannan said he “saw no evidence of actions by protesters today that warranted such an aggressive response”.

He was joined in his criticism of the police actions by the Democratic state senator Andrew Gounardes, who told the Times he spoke with the commander of the 68th precinct before the protest and was not warned there would be such a heavy NYPD presence.

“It certainly seems like the police came ready for a much more aggressive and a much more confrontational demonstration than perhaps they had gotten,” he said, adding that videos of the violence he saw were “deeply concerning”.

The New York mayor, Eric Adams – a former NYPD officer – defended the police response on Monday, denying that officers were aggressive when they were arresting protesters, NY1.com reported.

Meanwhile NYPD’s deputy commissioner of operations, Kaz Daughtry, blamed the violence on the demonstrators, telling reporters it “was not a peaceful protest by some”.

Officers were spat on and had water thrown at them, Daughtry alleged, accusing protesters of lighting incendiary devices and blocking streets. He claimed a third of the 41 people arrested had prior arrests “for other non-peaceful protests”.

But Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), accused police of “a continual pattern of aggression” against pro-Palestine demonstrators.

“The aggressive escalation by the NYPD’s strategic response group was a violation of New Yorkers’ rights to speak out and risks chilling political expression,” she said in a statement posted to X.

“NYCLU protest monitors witnessed violent arrests, protester injuries and even arrests of credentialed members of the press. The NYPD should be doing all it can to honor New Yorkers’ right to speak out on issues that matter to them, not engaging in violent suppression.”