The New York police department (NYPD) has agreed to ban several controversial policing tactics used on demonstrators – as part of a settlement agreement in response to lawsuits about police behavior during the 2020 racial justice protests.
The New York state attorney general Letitia James, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Legal Aid Society announced the reforms on Tuesday after the parties sued the city’s police department. James issued a statement noting the agreement will “significantly” change how the NYPD responses to mass demonstrations in future.
The NYPD will adopt a four-tiered response system that emphasizes de-escalation versus flooding protests with police officers, James’s office said, as seen in the 2020 racial justice protests that erupted across the US and internationally after the police in Minneapolis murdered George Floyd in May 2020.
The NYPD will also hire a senior executive who will oversee the implementation of the new response system in public demonstrations.
City police tactics such as “kettling”, where officers encircle and press upon a group of demonstrators, will be banned, NYCLU, the New York state affiliate of the ACLU, announced in a post on Twitter, now known as X.
Police will also no longer be allowed to use low-flying helicopters to intimidate protestors in New York City. Officers will only break up protests as a “last resort”, the NYCLU added, and will only make arrests after giving three warnings for crowds to disperse.
“The right to peacefully assemble and protest is sacrosanct and foundational to our democracy. Too often peaceful protesters have been met with force that has harmed innocent New Yorkers simply trying to exercise their rights,” said James in the statement.
“Today’s agreement will meaningfully change how the NYPD engages with and responds to public demonstrations in New York City.”
Eric Adams, the mayor of New York, also celebrated the forthcoming changes, calling the reforms balanced.
“Our administration is committed to improving our policies to keep New Yorkers safe and protect their civil liberties,” said Adams in a statement, the New York Times reported. Adams noted the reforms would protect public safety while also safeguarding the first amendment rights of demonstrators to exercise free speech.
The latest agreement comes as New York City paid out record settlement amounts to protestors injured by police while demonstrating for racial justice in 2020.
New York officials announced in July they would pay out a total of $13.7m to protestors who were beaten and arrested by police at a protest for George Floyd in 2020.
In March, New York City already agreed to pay $6m to protesters who were detained, arrested and subjected to excessive force during a racial justice protest in the Bronx borough.
As of May this year, at least 19 US cities had agreed to pay out a total of more than $80m to protestors injured during 2020 demonstrations, a record amount experts say is only likely to increase.
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