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Little Palestine Responds to NYPD’s Nakba Day Rampage in Their Community

Protest organizers say the police were the real ‘outside agitators.'

Amba Guerguerian May 23

When several thousand Palestinians and their allies gathered Saturday at the intersection of Fifth and Ovington avenues in the heart of Bay Ridge’s Little Palestine, they were greeted by legions of NYPD riot cops intent on marring the occasion. On Tuesday the event’s organizers returned to the same spot to denounce the police violence that was unleashed against them.   

“They come into our communities and call us outside agitators, when we know they’re the real outside agitators” said Nerdeen Kiswani, cofounder of Within Our Lifetime Palestine, the Bay Ridge-based group that led Saturday’s protest. 

The overbearing police presence could still be felt on Tuesday. 

“There have been guys in suits walking all around here [since Saturday],” Mahmoud Kasem, owner of a nearby Palestinian restaurant, told The Indy, indicating detectives have been making their rounds through the neighborhood.

Bay Ridge is a diverse neighborhood with the largest Arab and Palestinian populations in the city. During the Saturday protest, Kiswani asked Palestinian attendees to raise their hands, hundreds of which shot up in the crowd. When she asked them to leave their hands up if they had a loved one that had been killed or imprisoned by Israel, dozens stayed raised. 

Since 2016, Within Our Lifetime (WOL) has held an annual Nakba Day protest there to commemorate the anniversary of the 1948 Nakba (or, “catastrophe” in Arabic) when Zionist forces drove 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and depopulated more than 500 towns and villages in order to found the state of Israel. In previous years, the protest had been handled without trouble by the local 68th Precinct. Faced with demonstrators already outraged by the genocide in Gaza, white-shirted police captains from outside the community led scores of cops from precincts around the city and Strategic Response Group units in storming through the neighborhood, chasing and beating up protesters. 

“On Saturday [SRG was there but] it was very clearly the white shirts that were leading the brutality,” said Ang, a longtime Jewish WOL organizer.

“I’ve been with WOL for eight years and marched in countless marches, and as much as I’ve been out there, I haven’t seen anything as bad as Saturday,” he added.

Ang, who only uses his first name to avoid retaliation, was among the 41 people arrested at the protest and one of the many that was hurt while doing so. A widely-circulated video by photojournalist Katie Smith shows Lieutenant Joan Ferreira of the 28th Precinct in Harlem throwing him to the ground, choking him and then punching him three times. “I’m still a little traumatized and brain fried,” he told The Indy on Wednesday.

Ang isn’t the only one reeling. “People have been suffering serious injuries, including multiple reports of concussions after being tackled and arrested by the NYPD,” said Kiswani at the press conference. One protester who already suffered a concussion when arrested at the CUNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment on April 30 had “his head bounced off of the concrete on Saturday on our Nakba Day rally,” she said. 

‘As much as I’ve been out there, I haven’t seen anything as bad as Saturday,’ said one demonstrator. 

Apart from severely injuring several protesters on Saturday, the NYPD deployed protest-suppression tactics such as separating protesters from each other at various choke points, arresting people on the sidewalk after telling them to leave the roadway or be arrested, arresting a young woman for holding — not using — a megaphone, flying a police helicopter low above the protest, playing loud audio warnings to disperse once people were already out of the roadway, and climbing the fire escape of a building from which a resident was amplifying sound for the protest. 

The Indypendent alone witnessed two instances on Saturday where white shirts forcefully grabbed protesters off the sidewalk to beat and arrest them. Despite the constant cat-and-mouse chase with the NYPD on Saturday, the protest’s participants were numerous and determined enough that it was able to continue — albeit being fractured into several groups — for at least three hours.

“We look forward to this commemoration every year … it’s always peaceful,” said a mother on Instagram. “This year my children were terrified. I had to leave because they were shaking [with] fear watching officers slam people to the ground [and] beat them when they were not resisting.”

