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“Chaos & Violence”: NYC to Pay $13M to Those Attacked by Police in 2020 Black Lives Matter Protests

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Image Credit: SITU Research, 2023

In a landmark $13 million settlement, New York City has agreed to pay 1,300 people attacked by police while protesting the Minnesota police murder of George Floyd in 2020. Sow v. City of New York yielded the largest total payout to protesters in a class-action suit in U.S. history, totaling about $10,000 per person. The suit focused on how police violated protesters’ civil and constitutional rights by making mass arrests and using excessive force that included improper use of pepper spray and using a tactic called kettling to trap and arrest protesters before a curfew went into effect. The case used a video analysis tool developed by SITU Research that can quickly analyze massive amounts of police body-camera video, aerial footage and social media videos. “The settlement is historic and incredibly important,” says civil rights attorney and co-counsel for the plaintiffs Gideon Oliver. “It’s also in some ways only as important as what we make it mean.” We also speak with Dara Pluchino, a social worker and plaintiff in the case, who describes her experience being kettled. “Once the curfew hit, then that is when chaos occurred and violence occurred.”

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StoryMar 03, 2023Meet the Bronx Activists Who Won a Historic Settlement for NYPD’s Violent Attack at 2020 BLM Protest
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We turn now to an historic settlement for more than 1,300 people who were attacked by New York City police while protesting the police murder of George Floyd in 2020. The landmark $13 million settlement announced last week with the city of New York is years in the making and is the largest total payout to protesters in a class-action suit in U.S. history, with each person receiving just under $10,000.

The case focused on how police violated protesters’ civil and constitutional rights by making mass arrests, using excessive force that included improper use of pepper spray, using a tactic called kettling to trap and arrest protesters before a curfew went into effect.

This is footage about improper arrests used in the case from an officer’s body camera.

POLICE OFFICER: Everyone’s under arrest! Everyone’s under arrest here! Everyone’s going in. Shut your camera off. Shut your camera off.

AMY GOODMAN: “Shut your camera off,” the police are saying.

The settlement is the latest in a series of legal victories for protesters that use a video analysis tool developed by SITU Research that quickly analyzes massive amounts of police body-camera video, aerial footage and social media videos. The city of New York settled another lawsuit in March with more than 300 protesters in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx over the NYPD’s use of kettling in 2020 protests. Each person received about $21,000, the highest per-person settlement for a mass arrest in U.S. history.

While this latest settlement did not impose any reforms on the NYPD, the director at SITU Research told The Intercept, quote, “Our larger goal remains enduring change in policing.”

For more, we’re joined by two guests. Gideon Oliver is a civil rights attorney, co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the case, and Dara Pluchino is a named plaintiff in the case, who was also a class member for the Mott Haven settlement. She’s a social worker.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Gideon Oliver, let’s just talk about the scope of this settlement and the significance of New York City — I mean, the taxpayers — having to pay out $13 million because of police misconduct and brutality.

GIDEON OLIVER: Thank you so much, Amy. It’s a great pleasure to be back on the show, and it was a great pleasure to litigate this case with National Lawyers Guild, lawyers from Cohen & Green, Beldock Levine & Hoffman and Wylie Stecklow.

You know, although there’s no technical admission of liability from the city or the police department in connection with the settlement, the size of the settlement really speaks for itself. And although it’s historic, as you just mentioned, there was recently another historic settlement. And, you know, a number of times before, the city of New York has paid out historic settlements or judgments in protester cases. And so, it really begs the question, you know; What’s going to change? What’s going to be different this time?

AMY GOODMAN: So, Dara Pluchino, tell us what happened to you in these Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. This, remember, folks, was in the midst of the pandemic, just the bravery alone of people coming out in force, thousands of people in city after city protesting the police murder of George Floyd.

DARA PLUCHINO: Yes. Thank you, Amy, so much for having us today and covering this.

I can speak about my experience and also recognize that my experience, largely due to the identities I hold and how that protects me from policing’s violence, is not representative of what I witnessed happen to many others in protests that summer and since and before. And so it’s really essential that this not be considered as an isolated summer or an isolated incident.

And my experience was one of unlawful policing, was one of kettling in Mott Haven, and then mass arrest, being held for much longer than allowed, being handed off from the arresting officer to the one who wrote the citation. I have lasting nerve damage in my left hand from the use of the zip tie handcuffs.

And my experience is also much safer. I was much less harmed, and my body was treated with much more care during arrest than folks around me who presented as Black and Brown and who I witnessed being hit with batons while arrested and handcuffed facedown on the ground, who I witnessed get pepper-sprayed in a targeted way, who I witnessed be punched, and etc.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to video accompanying the 2020 protests that was produced by Human Rights Watch and SITU Research about the NYPD’s plan to kettle and arrest protesters June 4th, 2020 — again, right after Floyd’s murder. In this clip, you hear an exchange between a New York police officer and two protesters.

NARRATOR: The protesters had already been forced to break the curfew. And the police keep ratcheting up the pressure.

PROTESTER 1: You guys are on the other [bleep] side! You guys are on the other side. Where do we go?

POLICE OFFICER: You’re getting locked up.

PROTESTER 1: How come? When?

