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NYC mayor defends police response after videos show officers punching pro-Palestinian protesters

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NYC mayor defends police response after videos show officers punching pro-Palestinian protesters
News

News

NYC mayor defends police response after videos show officers punching pro-Palestinian protesters

2024-05-21 03:09 Last Updated At:03:11

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City Mayor Eric Adams defended the police department's response to a pro-Palestinian street demonstration in Brooklyn over the weekend, calling video of officers repeatedly punching men lying prone on the ground an “isolated incident.”

“Look at that entire incident,” Adams said on the “Mornings on 1” program on the local cable news channel NY1. He complained that protesters who marched through Brooklyn's Bay Ridge section on Saturday had blocked traffic, spit at officers and, in once instance, climbed on top of a moving city bus. “I take my hat off to the Police Department, how they handled an unruly group of people.”

“People want to take that one isolated incident that we’re investigating. They need to look at the totality of what happened in that bedroom community,” Adams added.

Footage shot by bystanders and independent journalists shows police officers intercepting a march in the street, shoving participants toward the sidewalk, and then grabbing some people in the crowd and dragging them down to the asphalt. Officers can be seen repeatedly punching at least three protesters, in separate incidents, as they lay pinned on the ground.

A video shot by videographer Peter Hambrecht and posted on X shows an officer in a white shirt punching a protester while holding his throat. Hambrecht said the arrests took place after police told the crowd to disperse.

“They were aware they might get arrested, but many times people use that to justify the beating which is obviously ridiculous,” Hambrecht told The Associated Press in a text message.

Independent journalist Katie Smith separately recorded video of an officer unleashing a volley of punches on a man pinned to the ground, hitting him at least five times with a closed fist.

At least 41 people were arrested, police said.

The NYPD later released its own video showing misbehavior by protesters, including people throwing empty water bottles at officers, splashing them with liquids and lighting flares and smoke bombs. It also showed one protester sitting on the roof of a moving transit bus waving a Palestinian flag.

“We will not accept the narrative that persons arrested were victims, nor are we going to allow illegal behavior,” NYPD Deputy Commissioner Kaz Daughtry said in a statement on X.

The NYPD agreed to change the way it handles public protests last summer after it had to pay out at least $35 million to settle claims of police misconduct during the large protests against racial injustice after the 2020 murder of George Floyd.

The legal settlement required the department to reduce the number of officers it sent to most protests. It also required police to allow most demonstrations to take place on public streets, even if they temporarily block traffic, as long as they are nonviolent and don't involve a threat of major property damage. Police can still step in under the settlement to redirect protest marches to prevent them from blocking access to bridges and tunnels, or places like hospitals and police precincts. But the written agreement says “the fact that some individuals in a crowd have engaged in unlawful conduct does not by itself provide grounds” to end demonstrations and order a crowd to disperse.

The City Council member who represents Bay Ridge, Justin Brannan, said the demonstration broken up by police was one held annually in the neighborhood to protest the displacement of Palestinian people following the establishment of Israel in 1948.

“Bay Ridge is home to the largest Palestinian community in NYC,” Brannan wrote on X. “There has been a Nakba Day demonstration here every year for the past decade without incident. I saw no evidence of actions by protestors today that warranted such an aggressive response from NYPD.”

New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman criticized the arrests and called them an escalation of police tactics against demonstrators.

“The aggressive escalation by the NYPD’s Strategic Response Group yesterday in Bay Ridge was a violation of New Yorkers’ right to speak out and risks chilling political expression," Lieberman said, naming the NYPD unit that is often called to protests.

FILE - New York City Mayor Eric Adams gestures as he attends a news conference at City Hall in New York, March 19, 2024. Adams defended the police department’s response Monday, May 20, 2024, to a pro-Palestinian street demonstration in Brooklyn over the weekend, calling video of officers repeatedly punching men lying prone on the ground an “isolated incident.” (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez, File)

FILE - New York City Mayor Eric Adams gestures as he attends a news conference at City Hall in New York, March 19, 2024. Adams defended the police department’s response Monday, May 20, 2024, to a pro-Palestinian street demonstration in Brooklyn over the weekend, calling video of officers repeatedly punching men lying prone on the ground an “isolated incident.” (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez, File)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand’s government will overhaul the tighter gun laws introduced after a deadly mass shooting by a white supremacist five years ago, because they put excessive burdens on gun owners who feel vilified by law enforcement and the public, the lawmaker leading the changes said.