“I brought my kids out on Saturday, like I’ve been doing for years — people always bring out their families to celebrate our culture, our heritage, our history. But this Saturday was a completely different look. As soon as I hit the street, I saw cops with their batons out,” Nisreen, founder of Mamas for a Free Palestine, attested at the press conference. She described a chaotic scene where she saw police officers assaulting minors and pulling off the hijabs of girls she knew and another where one of her daughter’s friends was pushed by an officer as she filmed him choking a journalist to the ground. “I went up to the captain, and I said, ‘One of your officers push this minor. What are you going to do about it?’ And he just shrugged it off with a smirk and walked off.” 

“Open your heart and bear the pain of the mothers of Gaza,” added Nisreen, pointing to the violence pro-Palestine protesters face in New York City is minor in comparison to the genocide in Gaza. “We’re teaching our kids to stand up for justice and humanity, and we will no longer be afraid. We’re gonna keep continuing fighting, and NYPD is not going to intimidate any of us.”

Anas, a member of NYC Healthcare Workers for Palestine, also spoke at the press conference. “What we saw was indescribable,” he said of Saturday’s events. “People being dragged in handcuffs or zip ties unconscious; people being stripped of their clothes; people with clear, severe injuries, bleeding and screaming in pain.” 

“Our members have spent our lives learning how to save people, and while we’re saving people, [police officers] are brutalizing them — they’re making our jobs harder! Explain to me why we are waiting to heal these people at jail support,” said Anas, referring to an incident where a protester was badly injured in the head on Saturday and his supporters at jail support had to find a lawyer to demand an ambulance be called on his part. 

Anas added that the hospitalization of pro-Palestine protesters isn’t new. “We’ve been seeing them [very often] in the ERs because of the injuries NYPD are inflicting on them.”

Abdullah Akl, an organizer with WOL, said the NYPD is infringing on protesters’ rights to free speech and assembly. “We know our constitutional rights better than they do, and even with this flawed framework, they are suppressing our rights,” emphasized Akl, who is pursuing a masters in government at Harvard. 

Lieutenant Joan Ferreira of the 28th Precinct in Harlem chokes and punches Ang, a Within Our Lifetime organizer, on May 18 in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
Instagram/ @thefinaleye
While one police officer holds down a protester, whose hands are up, another moves to drive his baton into the demonstrator.
Instagram/ Ashraf Hamideh @oshimages

The protesters’ criticism has been brushed aside by Mayor Eric Adams, who lauded the NYPD for doing a “commendable” job at Saturday’s protest. When questioned about video evidence of a protester being punched in the face by a cop, he said it was an “isolated incident.” 

“The NYPD has an office in Occupied Palestine,” said Jihad, an organizer with the CUNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment who spoke at the press conference. The ties between the Mayor and Israel run even deeper Jihad noted, pointing to a recent Washington Post article about pro-Israel billionaires using a WhatsApp group to personally lobby the Mayor to shut down the campus encampments.

As reported by Gothamist, the City has spent over $53 million in overtime on policing pro-Palestine protests since October. “That number is gonna grow when the NYPD is served with lawsuit after lawsuit, class action after class action,” she said to a cheering crowd at the press conference. “Still, that is not enough accountability, because that money doesn’t come out of their own pockets … It comes from my tax dollars! It comes from your tax dollars!”

“What could that money be used for? Kids in Bay Ridge can’t go to the library on Sunday because libraries on Sunday are closed!”

Kiswani said the NYPD’s suppression of protest begins long before the riot police show up. 

“The only way you can get a permit for marching in the street is if it’s a parade permit, but we’re not having parades while our people are being killed,” said Kiswani, who urged other organizations to “not get permits from them; do not legitimize them; they will attack you whether you get a permit or not.” She said individual police officers should “turn their badges in” and demanded the NYPD “drop all the charges on protesters not just from Nakba Day but from any Palestine protest.” 

Within Our Lifetime is providing know-your-rights information for Nakba Day protesters being approached by the NYPD’s Internal Affairs unit. 

“When we are attacked and arrested, we will be there outside One Police Plaza for you,” vowed Kiswani. 

“And for the NYPD,” she continued, “if you think that attacking us — if you think that brutalizing us and arresting us is gonna stop us from speaking out — you are making the biggest mistake that you can ever imagine, because every time you attack one of us, another 10 of us become leaders.”

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