Local pols criticize ‘aggressive’ NYPD response at pro-Palestine march in Bay Ridge

cops at palestinian protest in Bay Ridge
Politicians are criticizing the NYPD’s response to a pro-Palestinian protest in Bay Ridge on May 18.
Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

Two Brooklyn lawmakers took to social media to express concern after police were caught on camera roughly arresting demonstrators at a pro-Palestine march on Saturday.

Protesters flooded the streets through rain in Bay Ridge to participate in the Nakba Day All Out for Gaza on May 18. Bay Ridge is the city’s biggest Palestinian neighborhood, and the Nakba Day march has been an annual event in the community for years before war broke out in Gaza between Israel and the terrorist group Hamas following the Oct. 7, 2023 terrorist attacks.

people marching in Palestinian protest in Bay Ridge
Roughly 800 protestors took to the streets in Bay Ridge. Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

More than eight hundred protestors marched along Bay Ridge Avenue and 5th Avenue on Saturday afternoon. The march was led by Within Our Lifetime, an organization that has been advocating for “the right of all Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland” — a goal that others see as effectively a call for the destruction of the state of Israel.

The demonstrators — many of whom chanted “End The War in Gaza” as they walked through the streets — marched to the corner of 5th Avenue and 66th Street, and was mostly peaceful until about two hours into the march. Then, after some protesters lit flares, NYPD officers moved in to break up the proceedings.

In one video posted on X (formerly Twitter) by journalist Katie Smith, several senior NYPD officers were seen brutally punching demonstrators while pinning them to the pavement. Smith said the officers “rushed in and seemingly grabbed people out of the crowd at random.”

The videos drew concern from City Council Member Justin Brannan and state Sen. Andrew Gounardes, both of whom took to social media to question the size of the NYPD’s “aggressive response.”

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

man arrested at Palestinian protest in Bay Ridge
Several protesters were arrested during the protest. Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

“Videos + reports of the NYPD response to yesterday’s Nakba Day protest in Bay Ridge are incredibly concerning,” Gounardes added. “This is home to the largest Palestinian community in NY, who’ve demonstrated for years without being met with such aggression. Everyone has a right to peaceful protest.”

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, shared their concerns in a statement issued on May 19.

“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. “NYCLU protest monitors witnessed violent arrests, protestor injuries, and even arrests of credential members of the press. The NYPDs’ violent reaction underscores why the City needs to urgently implement the Payne settlement, which sets new terms for how the NYPD manages protest.”

In the Payne settlement, to which Lieberman referred, the NYPD agreed in 2023 to reform how it responds to protests in order to avoid confrontations, and outlawed the use of “kettling” — a tactic in which officers surround protesters. 

‘Lawlessness will never be tolerated’

NYPD Deputy Commissioner Kaz Daughtry took to X (Twitter) to report that 34 people had been arrested in the demonstrations — many of whom were cuffed for blocking roadways and vehicles. He included in his post aerial drone footage showing protesters surrounding an MTA bus traveling through the area. One protester was shown sitting atop the back of a bus, waving a Palestinian flag.

police officer on balcony in bay ridge
A police officer on a balcony overseeing the protest. Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

“As you can see from this drone footage, one individual even climbed atop an @MTA bus, putting himself and others in danger,” Daughtry wrote. “The @NYPDnews proudly protects everyone’s right to protest, but lawlessness will never be tolerated.”

When reached for comment, the NYPD sent a link to a post on its X account on Monday morning. 

In that post, the NYPD alleges that 41 people arrested during the protests “were not from the Bay Ridge community,” with that quote spelled in all caps on its account. They also noted that one-third of the “arrested have a prior arrest history for other non-peaceful protest.”

The NYPD post included an edited video showing objects thrown at officers, vehicles disrupted, emergency flares ignited, anti-police graffiti and officers assaulted. 

The video ends with a message, “Does this look like a peaceful protest to you?” and a picture of one of the protesters dressed in a keffiyeh and a mask. 

What is Nakba?

“Nakba,” an Arabic term that translates to “catastrophe,” describes the forced displacement of 750,000 Palestinians as part of the effort to establish Israel in 1948, three years after the Holocaust ended. Palestine was then a British colony, and Israel was established to serve as a homeland for the Jewish people. According to the United Nations, “The Nakba had a profound impact on the Palestinian people, who lost their homes, their land, and their way of life.” An estimated 5 million Palestinian refugees live across the Middle East, per the UN. 

Israel’s establishment led to war with the Palestinians and other neighboring countries in the Middle East, resulting in decades of conflict interspersed with brief periods of peace. 

protestor with flare
Some protestors lit flares during Nakba Day protests in Bay Ridge.Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

The terrorist attacks of Oct. 7, 2023 marked a horrific turning point. Hamas, which has controlled Gaza for years, sent fighters into neighboring areas of Israel in an unprovoked attack, killing more than 1,200 people and taking hundreds more hostage. Israel countered with a military invasion of Gaza — a small, densely populated enclave of 2 million people living in an area roughly the size of the District of Columbia.

At least 35,000 Gazans have been killed in the conflict, and nearly 80,000 wounded. UN officials warned this month that northern Gaza is at risk of a “full-blown famine,” as millions of Palestinians displaced from their homes face immense shortages of food and water. 

On May 20, the International Criminal Court announced it is seeking arrest warrants for charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and three Hamas leaders —Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri, and Ismail Haniyeh.

protestors in Bay Ridge
Nakba Day events and protests are held annually in Bay Ridge. Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

Since the Israel-Hamas war began in Gaza, pro-Palestinian demonstrations have been a frequent occurrence in New York, including on college campuses. The NYPD has arrested hundreds of pro-Palestine demonstrators over the past seven months for disruptive behavior at marches, major crossings and high-profile public events such as the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting and the Met Gala.

Meanwhile, antisemitism has exploded across New York since the Oct. 7 attacks, and some have seen the language used at the pro-Palestine demonstrations — such as “from the river to the sea” — as fanning the flames of hatred against Jewish New Yorkers.

A version of this story first appeared on Brooklyn Paper’s sister site amNewYork Metro.