Police union attempts to derail new regulations on NYPD conduct
New York, NY – The police union that represents NYPD officers, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), has intervened in an historic legal settlement in an attempt to prevent new regulations on how police respond to protests.
The settlement, announced earlier this month, comes from a lawsuit filed by the Legal Aid Society, the New York Civil Liberties Union, New York Attorney General Letitia James, and individuals who were arrested or had their rights violated during the Black lives matter uprisings in the summer of 2020. Federal Judge Colleen McMahon had initially approved the settlement, but on September 8 she vacated her approval and reopened negotiations on the case.
If approved, the settlement would be a huge victory for activists in New York City. The new regulations would ban some of the NYPD’s more notorious tactics, such as kettling, and would increase oversight over the deployment of officers to protests and their conduct once there, including limiting the circumstances in which protesters can be arrested. The PBA argues that the settlement’s new regulations would put officers in danger, and that it therefore should not be approved, even though the NYPD has already agreed to the settlement.
The PBA’s objection to the new regulations is a transparent attempt to allow the NYPD to continue brutalizing protesters without consequences. Coming on the heels of a summer of active labor organizing across the country, this move shows that unlike other labor unions, the police union protects the interests of those in power at the expense of the people. Any labor union truly concerned with the interests of working people ought to welcome these reforms, which protect demonstrators and could help to prevent the kind of bogus charges and political repression facing activists in other parts of the country, such as the Tampa 5.
After the murder of George Floyd, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in the summer of 2020. In New York City the police response to these historic protests was brutal and abusive. Demonstrators recorded video of NYPD officers driving their cars into crowds of protesters, breaking people's bones with their batons, yanking N95 masks off of peoples’ faces, using their bicycles as weapons, and shoving people backwards off of sidewalks into the street, among other things.
Under the terms of the settlement, the NYPD would be prohibited from kettling protesters -surrounding them at a rally or protest and preventing them from leaving. In addition to creating an enormous safety risk, for example, by blocking all possible exits from a crowded intersection, kettling also dramatically escalates confrontations between the police and civilians. The police usually arrest all or nearly all of the people kettled, which leads to a flood of people being tied in zip ties that can cut off circulation, moved all over the city to different precincts, and stuck waiting hours to be booked and processed.
Under the settlement, the NYPD would also be required to use de-escalation tactics before sending additional cops to a protest or demonstration, and a high-level supervisor’s approval would be needed before police could make arrests for common protest charges including rioting, inciting a riot, non-violent obstruction of governmental administration, disorderly conduct, trespass, and unlawful assembly. The police would also be required to accommodate protests that temporarily impede traffic unless “critical infrastructure” is at risk. Furthermore, the NYPD would be banned from preventing members of the press from observing or recording cops in public.
These terms are a direct response to the actions of the NYPD during the 2020 uprising. Earlier this year, New York City settled two other lawsuits related to the NYPD’s misconduct during that period. The first, in March 2023, paid out over $20,000 each to hundreds of people who had been kettled by the police and attacked with batons and pepper spray. The second, in July 2023, paid out $10,000 each to thousands more people who were arrested in Manhattan or Brooklyn during 2020.
The PBA’s interests are fundamentally opposed to those of the people ,as demonstrated both by their objection to this settlement and by their defense of the NYPD’s repeated misconduct during the protests of 2020. This is obvious in the PBA’s baseless claim that the settlement would put officers and public safety at risk, when again and again we have seen that it is the NYPD that puts people in danger, not the other way around.
Finally, the circumstances under which Judge Colleen McMahon reopened negotiations highlight the web of corruption surrounding the NYPD and the PBA. By her own admission, McMahon and one of the attorneys for the PBA are old law partners who continue to interact socially, even jointly hosting a Super Bowl party together earlier this year.
The PBA and NYPD’s reputations for corruption are nothing new, with laundry lists of scandals that span decades. In May of this year, a former NYPD officer filed a federal lawsuit alleging widespread corruption within the NYPD and PBA. Therefore, it is unsurprising that the PBA would use personal connections to resist the proposed settlement and any policies which might help curb the NYPD’s brutality.
Despite the PBA’s interference, hope is not lost. According to Gothamist, the lead counsel from Legal Aid Society has stated that the settlement will most likely still go through, but it will be delayed by at least two months. If it does, it will be a blow to the power of the NYPD and of the PBA, protecting activists while chipping away at the NYPD’s stranglehold on New York City.