New York City has agreed to pay demonstrators who sued the police department millions of dollars, determining they had been mistreated during a racial justice protest in June 2020 after George Floyd’s killing.
The settlement that has been proposed would give $21,500 to each of the more than 300 people who were arrested in the Bronx borough’s Mott Haven neighborhood if a federal judge approves it.
The demonstration was one of the numerous protests not only in New York City but nationwide after the killing of Floyd, an unarmed African American man who died on May 25, 2020, when an on-duty Minneapolis police officer pinned him down and held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes.
According to the 2020 class action lawsuit, the New York City police trapped the protestors, who had been demonstrating peacefully, in using a strategy known as “kettling” before an 8 p.m. curfew took effect, and then made mass arrests by using pepper spray and batons on some of the protestors.
“In the course of this litigation, we learned that this operation was preplanned and coordinated at the highest levels of the NYPD,” said Ali Frick, one of the lawyers who brought the case to court. Frick said the settlement could be one of the largest class action suits dealing with a mass arrest ever won on a per-person basis.
NYPD says the demonstration happened at a “challenging moment”
The New York Police Department said in a statement that the demonstration happened at a “challenging moment” when officers who were already spread thin during the Covid-19 pandemic tried to balance safety concerns with the people’s right to protest.
“Much of the NYPD’s policies and training for policing large-scale demonstrations have been re-envisioned based on the findings of the department’s self-initiated analyses and on the recommendations from three outside agencies which carefully investigated that period,” said the department.
The total amount of the payments could be around $7 million, without including attorneys’ fees. However, an exact accounting has yet to be made available. Some protestors pursued separate claims and reached individual settlements, making them ineligible for additional payments, per court filings.
Last month, New York City’s civilian police review board recommended that there should be disciplinary action for the use of excessive force as well as other misconduct for 146 officers during the 2020 protests.
A city watchdog agency report issued in December 2020 found that the police use of force, including kettling, often failed to distinguish between criminal actors and peaceful protestors, which added tension between officers and demonstrators. The city paid $121 million in police misconduct settlements in 2022, which was the most in five years, per an analysis by the Legal Aid Society released last month