“What’s happened is a massive change with massive penalties and targets on people who didn’t do anything wrong,” Associate Justice Minister Nicole McKee — a lobbyist for gun owners before she entered Parliament in 2020 — told The Associated Press in an interview this week. Every part of the law will be scrutinized, including the restrictions that bar all but a few hundred New Zealanders from firing banned semiautomatic weapons, she said.

McKee’s pledge of a wide-ranging review — following an earlier announcement that she would ease rules for gun clubs — was applauded by groups representing the country’s 250,000 license holders and decried by survivors of the 2019 terrorist attack at two Christchurch mosques where an Australian man opened fire on Muslim worshippers, killing 51 people.

“It makes me scared for our futures,” Temel Ataçocuğu — who was shot nine times in the attack and fears an erosion of the assault weapon ban — told the AP. “What have the past five years been for? How are they going to prevent this from happening again?”

New Zealand drew global admiration when its then-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said six days after the massacre that her government would outlaw all semiautomatic weapons. The change was approved by 119 lawmakers with only one opposed, and sweeping reforms followed: bolstered licensing requirements, more rules for gun clubs, and the creation of a firearms registry.

The changes introduced “onerous regulatory compliance,” said McKee, whose political party, Act, campaigned for New Zealand’s 2023 election on a platform for reversing many of them. Now in government as part of a center-right coalition, McKee pledged to update the law before the next election in 2026.

Her bloc has enough lawmakers to easily pass any reforms. Prime Minister Christopher Luxon and a spokesperson for Labour — New Zealand’s largest opposition party, formerly led by Ardern — have not answered AP requests for comment.

McKee said she would consult with the public before deciding specific measures and that her personal views would not direct the overhaul. Critics rejected that.

“She was elected as a gun lobbyist, that was her role,” said Chris Cahill, president of the Police Association, a group representing most New Zealand officers. “She’s got a loyalty to the gun lobby groups.”

The review was “without a doubt, a backdoor into giving people access to semiautomatic assault rifles again,” Cahill said.

At the time of the ban, McKee denounced it as “knee-jerk.” As a minister she is more guarded, but told the AP that New Zealand had not been entirely rid of such weapons; several hundred people have permits to use them for pest control in rural areas, while others can own but not fire them.

“If we extend the access, what are the possible controls around the use of the extension? And would society be happy with what those controls mean?” McKee said she would ask during the review.

“It’s about how do we find the balance with protecting people but not going over the top with a regulatory regime,” she said. Any concerns raised by opponents should be “realistic," McKee added. “It cannot be anecdotal.”

New Zealand’s gun laws were safer before the 2019 reforms, the minister said, citing the dozens of pages of information now required for a gun license as an example of changes that could deter gun owners’ compliance.

“That’s absolute rubbish,” said Cahill. Gun laws were “loose” before the terrorist attack, he added, and the scrutiny reported by owners in the years since reflected the proper administration of the law after an injection of government funds.

McKee will begin by examining the gun registry created after the attacks; some gun owners want it shrunk to only the highest-powered weapons, rather than all guns. She will also explore removing from police oversight the new agency that administers gun licenses and registrations.

Gun crime has increased in New Zealand since 2019, according to analysis of official crime figures by New Zealand news outlets. Supporters of the tighter restrictions say they will take time to have an impact, and that a burgeoning problem with violent gang crime is fueling the rise. McKee, and groups representing gun owners, say scrutiny since the attack has fallen on law-abiding license holders at the expense of criminals, who are not captured by the stricter rules.

The Council of Licensed Firearms Owners said members had lost or couldn't obtain licenses because of malicious reports from past partners — who must be interviewed as part of a person’s application — or because they had divulged depression to their doctors. Areas of flexibility should be introduced to applications, spokesperson Hugh Devereux-Mack said.

“Every single New Zealander who is not convicted of a serious criminal offense and has no sort of problematic behaviors or serious mental health conditions is eligible to own a firearm,” Devereux-Mack said.

The gunman serving a life sentence for the Christchurch attack, Brenton Tarrant, moved to New Zealand from Australia, acquired a gun license and amassed a cache of assault weapons, all legally, without drawing the attention of law enforcement until he committed the massacre.

The police were censured by an inquiry that found Tarrant was incorrectly allowed to nominate a character reference who barely knew him because he did not have relatives in New Zealand who could be interviewed.

McKee said the rules that followed have made the system rigid and unwieldy. She would prefer a licensing regime “that looked at the individual," she said — without prompting the same disregard of rules that had allowed Tarrant to receive a license.

Devereux-Mack said his group might support an additional practical testing component to gun licensing, and a tiered system with more freedoms for longtime license holders.

