Peaceful protests in New York took a dark turn late Thursday as graphic video emerged of an elderly man being knocked to the ground by police in Buffalo and protesters in New York City were confronted with swarms of police officers using heavy-handed tactics to enforce a statewide 8 p.m. curfew.
The shocking incident in Buffalo’s Niagara Square occurred outside City Hall, where video posted by local media shows the man approaching police as they attempt to clear the square, only for him to be violently shoved. He then falls backward and slams his head into the ground, left seemingly unconscious as protesters can be heard screaming “He’s bleeding out of his ear!”
Buffalo police later released a statement saying they had arrested four people and that a fifth person was arrested during a skirmish with other protesters.
Cops claimed in the statement “during that skirmish involving protesters, one person was injured when he tripped & fell.”
Buffalo Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood initially told The Daily Beast authorities were “looking into” the shoving incident, though he said he hadn’t seen the video. Moments later, he ordered the immediate suspension of the two officers involved. Mayor Byron Brown issued a statement saying he was “deeply disturbed” by the video after “two Buffalo Police officers knocked down a 75-year-old man,” leaving him in stable but serious condition. He said the officers involved had already been suspended without pay.
Early Friday, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said the elderly man was at a hospital in the city and is expected to recover from his injuries, but added “simply put, the officers must be held responsible for their actions, not just fired.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was also quick to condemn the incident, which he called “wholly unjustified and utterly disgraceful.” On Friday, he said the Eerie County District Attorney was looking at “potential criminal charges” against the officers involved. But on Thursday, he had flat out denied that police officers in New York City were guilty of using excessive force, calling it “incendiary rhetoric” to suggest otherwise, despite numerous videos capturing heavy-handed tactics.
Even as Cuomo condemned the Buffalo violence late Thursday, large groups of cops in the Bronx and Brooklyn were captured on video enforcing the curfew with force, using batons on protesters who had been demonstrating peacefully.
The crackdown came after city leaders had spent much of the day defending the NYPD against accusations of excessive force. After a spate of videos went viral showing police officers apparently using brutal tactics against protesters earlier this week—in one instance driving into a crowd, in another striking protesters with batons even as they walked away—both Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea on Thursday praised police officers for their “restraint” during the unrest. Shea pleaded for an end to violence against cops and vowed to “hold police officers accountable” for excessive force, saying some would “probably” face suspension.
Protesters told The Daily Beast it was “delusional” for Cuomo to claim police haven't been using excessive force in recent protests.
“I think it’s delusional, I think it’s willful ignorance, and I think it’s dangerous,” Derek Ingram told The Daily Beast. “Black bodies have been vilified for so long that I think statements like that, with how violent police are, make it even more dangerous. It’s scary.”
“Police brutality is so ingrained in our culture, a statement like that isn’t going to do anything. It has to take fundamental re-training of police. And I don’t think a mere statement is going to change that,” he said.
Other protesters said the NYPD was responding to the protests against police brutality with more police brutality.
“I don’t know what Cuomo has been watching, but I’ve seen police officers, they’re not agitated, and they’re using the same kind of force that got us here in the first place,” Richard Edwards said.
“We hear from commissioners in the past over and over, what they say on a public platform and what happens in reality are two different things,” he said.
Cops were not just aggressive with protesters—credentialed members of the media were also targeted.
Brooklyn Paper reporter Ben Verde, who was reporting from a protest in Williamsburg that turned ugly when cops charged at protesters, tweeted that police told him “I don’t care, go home” when he held up his NYPD press credentials. Media are considered essential workers and are exempt from the curfew.
Verde said a senior officer threatened to take his press pass if he didn't leave.
NYPD spokesperson Sergeant Mary Frances O’Donnell told The Daily Beast late Thursday that the department would “look into” Verde’s account but offered nothing further.
Just after midnight, De Blasio posted tweets urging police to allow food delivery workers to do their jobs past the curfew, after video emerged of a staffer being arrested. He also said he was urging the NYPD to treat journalists as “essential” workers, adding “We WILL protect their rights. The public depends on the information they provide.”
Verde told The Daily Beast he’s been covering the protests all week but this is the first time he has had a run-in with cops. “It was clear that not only were they trying to clear the streets they were trying to clear cameras from the streets,” he said.
That incident is just the latest in a series of hostile and ugly encounters members of the media have encountered with the NYPD in the course of their reporting since protests kicked off. A HuffPost reporter was arrested and later released while covering protests Saturday, while on Tuesday a team from the Associated Press were harassed and threatened by cops.
Despite the flare-ups of violence in New York, protests in other cities took on a calmer tone in their sixth day.
In Washington, D.C., a determined crowd of protesters gathered outside the White House. The heavy military and law enforcement presence that’s come to define the protests in the nation’s capital was on display, as military vehicles manned by National Guard personnel hemmed in the crowds and were stationed in corners around downtown Washington.
Despite those surroundings, demonstrators described a positive and uplifting—not menacing— vibe to the day’s proceedings.
“This is love,” said Mikey Dee, a 33-year old man who brought his daughter to the protests. “This is a mark in history.”
“Clearly, it’s making a difference,” said Mangus Wilson, a 32-year old D.C. area resident who was passing out bottles of water. But he said he, and others, would keep showing up every day. “There’s no end in sight—it’s like corona.”
As a crowd gathered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, apocalyptic thunderstorm clouds moved in at a rapid clip around 8 p.m. When intense wind, rain and lightning hit, most protesters dispersed but a determined crew remained outside the White House until the rain passed, wearing ponchos and staring into police floodlights.
Joe, a 42-year-old protester from New York wearing a soaked white shirt with the words “no peace” written on it, was taking a break from shouting chants in the corner.
“It’d take a hurricane to stop us,” he said.