PROTESTER 2: Where are we going to go?


PROTESTER 2: We’re corralled!


AMY GOODMAN: Dara, they’re saying, “You guys are there. We can’t go anywhere. You’ve corralled us in.” If you can also explain, for people who aren’t familiar with what kettling is? Describe it in detail.

DARA PLUCHINO: Yes. Kettling is the practice of enclosing a group of people — in this case, protesters — in a small area, so that there is not the ability to leave that area once mass arrest is going to occur. And in the case of these protests, the kettling occurred, as the person in the video shared, prior to when the curfew was in place.

And so, it was a small narrow street, and what occurred was that the group of protesters marching came upon a line of police officers using bikes and batons and their bodies as a barrier in the front of the crowd. And then, when the end of the group of protesters was on that same street, another line of police came behind to do the same and serve as a barrier with their bikes and batons and bodies. At that point, the group of protesters was stuck and unable to leave that block radius, because we were surrounded by homes and buildings on either side and then police lines in the front and the back. And once the curfew hit, then that is when chaos occurred and violence occurred.

AMY GOODMAN: Gideon Oliver, just last week, Gothamist reported that NYPD officers accused of wrongdoing can now watch all relevant video of an incident before speaking to investigators. Video evidence played a huge role in this settlement. If you can first talk about this in situ, the video compiling massive amounts of video from police bodycam and from social media, how this helped with this settlement, and then talk about what that means for police being able to view this before, for the future?

GIDEON OLIVER: Sure. So, I mean, in this case, we both received and gathered an unprecedented amount of video from many sources, but including a huge number of NYPD body-worn camera — pieces of NYPD body-worn camera footage, NYPD aerial surveillance footage, etc. And working with SITU Research, the partner who also worked with Human Rights Watch on the video clip that you just played, SITU Research was able to organize that data in a way they and we, the plaintiffs’ attorneys, could essentially look at what happened in a given date and location, integrating those various different video sources, which was just an incredible resource to be able to have.

And in terms of the CCRB’s new policy or changed policy, you know, before the new policy, a NYPD member could view their body-worn camera footage or other body-worn camera footage, because they can access that footage through a central repository, but they wouldn’t — but if they did so, there would be a record, right? There would be a record and an audit trail or metadata, and so that’s a data point that an investigator or somebody thinking about the officer’s credibility could use in evaluating their statement to the CCRB. But police didn’t have access to other footage, non-body-worn camera footage, TARU footage taken by other police, aerial footage taken by other police, etc. Now the CCRB has changed its policy and is going to allow NYPD members to view basically all of the footage before giving statements. And that’s not something, by the way, that’s going to happen for victims and witnesses.

So, this is a change that’s going to really undermine the truth-seeking process that the CCRB is supposed to be involved in. It’s outrageous. It’s going to lead to much less justice and accountability. And it’s also interesting because the CCRB investigated many incidents of uses of force arising from the summer 2020 protests, and one of its chief complaints to the police department was that the police department wasn’t making video footage and other evidence available to it and that, in many cases, NYPD members who, according to policy, should have had their body-worn cameras activated in interacting with protesters, were ordered by supervisors to turn the cameras off.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to put this last question to each of you, and the issue of this being a money settlement, about 1,300 people getting just under $10,000 each, as opposed to also being a policy-changing settlement. Let me first ask Gideon, then Dara, as we wrap up.

GIDEON OLIVER: You know, what this massive settlement means for New Yorkers is an open question, right? And it’s — we can’t rely on the city government to do what they’re supposed to do, which is translate a huge settlement like this into some kind of increased accountability, oversight and policy change. So, you know, the settlement is historic and incredibly important, but it’s also in some ways only as important as what we make it mean. So, that’s how I answer.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Dara Pluchino, you were part of both settlements, both in Mott Haven and this historic $13 million settlement.

DARA PLUCHINO: Yes. I think I would echo a lot of what Gideon shared, and I would add here that it’s also an opportunity for folks like myself, where this is representative of a more isolated incident with police because of the racist practices of policing, to redistribute and reinvest in local community organizations and individuals and the people who are in community doing the daily work of keeping them safe outside of policing, which we know does not serve the role that it is espoused to.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you —

DARA PLUCHINO: And for others, I hope what this money will do is provide an opportunity to access rest and care and therapy, or, you know, whatever form that takes, be it a vacation, be it a nice meal out with friends, be it formal talk therapy, but whatever kind of care and healing is required from these incidents and also the daily experience of living and existing in an overpoliced community and city and state and country.

AMY GOODMAN: Dara Pluchino, social worker, plaintiff in this case, and Gideon Oliver, civil rights attorney, co-counsel for the plaintiffs in this historic settlement.

Coming up, we look at the new blockbuster film about J. Robert Oppenheimer. We’ll speak to journalist Greg Mitchell. He asks, “Is Hollywood still afraid of the truth about the atomic bomb?” Back in 30 seconds.


AMY GOODMAN: “Destroyer of Worlds” by Ludwig Göransson, from the soundtrack of the movie Oppenheimer.

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Is Hollywood Still Afraid of the Truth About the Atomic Bomb?: Greg Mitchell on “Oppenheimer”

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