“It’s Pretty Ridiculous”: Washington Square Park-Goers Respond to NYPD Crackdown on Weekend Revelers

Zion DeCoteau Jun 11, 2021

“Let ‘em smoke weed, let ‘em do whatever the fuck else they want. Are they hurting anyone?”

On Saturday night, June 5, police in riot gear cleared Washington Square Park to enforce a 10 p.m. curfew, arresting 23 people. Videos posted to social media and online showed police wrestling with protesters and one woman being pepper-sprayed after attempting to punch an officer. Police said eight officers were injured.

The city Parks Department had imposed the curfew because nearby residents had complained that large crowds were dancing to loud, amplified music late into the night. Police had previously closed the park’s northwest section because of complaints about drug use and sales there.

Mayor Bill De Blasio expressed support for the curfew on June 7, saying that he would like to “see the point come where it’s no longer necessary.”

On the afternoon of June 9, the Greenwich Village park was a calm scene, with parkgoers soaking up the sun, while children and homeless and mentally ill people alike cooled off in the spray from its central fountain. Many were unaware of both the curfew and the previous Saturday’s scuffle. Those that were aware expressed mixed opinions, generally criticizing the police.

“I feel that it’s pretty ridiculous,” said Kristinah Session, 23, of Brooklyn. “The park is a place for people to come to at night, especially when it’s hot. The fact that they’re brutally taking people out of the park with such force is very uncalled for.”

She said, however, that she has seen drug use in the park, and heard stories about crimes there. 

“I’ve seen it the past few couple years,” she said. “At NYU, you’d get the reports of you know, people getting abused, or robbed, but that comes with the city, it’s everywhere.”

Ella Isgar, 18, who went to high school in the neighborhood, said Washington Square is a safe space for local youth, providing a community atmosphere and a place to bond. She called the police attempts to enforce the curfew and clear the area “asking for kids to find new unsafe ways to be around in the city.”

Warren McGinnis, 27, said drug use, at least marijuana, was not a valid reason for police to clear the park forcefully.

“Weed is fucking legal, bro!” he exclaimed. “Let ‘em smoke weed, let ‘em do whatever the fuck else they want. Are they hurting anyone? If they’re not hurting anyone, fuck off, and go pick up some litter or something. Do something useful for the city.” 

Smoking marijuana in public is now legal in New York State anywhere smoking cigarettes is permitted, but a Parks Department regulation imposed under former mayor Michael Bloomberg prohibits smoking in city parks.

McGinnis called the police “a bunch of bullies with badges who are using their muscle in any way they can to make themselves feel big, to fill their quotas for tickets, and to do anything to make themselves feel proud.”

Isabella Doornbosch, 18, a native of the Netherlands, said she thought the problem was that the police officers in the U.S. don’t get enough training before they go out on the job. 

“I just don’t think it’s enough time,” she said. “I think that makes them just act on their own personal bias [rather] than what’s good for people.”

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