for the New York Daily News
File this tongue-twister under inevitable: Protesters are prepared to protest the new NYPD unit responsible for policing protests.
“We need clarity about what the intentions of the unit are,” said Kirsten John Foy, who heads the Brooklyn chapter of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.
Community leaders, including Foy, will attend a meeting this week set up by NYPD Chief of Department James O’Neill to discuss the unit. “If we find out, coming out of these meetings, that there’s still some serious issues, then we’re going to have to have a more robust public dialogue,” said Foy.
Concerns were initially raised on Thursday when Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said a new 350-member anti-terror unit would also be assigned to police large-scale demonstrations. On Friday, NYPD officials walked back the Bratton announcement, saying the unit would focus solely on counterterrorism.
Police officials are expected to reveal details Monday on NYPD plans to handle big protests.
“It’s important to have a direct conversation with them about what their thinking is,” Foy said of the NYPD’s new unit. “I’m trying to give them the benefit of the doubt. That’s why we didn’t jump and attack them initially.”
Protests against police brutality have gripped parts of the city since Eric Garner, an unarmed Staten Island man suspected of selling loose cigarettes, died in July from a police chokehold on July 17. A grand jury voted on Dec. 3 not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo, sparking another round of protests. Some of the protests attracted tens of thousands of people. Cops were assaulted. Demonstrations blocked traffic.
Other activists are already weighing in on what the new unit should look like.
“It is not uncommon for police to have units that are specially trained to handle large events, protests and crowds,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Washington D.C.-based Partnership for Civil Justice Fund.
“Their training should be focused foremost on (the fact) that protest is lawful, protected activity. This is good activity that should be cherished and protected, not seen as something presumptively potentially criminal.”