NYPD Training Document Shows How A Terrorist Response Group Was Weaponized To Attack Protesters

from the SRG:-we-are-the-violence-inherent-in-the-system dept

The protests that swept the nation following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin were often greeted by police violence — exactly the sort of police activity protesters were protesting against.

The largest police force in the nation — the New York City police department — was no exception. The NYPD has its own brutality problems and its share of dead citizens in its wake, but it appeared to have learned nothing from these experiences. It responded to protests with its own brand of violence and its own lack of personal responsibility, something encouraged by its expansive union contracts and decades of mayoral support.

The Intercept has obtained an internal manual for protest response by the NYPD’s “Strategic Response Group.” The SRG was tasked in 2015 with responding to unusual events, like terrorist attacks and, for some reason, largely peaceful protests. The SRG has its own internal problems that haven’t been addressed by NYPD brass — aligning it with the rest of the force, which hasn’t been held accountable by the NYPD for years.

Here’s an assessment of the SRG and its standard M.O., as summarized by Ali Winston of The Appeal last October:

Commanded by Inspector John D’Adamo, the SRG is composed of more than 700 officers and divided into five borough-based teams plus the Disorder Control Unit (DCU). The unit, which predates the SRG, is known for bringing “hats and bats” (clubs and long batons) to protests and engaging in violent mass arrests of questionable legality. It was central to policing Occupy Wall Street, as well as the 2003 anti-war demonstrations and the 2004 Republican National Convention—where over 1,800 people were arrested and held for days without charges, resulting in a $18 million legal settlement. The DCU’s tactics included using military-style training to break up crowds through a “disperse and demoralize” strategy, using undercover officers to spread misinformation among crowds, arresting demonstrators early to “set a tone,” and arresting “potential rioters” before they committed crimes.

“Hats and bats.” The hats and bats remain in place. As do officers who should have been removed from the NYPD entirely, rather than become treasured additions to the Special Response Group:

Officer Numael Amador was removed from the unit and suspended for choking two activists during an attempt to stop the deportation of immigration rights activist Ravi Ragbir in the winter of 2018. Even before the Ragbir incident, Amador had 15 Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) complaints on his record, including four substantiated allegations. Also that year, SRG officers were photographed manhandling City Council members Jumaane Williams and Ydanis Rodríguez. The unit has also been criticized for fatal shootings, conducting drunken driving stops, allegedly falsifying DUI charges to meet performance quotas, and backing away when the Proud Boys assaulted anti-fascist protesters outside an October 2018 event in Manhattan.

Added to the mix are the SRG’s bicycles, which are wielded as weapons when not being used for officer transport. Somehow, the introduction of bikes as weapons of war against unhappy citizens manages to be the least disturbing thing about the NYPD’s protest response. Here’s John Bolger and Alice Speri of The Intercept:

In the days following Floyd’s death, and then again during protests last fall, New York police arrested hundreds of people, many with no probable cause. They pepper-sprayed protesters and struck them with batons, trapped them in the streets with no way out, pushed them to the ground, and shoved them with bikes. In Brooklyn, on May 30, an officer pulled down a man’s Covid-19 mask and pepper-sprayed him at close range, bragging about it to fellow officers but failing to provide the man with medical assistance, as required by police regulations. Days later, another officer in Brooklyn struck a protester in the back of his head while he was complying with orders to disperse, causing a gash that required ten staples. And in the Bronx, on June 4, police in riot gear corralled hundreds of people before an 8 p.m. curfew, then beat and arrested them under the watch of the department’s highest-ranking uniformed officer, Chief of Department Terence Monahan.

The SRG showed up with hats, bats, and bikes to “kettle” protesters, which is just cop slang for “violate rights.” According to things that actually fucking happened that were documented by state investigators, NYPD officers (including SRG personnel) hit people with “blunt instruments” 50 times, unlawfully deployed pepper spray dozens of times, and otherwise assaulted protesters nearly 100 times.

The SRG’s participation in protest control is well within its wheelhouse, even though it’s mainly trained to handle terrorist attacks rather than First Amendment expression. Its response tactics are generally so brutal the SRG has colloquially been referred to as the “goon squad,” a nod to ad hoc groups of enforcers who historically engaged in violence during labor disputes. The original “goon squad” (formed in 2015) included members of the NYPD’s “Disorder Control Unit,” a unit whose name makes it clear it was there to deploy beatings until city morale improved.

The SRG’s protest response manual [PDF] was never meant to be seen by outside eyes. As The Intercept notes, the document contains destruction notices and is marked “law enforcement sensitive.” Paging through it, one can see why the NYPD would have preferred it remained secret. The same tactics used to bust up union strikes (as in the original definition of “goon squad”) are deployed by the SRG, which now commands $90 million of the NYPD’s yearly budget. The SRG is given authorization to break up protests (even peaceful ones) using tactics refined over the years by the NYPD’s frequent interactions with unhappy residents.

As the NYPD’s premier riot breakers, SRG units come heavily equipped, ready to make a show of overwhelming force against demonstrators. When a show of force fails, the SRG has a catalog of formations designed to break up protests. According to the SRG documents, these range from the basics, such as the “Wedge Formation,” used to split a crowd in half, to the more advanced, such as the “Separation Formation,” used to get between two dueling factions of protesters and push them apart.

One of the maneuvers best known to protesters is the “Encirclement Formation,” which is used “when there is a need to take a group of people into custody,” according to the guidelines. Commonly known as “kettling,” the formation allows police to surround protesters, leaving them no means of escape. Encirclement formations can be as small as one squad of eight officers or as large an entire platoon of four squads. In either case, the move to encircle protesters indicates that the decision to arrest has already been made, the document notes, and that the targets have been chosen.

These response tactics may appear logical when delivered in a presentation, but the SRG’s response has veered closer to chaos. A group of people gathered at a local ICE office were “grabbed by the hair” and “thrown to the ground” by SRG officers, even though no protest had actually taken place at that point.

The manual also encourages SRG officers to use their bikes as weapons. According to the document, an officer with a bike is at least as effective as three officers who don’t look quite as ridiculous.

NYPD training documents say that in close quarters, the bicycle represents a “force multiplier”: One cop on a bicycle can take the place of three officers with batons.

By holding their bikes across their chests and advancing on protesters, SRG officers can more swiftly contain citizens, making them much easier to arrest for exercising their First Amendment rights. The so-called “Bike Line Arrest Maneuver” (BLAM) is (somehow) made even more ridiculous by having SRG officers shout “BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!” as they advance on potential arrestees.

The end result isn’t quite as funny. Protesters are jammed together, making them easier targets for pepper spray and rubber bullets, which combines with now-limited breathing space to wreak maximum havoc on residents’ airways.

The SRG is internally toxic. And its worst aspects are being encouraged by the NYPD, which somehow feels something formed in response to terrorist attacks should be deployed to break up protests. At best, the SRG is simply the wrong tool for the job. At worst, it’s a unit that sees little difference between terrorists and protesters.

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