Activists Decry “Show of Force and Violence” at Brooklyn Museum Protest

After a massive pro-Palestine action yielded dozens of arrests at the Brooklyn Museum last Friday, May 31, activists are decrying what they say was a disproportionate police response at the demonstration.

Eyewitnesses including both protesters and Hyperallergic reporters noted the significant presence of riot police and members of the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) Strategic Response Group onsite and documented aggressive tactics and excessive force.

In response to Hyperallergic’s request for comment, a spokesperson for the Brooklyn Museum acknowledged that “the police brutality that took place here on Friday is devastating” and noted that the museum did not call the police, but that NYPD does not need its authorization to enter because its building is city property on city-owned land.

The spokesperson added that the museum will not press charges against those who were arrested and that it has “reached out to the community affairs leadership at NYPD to discuss their actions on Friday and how we can focus on de-escalation going forward.”

One of dozens of protesters taken into custody on Friday, May 31, during a pro-Palestine action at the Brooklyn Museum (photo Maya Pontone/Hyperallergic)

Cultural Front, the autonomous group behind Friday’s action, released a statement last week lambasting the NYPD response as “an unprecedented show of force and violence.”

The group also alleged that the museum’s own security “behaved like deputized police, and several made racist comments and gestures,” providing Hyperallergic with video evidence of personnel telling protesters to “go to fucking Gaza” and calling them “Hamas.”

Hyperallergic documented a museum security team member violently pushing a protester out of the building. When presented with this footage, the Brooklyn Museum spokesperson said that the security staff had been “verbally and physically harassed” by protesters and “responded as best they could to the overwhelming crowds and heightened tensions.”

According to NYPD’s Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information (DCPI), 29 people were arrested at the action, though the Associated Press reported 34 arrests. Though the Brooklyn Museum has been accused of enabling excessive force to remove activists in the past, the scale of police force deployed on May 31 far surpassed that of other pro-Palestine museum actions across New York City in the last eight months covered by Hyperallergic. Notably, banner unfurlings, sit-ins, and other such interventions managed to proceed at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art without any arrests despite heavy police presence.

The action came to a head at 4:30pm on Friday, when over 100 demonstrators occupied the museum lobby with banners, flags, and chants urging the museum to divest from affiliates tied to Zionist entities profiting from the siege on Gaza. Led by the group Within Our Lifetime (WOL), hundreds more protesters marched from the Barclays Center and congregated at the Brooklyn Museum plaza. As a group of demonstrators unfurled a giant banner from the rooftop that read “Free Palestine/Divest from Genocide” over the museum façade, others were chased off the building’s glass canopy by police armed in riot gear. 

Upon the museum’s early closure at 5:15pm, riot police entered the building and aggressively arrested at least nine people, including WOL co-founder and chair Nerdeen Kiswani, who was tackled and had her hijab removed in the process, as also documented by Democracy Now. Police began pushing and shoving both protesters and members of the press, including Hyperallergic, toward and eventually through the lobby’s back exit.

An artist and organizer living in Brooklyn who declined to be named told Hyperallergic that the museum “became a military host” that evening, adding that she had “never witnessed an institution unleash such violence on its community.”

“Cops swarming the inside, outside, on the roof, and at the back of the museum while assaulting our comrades, tearing off one woman’s hijab, and punching people,” she said. “They were specifically targeting Brown and Muslim protesters, even those who were dispersing and leaving the museum as instructed. We were collectively brutalized by the same institution that prides itself on being a ‘People’s Museum’ and claims to uplift our work.”

MJ, a Brooklyn-based organizer who was also indoors, told Hyperallergic that as people were following orders to disperse, “it truly became a madhouse as we were cornered by police, and interestingly, museum security guards.”

Several people tagged Deborah Kass’s yellow “OY/YO” (2015) sculpture and the display text for Nico Williams’s museum stoop installation that had just been unveiled that day. The museum noted in an email to Hyperallergic that repainting Kass’s sculpture will cost an estimated $48,000 to $140,000 and could take up to two months, but no other works sustained lasting damages.

In an email to Hyperallergic, a WOL spokesperson pointed out that “the museum declared itself a “safe haven” for Black Lives Matter protesters in 2020,” allowing them to recharge their phones, replenish their water, and use the Wi-Fi and restrooms all while maintaining social distancing protocols. 

“Instead of doing the same for Palestine now, [the museum] decided to double down on supporting genocide by mobilizing the same racist police forces they spoke out against to brutalize and arrest community members,” the WOL representative concluded.

20240531 171030
Two officers in riot gear peer down through a museum corridor window graffitied with the text “Blood on your hands” (photo Rhea Nayyar/Hyperallergic)

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top