New York Police Department commissioner Dermot Shae has said that racial justice protesters who marched across the city on Martin Luther King Day were trying to "destroy our way of life."
It was a curious way for a white policeman to characterize Black racial justice activists, to say the least, especially as the state Attorney General Letitia James is in the process of suing the NYPD for excessive force against racial justice demonstrators during the George Floyd protests during the summer of 2020.
On Martin Luther King Day 2021, the national holiday commemorating Black civil rights leader, NYPD officers arrested 29 protesters with a Black Liberation March for racial and social justice. The group marched from Brooklyn to City Hall.
Police claimed that protesters began lobbing bottles at a bystander recording the protests after police formed a protective ring around the bystander. Police also claimed that protesters tried to block traffic over one of the city's roads and tried to spray graffiti. However, NY1 reports that video shows police officers arresting protesters at random.
"When you march from Brooklyn over a bridge, you try to shut down the traffic on the bridge. You're bringing bottles. You're bringing graffiti. You're spray painting our city. This is our city. You're spray painting to burn our city down," Shea said. “This isn't actions that are caused by police officers so that's a news flash for the AG. This is actions caused by people that want to destroy our way of life and our city and we're not going to let it happen."
Isabelle Leyva, an NYC resident who recorded video of the police attacks (below) told NBC News a completely different story. She said that the police played an audio recording ordering the protesters to stop marching in the streets and then police began rushing anyone who dared step off of the sidewalk. She said police rushed protesters at least six times.
“At that point, a small group broke away from the crowd and was standing on the roadway a few feet off of the sidewalk," Leyva said. “Riot police then charged the crowd and ran onto the sidewalk to beat and arrest people. [Police] continued this pattern for the rest of the night, grabbing anyone who stepped off of the sidewalk and then charging the entire group."
Eleven officers received minor injuries and 21 protesters were charged with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor, while seven received a desk appearance ticket.
Considering the long history of police using intimidation and force to beat back racial justice protesters, Shae's characterization of protesters seeking to "destroy our way of life" is telling.
Researchers have said that the police's tepid response to the white insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6 was quite permissive and friendly compared to the violent beatdown that Black Lives Matter protesters experienced at the same site the summer before—and it fits a larger pattern of police allowing white protesters to riot while stomping down on Black protesters who dare challenge police authority.