Cops Turn Violent on Queer Protesters in Manhattan

Among the demands at the June 2 Sheridan Square rally was that white Americans end their silence about the evils of anti-Black violence.
Donna Aceto

A powerful demonstration at the Stonewall Inn on June 2 shined a much-needed spotlight on recent deadly violence targeting Black transgender individuals, but shortly after the city’s new 8 p.m. curfew the NYPD pounced on the queer peaceful protesters, punching them and beating them with batons before rounding them up and arresting them, activists said.

Thousands of folks gathered at Stonewall for a 5 p.m. protest to highlight the cases of Black transgender victims of deadly violence and police murders, including the deaths last month of Tony McDade, a Black transgender man shot to death by police in Tallahassee, Florida, and Nina Pop, a Black transgender woman who was stabbed to death by an assailant in her Missouri apartment.

Demonstrators targeted by NYPD in bloody Tuesday evening scene in the Village

DecrimNY, the coalition aiming to comprehensively decriminalize sex work in New York City, helped take the lead on organizing the event. In a continuation of the nationwide protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the protest that started at Stonewall and continued in the streets marked an opportunity for the community to also pay respects to fallen Black trans folks who have disproportionately been the victims of violent killings. The demonstration marked the second straight night of action near the site of the historic gay bar commemorating the lives of queer and other people of color who died at the hands of police.

“Trans women of color were centered, they controlled their space, they held the park… it was powerful,” activist Jay W. Walker, who was on hand for the Stonewall demonstration, told Gay City News. “The speeches were raw, full of anger, full of emotion, but always, from beginning to end, a peaceful protest.”

But it was also the second straight night of curfew imposed on the city — this time at 8 p.m. after an 11 p.m. curfew on June 1 — and activists said law enforcement officers were emboldened by the early cutoff.

“I was here in ‘85 and I remember it was a particularly corrupt group of cops whose slogan in the late ‘80s was ‘we own the night,’” Walker recalled. “This 8 o’clock curfew is literally Bill de Blasio giving NYPD ownership of the night without anyone to observe them.”

Activist Jason Rosenberg after his release from police custody.Twitter/ @mynameisjro

After the activists began marching from Stonewall along the west side of Manhattan, several activists were arrested, including Jason Rosenberg and Marti Gould Cummings, who is seeking a Manhattan City Council seat in 2021. Cummings said they were arrested at 8:15 and Rosenberg, whose face was seen bloodied on social media posts, said in a video he uploaded that individuals were peacefully locked arm-in-arm when cops barrelled in and hit him with batons and punches, forcing him to receive medical treatment for an arm injury and cuts to his head. In that video which he posted after he was released, a bloodied Rosenberg said he and others were arrested at the intersection of East 14th Street and Fifth Avenue.

“We were peacefully protesting… and we started to see some escalation and we sorta kept moving and a lot of us linked arms in solidarity and civil disobedience, which is not resisting arrest,” he said.

“And we were all thrown to the ground,” Rosenberg added, explaining that he was hit by a baton and punches. “I was beaten on all sides.”

Prep4AllNow, an activist group dedicated to improving access to HIV prevention medication, first expressed concern in a tweet shortly after midnight on June 3 showing a photo of Rosenberg detained with blood on his face. Out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman remained active on social media at the time, vowing to find out where authorities were holding Rosenberg, Cummings, and other activists rounded up by cops.

On Wednesday morning, Cummings explained they were released at 7:20 a.m., roughly 11 hours after being arrested. Cummings said they were denied an opportunity to make a phone call and were never read their Miranda rights.

“In cuffs for four hours,” Cummings wrote. “No clean masks. Most cops not wearing masks. I’ll be donating $500 to a bail fund to help others today.”

Hours later, Cummings expanded on their experience, saying it was “horrible” and “scary” but that they were able to get home.

“How many innocent Black people have encountered police and don’t make it home?,” Cummings asked. “Stop killing Black people. Stand up against police brutality. Stand up a gainst systemic racism. Protest.”

Walker, a longtime activist, told Gay City News he left the event before the curfew, but he expressed confidence in the way the movement has progressed in recent days as activists have shown their dedication to standing up against racial injustice and transphobia.

“These marches now have taken a right of their own,” Walker said. “It’s beautiful, it’s powerful. People are sorta taking control of the streets.”

Later, Walker, speaking on a video message streamed on the Reclaim Pride Coalition’s Facebook page, read a brief message from Cummings, who demanded that the NYPD be defunded and stressed that “now more than ever, we must invoke the message of Marsha and Sylvia and fight. We must stand up for our Black communities and fight for their lives. If you stand by in silence, you are complicit in the murders of Black people at the hands of police.”

Tuesday March from Foley through to Washington Square Park and points north.Donna Aceto

Stories of police abuse targeting queer folks have also come from other demonstrations in the city. Evan Catlett, who joined a June 1 protest near Barclays Center in Brooklyn and marched across the Manhattan Bridge through SoHo and into NoHo. He said he was peacefully demonstrating across from the Strand Bookstore near East 12th Street and Broadway at around 10 p.m. when police officers lined up across the street and charged at him and others standing on the sidewalk.

“They barricaded us from going any further, and there were some officers who came around the corner and cut us off,” Catlett, who is gay, recalled in an interview with Gay City News. “A cop in front of me who was eight inches taller than me just grabbed both ends of his baton and hit me in the head with it. It was enough to knock me to the ground, and then he started shoving everyone so it was like a pile of people who had to get off each other.”

Catlett said he later contacted the New York City Anti-Violence Project’s hotline, reported the incident, and spoke with a counselor there.

“I never witnessed anything like this in my life,” Catlett said.

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