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The NYPD Attacked Queer Demonstrators Protesting Police Brutality

The police riot comes at a moment when the department's budget could be on the chopping block.

Pat Rough Jun 29

Sunday’s Queer Liberation March was a celebration, a joyful affirmation of pride with thousands of participants dancing in the streets. Until it wasn’t. 

Dozens of members of the NYPD arrived, brandishing billy clubs, pepper-spray canisters and handcuffs. In a matter of seconds, the officers managed to turn what was a peaceful if raucous gathering into a scene of chaos that left demonstrators lying supine on the pavement near the arches of Washington Square Park. 

Officers ‘brutalized people who were peacefully marching against police brutality on the 51st anniversary of an uprising against police brutality.’

The march, which commemorates the anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion 51 years ago and the birth of the modern queer liberation movement, adapted an anti-police brutality theme this year in the wake of the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis and the rise of Black Lives Matter activism across the country. 

The NYPD “brutalized people who were peacefully marching against police brutality on the 51st anniversary of an uprising against police brutality,” said Natalie James, a co-founder of the Reclaim Pride Coalition, which began organizing the Queer Liberation March last year in response to what it sees as the increasing corporatization of pride. 

James noted that just a year ago the police department issued an apology for Stonewall, one that City Council Speaker Cory Johnson described at the time as “really moving.”

Before.

After.

Photos: Sue Brisk.

The melee appears to have begun when a small group of NYPD officers attempted to make an arrest during a dance party that broke out on 8th Street as the march, begun earlier that day at Foley Square, wound down. Demonstrators intervened, linking arms to protect one of their own. Outnumbered, the officers called for backup. It arrived and so too did the violence.

Sue Brisk, a photographer for The Indypendent, witnessed the attack first hand. 

“Everything was totally fine and normal and people were happy and suddenly within seconds it was a disaster,” she said. 

In one particularly callous act of brutality captured on video, an officer walks up to a demonstrator standing to the side and leaning on a bike and, without warning or provocation, shoves her to the ground and walks away. 

James said four to six march participants were arrested. As of Monday morning, when she spoke to The Indy, it remained unclear to the organizers what the arrestees were charged with or where they were being held. 

Tolan thanked Police Commissioner Dermot Shea and the entire NYPD ‘for continuing to show us why you should be abolished.’

Sunday’s police riot is the latest in a series of incidents in recent weeks in which officers have attacked demonstrators, largely with impunity. And it comes ahead of a June 30 budget deadline at City Hall, where Black Lives Matter protesters have set up an encampment and are calling for at least $1 billion in cuts to the NYPD. Comptroller Scott Stringer and several members of the City Council support the demand.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has defended his police department and initially wouldn’t say how much of its budget he was willing to trim. On Monday, he said his new budget would carve a billion dollars out, but demonstrators and policy experts dispute de Blasio’s claim. They note that while it includes a hiring freeze on teachers, there is no such freeze on hiring cops. The largest cut to the NYPD’s budget will in fact come from transferring the city’s school safety officers from the police department’s payroll to the Department of Education’s.

“I wish that I could say what I saw today was shocking, but how could I reasonably expect anything else from the NYPD?” Jake Tolan, a march organizer who witnessed the attack said in a statement. Tolan thanked Police Commissioner Dermot Shea and the entire NYPD “for continuing to show us why you should be abolished.”

The attack, said James, coming “at this particular moment, at this particular event, signifying this particular historical event,” presents a “compelling case study” as to why the “police need to be massively defunded at City Hall tomorrow.” 

“In a larger sense,” she continued, “it’s also bringing queers, especially white queers, back around to the historic, central focus of the fight against police repression.” 

James noted that the radicalism of the original Gay Liberation Front, formed in the aftermath of Stonewall, has largely been overshadowed by assimilationist movements, such as the fight for marriage equality and the right to serve in the military. 

“The Gay Liberation Front had an alliance with the Black Panthers around the issue of police oppression,” she said. “Hopefully yesterday and the massive outpouring of outrage from the community will help to realign queer activism around this vital issue.”

This article has been updated.

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