Pro-Palestine organizers denounce police brutality, refute claims of outside agitators at Bay Ridge Nakba Day protest

NY: Community Press Conference Denouncing NYPD Violence
Within Our Lifetime organizer Nerdeen Kiswani denounced the NYPD’s tactics at a May 18 protest in Bay Ridge.
Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

The organizers of a pro-Palestine protest held in Bay Ridge last weekend gathered on Ovington Avenue Tuesday to condemn what they called “excessive force” used by some NYPD officers at the event. 

Video captured at the May 18 Nakba Day protest shows officers pulling protesters out of the crowd, throwing them to the ground, and punching demonstrators while pinning them to the pavement. 

supporters at nakba day rally in Bay Ridge
Supporters gathered behind organizers and protesters at the May 21 rally criticizing the NYPD response. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Pro-Palestinian supporters, including the organization Within Our Lifetime, who organized the march, said Saturday’s violent arrests came on the heels of months of “targeted, brutal, and retaliatory repression by the NYPD.” They accused top NYPD brass like Chief of Patrol John Chell and Deputy Commissioner of Operations Kaz Daughtry of purposefully orchestrating crackdowns on pro-Palestine protests since January by refusing to allow protesters to march in the streets or use amplified sound. They also criticized Mayor Eric Adams and the NYPD for painting the majority of those arrested at Saturday’s rally as “outside agitators.”

Nerdeen Kiswani, founder of WOL, said NYPD officers pulled hijabs of multiple Muslim women and ripped the shirt of a woman, broke a community member’s motorized wheelchair, pulled an innocent bystander out of her car by her hair and arrested her before towing her car, beat up a young Black minor to the point where he could no longer walk before he was dragged to a police van, and pointed out rally organizers and targeted anyone wearing a Within Our Lifetime shirt. 

Kiswani stressed that the Nakba Day rally — which commemorates the displacement of more than 700,000 Palestinians in 1948 — had been held in Bay Ridge for years without incident.  

man arrested at Palestinian protest in Bay Ridge
A protestor being arrested during the May 18 Nakba Day protest. Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

“However, this year, our neighborhood was invaded by the NYPD, who brought officers from all across the city and all units to terrorize our community. The violence that they unleashed was unprecedented in our Nakba Day rally’s entire history,” she said.

Kiswani also accused Daughtry of lying when he said in a statement on X that 36 of the 41 protesters arrested were “outside agitators.” 

“What actually happened was that the NYPD came into a community and became the outside agitators, making us all unsafe,” said Kiswani. 

Bay Ridge native Abdullah Akl, a WOL organizer, also refuted the mayor and NYPD’s claims of outside agitators.

“To be called an outside agitator by the NYPD, specifically by Deputy Commissioner Kaz Daughtry, is only to tell us one thing: that Kaz Daughtry does not know this community,” Akl said. “We are from the community. We know each and every single person that was arrested.”

Abdullah Akl at bay ridge rally
Abdullah Akl refuted the mayor and NYPD’s claims of outside agitators. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Malik Hassan, executive director of the Muslim American Society Youth Center, spoke on behalf of multiple Muslim organizations, including the Islamic Leadership Council of New York, the Arab American Federation, the Islamic Circle of North America, and the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge, who all strongly condemned the “NYPD’s brutal attack on the Nakba Day Rally.”

“We demand legal consequences against Mayor Adams and the NYPD for the police response to the anti-genocide protests leading up to and on Nakba Day,” said Hassan, calling on Muslims, Arabs, South Asians, and communities who believe in justice to carefully reconsider any coordination or any collaboration with the NYPD until police officers are held accountable. 

Ang, a longtime member of WOL, described himself as a “proud Jewish anti-Zionist.” He was among the 41 protesters who were arrested on May 18. Ang alleges that he was thrown to the ground, choked, and punched multiple times by NYPD Lieutenant Joan Ferreira of the 28th precinct in Harlem. 

“Sadly, I was just one of many who was brutalized by the NYPD when they violently stormed Bay Ridge on Saturday during Within Our Lifetime’s annual Nakba Day Rally,” said Ang, describing the NYPD actions as “indiscriminate violence.”

“[NYPD officers] pushed, grabbed, tackled, punched,  pepper sprayed, beat with batons and arrested women, mothers, teenage girls, minors, young men and journalists alike,” Ang said. “Muslim women and girls were subjected to having their hijabs forcibly ripped off with impunity.” 

police cruiser at Nakba Day rally
An NYPD cruiser drove past the May 21 rally. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Countering Adams’ comment that NYPD did a “commendable job” handling the protest, Ang said, “I’ll tell you from my vantage point on the ground, it did not look like a commendable job.”

However, the mayor and police say the social media videos of officers cracking down on protesters don’t show the whole picture. 

At Tuesday’s weekly in-person media availability event, Adams doubled down on his comments defending the police response. He said most officers acted “accordingly” and that officers who used “more force than necessary” would be investigated. 

While he is a firm believer in the right to protest, Adams said he didn’t like the calls of “Death to America” or some protesters’ brandishing of the Hamas flag, which he described as “a murderous, despicable, terrorist group.”

“You don’t have the right to spit in the face of police officers. You don’t have the right to ride on top of a bus. You don’t have the right to stop the flow of traffic,” said Adams, referring to a video posted to X  (formerly known as Twitter) by NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Operations Kaz Daughtry.

pro-palestine flag at bay ridge nakba day rally
Supporters waved pro-Palestine flags at the rally. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

The video shows objects and unknown liquid substances thrown at cops and officers being assaulted, a protester riding on the roof of an MTA bus, and participants igniting flares. 

When reached for a response regarding the allegations made by Kiswani, the NYPD referred back to a post on X, which reads, “The NYPD will ensure everyone’s safety during peaceful protests. We will never tolerate any unlawful, illegal, and non-peaceful protests. NYC residents demand peace and reject unlawful behavior in any form. We will not accept the narrative that persons arrested were victims, nor are we going to allow illegal behavior. Acts committed by 41 people, of which 36 were not from the Bay Ridge Community or the City of New York. 1/3 arrested have a prior arrest history for other non-peaceful protests.”

However, the NYPD shared that some of the protesters faced multiple charges, including assault in the 2nd and 3rd degree, resisting arrest, obstruction of government administration, disorderly conduct, harassment, and reckless endangerment.