NYPD Goes After Protesters on MLK Day

Martin Luther King Rally and March 2021
The scene outside the Barclays Center on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Donna Aceto

Trans Flags waved in the air as queer folks gathered for a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day demonstration in Brooklyn on January 18, but the evening eventually descended into chaos when police officers aggressively arrested several individuals in Manhattan.

Hundreds of individuals huddled for the demonstration at the Barclays Center, where folks marked Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, brought attention to murders of Black individuals, and denounced the bigotry of the Trump administration in the days before President-Elect Joe Biden takes office.

The demonstrators proceeded to march over the Brooklyn Bridge into lower Manhattan, where numerous videos captured police officers storming into crowds of protesters and tackling marchers before arresting them. The videos sparked outrage across social media and prompted elected officials to call out the NYPD.

Qween Jean was on hand at the Barclays Center.Donna Aceto

“Once again, we are seeing and hearing accounts of NYPD officers infringing on the rights of New Yorkers,” Attorney General Letitia James said in a written statement. “The images of officers using excessive force against peaceful protesters is alarming and cause for deep concern. Less than a week after I filed a lawsuit against the NYPD over these very exact issues, we saw officers exhibit the same behavior.”

She added, “As we laid out in our lawsuit, this is a longstanding pattern that must stop. These New Yorkers were marching in the spirit of Dr. King, who taught us that peaceful protest is the most powerful force in the fight for freedom, equality, and justice for all. I will continue to fight to protect these most basic rights.”

Activist Jason Rosenberg, who was on hand at the demonstrations January 18, noted in a Twitter post the following day that “a majority of the violent arrests made last night during a Black Liberation March to honor the legacy of MLK Jr. on MLK Day were Black and Brown queer people.”

TS Candii and Jason Rosenberg at the Barclays Center.Donna Aceto

Out gay Councilmember Carlos Menchaca of Brooklyn, who is running for mayor, also took the NYPD to task and compared the police response to the lack of force used against those who invaded the Capitol Building earlier this month.

“From across the country, everyone witnessed the stark differences between how the police treated the pro-Trump mob that invaded the U.S. Capitol and those who marched for racial and social justice in our country,” Menchaca said in a written statement. “Now more than ever, the different police response underscores the urgency of the New York City Council’s public safety committee to review this discrepancy and how the NYPD treats New Yorkers based on the color of their skin and their message.”

Menchaca also called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to fire Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, saying that “those NYPD officers, particularly leadership, who fail to peacefully deescalate must be investigated and immediately fired specially when there is unnecessary force employed.”

The incident marked the most recent example of police officers using force against queer protesters. In one of the most pronounced examples of police aggression against queer folks last year, officers turned violent on LGBTQ folks who gathered at the Stonewall Inn on June 2 before marching through Manhattan.

In the Bronx, meanwhile, union workers peacefully protesting at Hunts Point Produce Market said they were also busted by NYPD cops on January 18. A video posted to Teamsters Joint Council 16 shows NYPD officers charging at union workers.

“It is outrageous that after being called essential heroes for months, several of our members were arrested while peacefully protesting for a raise today,” Teamsters Local 202 president Daniel Kane, Jr. said in a written statement. “These are the essential workers who went to work every day through the worst of the pandemic to feed New York. All they are asking for is a dollar-an-hour raise so they can feed their families too. The fact that they were arrested on Martin Luther King Day reminds us what side of history we are on.”


Demonstrators begin their march from Barclays Center to Manhattan. Donna Aceto
Joel Rivera delivers remarks in front of the crowd.Donna Aceto
New Yorkers are looking to slam the door on the Trump era. Donna Aceto

To sign up for the Gay City News email newsletter, visit gaycitynews.com/newsletter.