“New Zealand won’t be safer if it becomes easier to get a gun,” Ataçocuğu said. “I have to have an eye test every time I renew my drivers’ license. Gun owners should have similar background and mental health checks every few years to make sure they’re still safe to have guns.”

FILE - An armed policeman patrols the grounds at the Al Noor mosque following the previous week's mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 23, 2019. New Zealand’s government will overhaul the tighter gun laws introduced after a deadly mass shooting by a white supremacist five years ago, because they put excessive burdens on gun owners who feel vilified by law enforcement and the public, the lawmaker leading the changes said. (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)

FILE - An armed policeman patrols the grounds at the Al Noor mosque following the previous week's mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 23, 2019. New Zealand’s government will overhaul the tighter gun laws introduced after a deadly mass shooting by a white supremacist five years ago, because they put excessive burdens on gun owners who feel vilified by law enforcement and the public, the lawmaker leading the changes said. (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)

FILE - A police officer stands guard with a rose at the service for a victim of the March 15 mosque shootings at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 21, 2019. New Zealand’s government will overhaul the tighter gun laws introduced after a deadly mass shooting by a white supremacist five years ago, because they put excessive burdens on gun owners who feel vilified by law enforcement and the public, the lawmaker leading the changes said. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File);;;

FILE - A police officer stands guard with a rose at the service for a victim of the March 15 mosque shootings at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 21, 2019. New Zealand’s government will overhaul the tighter gun laws introduced after a deadly mass shooting by a white supremacist five years ago, because they put excessive burdens on gun owners who feel vilified by law enforcement and the public, the lawmaker leading the changes said. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File);;;

FILE - Police acting superintendent Mike McIlraith shows New Zealand lawmakers in Wellington on April 2, 2019, an AR-15 style rifle similar to one of the weapons a gunman used to slaughter 50 people at two mosques. New Zealand’s government will overhaul the tighter gun laws introduced after a deadly mass shooting by a white supremacist five years ago, because they put excessive burdens on gun owners who feel vilified by law enforcement and the public, the lawmaker leading the changes said.(AP Photo/Nick Perry, File)

FILE - Police acting superintendent Mike McIlraith shows New Zealand lawmakers in Wellington on April 2, 2019, an AR-15 style rifle similar to one of the weapons a gunman used to slaughter 50 people at two mosques. New Zealand’s government will overhaul the tighter gun laws introduced after a deadly mass shooting by a white supremacist five years ago, because they put excessive burdens on gun owners who feel vilified by law enforcement and the public, the lawmaker leading the changes said.(AP Photo/Nick Perry, File)

FILE - Armed police officers guard the entrance as family and survivors from the March 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings line up to enter the Christchurch High Court for day two of the sentencing hearing of Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant, in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Aug. 25, 2020. New Zealand’s government will overhaul the tighter gun laws introduced after a deadly mass shooting by a white supremacist five years ago, because they put excessive burdens on gun owners who feel vilified by law enforcement and the public, the lawmaker leading the changes said. (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)

FILE - Armed police officers guard the entrance as family and survivors from the March 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings line up to enter the Christchurch High Court for day two of the sentencing hearing of Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant, in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Aug. 25, 2020. New Zealand’s government will overhaul the tighter gun laws introduced after a deadly mass shooting by a white supremacist five years ago, because they put excessive burdens on gun owners who feel vilified by law enforcement and the public, the lawmaker leading the changes said. (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)

FILE- Al Noor mosque shooting survivor Temel Ataçocuğu points to the scar of a bullet wound in his arm during an interview at his home in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Feb. 25, 2020. New Zealand’s government will overhaul the tighter gun laws introduced after a deadly mass shooting by a white supremacist five years ago, because they put excessive burdens on gun owners who feel vilified by law enforcement and the public, the lawmaker leading the changes said. (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)

FILE- Al Noor mosque shooting survivor Temel Ataçocuğu points to the scar of a bullet wound in his arm during an interview at his home in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Feb. 25, 2020. New Zealand’s government will overhaul the tighter gun laws introduced after a deadly mass shooting by a white supremacist five years ago, because they put excessive burdens on gun owners who feel vilified by law enforcement and the public, the lawmaker leading the changes said. (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)

New Zealand's Associate Justice Minister Nicole McKee addresses a press conference at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, on April 22, 2024. McKee says the government will review stricter gun controls introduced after a mass shooting five years ago as part of a wide-ranging overhaul of firearms laws. (Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald via AP)

New Zealand's Associate Justice Minister Nicole McKee addresses a press conference at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, on April 22, 2024. McKee says the government will review stricter gun controls introduced after a mass shooting five years ago as part of a wide-ranging overhaul of firearms laws. (Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald via AP)

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