Five Black Lives Matter Protesters Arrested At Rockefeller Center: “The NYPD Went Berserk”

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By Emma Whitford in Gothamist 

Five Black Lives Matter protesters—four of them women, including a 17-year-old and an intellectual property attorney—were forcefully arrested near the north entrance to Rockefeller Plaza on Monday night, after NYPD officers erected metal barricades to disrupt their weekly People’s Monday march.

An extension of larger protests last winter, People’s Monday highlights specific victims of police brutality year-round.

This week, protesters met at Grand Central around 7:00 p.m. to stage a call-and-response reading of several facts pertaining to the October 2014 death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, a Chicago teenager who was shot sixteen times by Officer Jason Van Dyke. The shooting was captured on video, and Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder last month.

Following the Grand Central reading, the group staged a 16 minute die-in at Sacks Fifth Avenue before crossing the street to Rockefeller Plaza with the intention of marching and chanting through its center.

Kim Ortiz, 31, a lead organizer for NYC Shut It Down, was among the arrestees. She says that she and about a dozen other protesters were pushed out of Rockefeller Plaza around 8:30 p.m. The group had already been split at the plaza’s east entrance, where NYPD officers speedily erected metal barricades, barring half of the protesters.

The arrests took place when the protesters inside the plaza attempted to exit, and continue their march.

Activist Keegan Stephan, who documented the incident on Twitter, says that the arrests were simultaneous. “We were leaving the plaza and they put up barricades blocking off the entrance,” he recalled. “They grabbed all five people at once and took them to the ground.”

“I got thrown like a rag doll,” Ortiz said this morning. She was on her way to the emergency room, concerned about swelling to her right wrist, and soreness and bruising to her arm. “They grabbed me and twisted my right arm like it was Play-Doh.”

“It was mostly women who got arrested,” she added. “M.J. [Williams, the attorney] had blood on the side of her cheek.”

Cleo Jeffryes, 22, was among the group of protesters barred from the plaza, and met the barricaded group at the north entrance. “I saw MJ getting thrown to the floor and next thing you know I was thrown to the floor,” she recalled. “I remember my arms being pulled and yanked. The officers didn’t say a word to me.”

Stariyon Ambroiss-Smith, 17, was also thrown to the ground. “It was like a scene out of WWF,” Stephan said. “There was one cop who was exclusively restraining her legs so she couldn’t get up.”

According to an NYPD spokeswoman, the five arrestees were observed pushing through metal barriers at Rockefeller Center and prohibiting pedestrian trespass. They were subsequently charged with a combination of obstructing governmental administration, criminal trespass, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest.

In the immediate aftermath of the arrests, multiple news outlets reported that three of the arrestees had attempted to climb the Rockefeller Christmas tree. Asked to comment on these allegations this morning, a spokeswoman for the department said she didn’t have information about such an attempt.

“It’s ironic that the NYPD has not learned from the Laquan McDonald case,” said Williams this morning. She was transported to the emergency room at Mount Sinai Hospital following her arrest last night, and treated for the scrape on her cheek.

“The NYPD went berserk and violently arrested demonstrators who were standing on a sidewalk outside of Rockefeller Plaza,” Williams added. “There are consequences for the police when they attempt to cover up their outrageous actions… that are clearly contradicted by video evidence.”

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