With Vice President Joe Biden on the cusp of victory in the 2020 presidential election, a weekly demonstration near the Stonewall Inn and a subsequent march was met with aggressive confrontation by the NYPD on November 5 when officers arrested LGBTQ activists and physically shoved Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
Activists who planned the “We Choose Freedom” demonstration said they have held weekly actions for five months, but this week’s event coincided with a large increase in police presence at the culmination of the 2020 presidential election.
Joel Rivera and Qween Jean, a pair of out LGBTQ activists who have delivered impassioned speeches at protests throughout recent months, spearheaded the event and made speeches before the march kicked off. Rivera underscored the important role Black transgender women have played in leading the way during the Black Lives Matter movement this year and urged those in the crowd to show solidarity with the community in the face of intimidation from the police.
“We have a lot of police presence here, the most I’ve ever seen in the past 21 weeks,” Rivera said. “But we are going to march. If they do or when they do attack us, we will link arms. We will not run away.”
Several reporters were on the scene, where a large crowd gathered for the demonstration. According to the New York Daily News, activists proceeded to march from the Stonewall Inn, down West Fourth Street and past Washington Square Park. But shortly before 8 p.m., the scene grew chaotic and three individuals were, according to the Daily News, apprehended and arrested by police in just some of the busts that were made during the evening.
Reporter Christopher Robbins of Gothamist posted videos on Twitter capturing footage of the public advocate on the scene as Williams urged the police to remain calm.
Video from Gothamist’s Christopher Robbins:
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams is here, and got shoved back by NYPd on bikes pic.twitter.com/1cqD58cMzC
— Christopher Robbins (@ChristRobbins) November 6, 2020
“NYPD was trying to clear the street to make an arrest. Aggressively,” Williams wrote on Twitter, where videos also showed Rivera getting arrested by police. “Officers then appeared to begin setting up for mass arrests — we inte
rvened to try and de-escalate and prevent that. Most importantly, there seems to be a lack of leadership when the City needs it the most.”
By the time activists reached Union Square, the Daily News reported, there were hundreds of police officers equipped with bicycles and, just as activists were about to disperse, officers barrelled in with their bikes to push individuals deeper into Union Square Park. Reporter Roger Stern of 1010 WINS was knocked to the ground and told the Daily News that he did not understand why officers charged a peaceful demonstration.
The NYPD, meanwhile, chimed in on Twitter at 9 p.m. posting a photo of a chain and alleging, without any video evidence, that a police officer was “pushed to the ground” and the chain was “pressed against his throat.” The police then warned that the department “will be reviewing this incident, and bring any additional perpetrators to justice.”
On the morning of November 6, Mayor Bill de Blasio hesitated to criticize the police department when asked by Brian Lehrer of WNYC about the NYPD’s response to the protests the night before.
The police’s actions during the evening drew widespread criticism from progressive queer politicians who reiterated their displeasure over the City Council’s hesitance to significantly cut the police budget over the summer.
Out queer Queens City Council candidate Tiffany Cabán issued a written statement condemning the NYPD’s actions and emphasizing the need to bring drastic reforms to the city.
“Last night we again witnessed the NYPD brutalize people who were practicing their Constitutional right to protest in defense of Black lives and in defense of our democracy,” Cabán said. “We saw the NYPD accost and assault our public advocate, Jumaane Williams. The public advocate is the second-most powerful position in the City, and is meant to be a check on the mayor, who is supposed to be in charge of, and, a check on, the NYPD. The police did not care.”
Cabán continued, “We continue to be in a moment of reckoning. We must end white supremacy. We must end racism and racialized capitalism. We must end our prison industrial complex. We cannot legislate around the edges. Yes, here in New York, we will immediately fight to take away the police forces’ weapons of war, and we will fight to remove them from credentialing our press corp, from occupying our schools, and from responding to our neighbors in mental health crises. But, we know that it is not enough. We have to listen to Black folks, Black women, Black trans women, who have been telling us for generations that the police in this country do not keep us safe.”
In response to Caban’s additional tweets directed at the mayor over the NYPD’s actions, out gay City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens wrote, “DefundtheNYPD.”
Out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman of Manhattan also spoke up on Twitter, writing, “Our Public Advocate @JumaaneWilliams has a long history of going to protests specifically to join with New Yorkers while de-escalating tensions. There’s no sense in this, @NYCMayor. Where are you?”
The demonstration was not the only one during the week that was met with aggression from the NYPD. Dozens of arrests were made in Manhattan November 4 on a night when police were blasted for resorting to “kettling” tactics in which officers disrupted peaceful protesters by pushing them onto sidewalks and blocking individuals with bicycles.
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