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Class Action Civil Rights Suit Filed over Brutal NYPD Policing of BLM Protests

Beldock Levine & Hoffman, Gideon O. Oliver, Cohen & Green, and Wylie M. Stecklow announce the filing of a major class action lawsuit against the City of New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, and other City officials, over the NYPD’s violent policing of the George Floyd protests this summer. The lawsuit seeks to put an end to ongoing, violent protest policing tactics deployed by the NYPD against Black Lives Matter activists in New York City.

Sow, et al. v. City of New York, et al., filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, seeks damages as well as declaratory and injunctive relief on behalf of putative classes that would include all people arrested between May 28th and June 6th, as well as all people who have been or will be subjected to the NYPD’s practices of violently disrupting protests.

“It is well past time the courts step in and stop the NYPD for their decades-long assault on New Yorkers’ right to protest,” said Jonathan C. Moore, partner at Beldock Levine & Hoffman LLP, the firm who represented Eric Garner, members of the Central Park 5, and co-counseled Floyd, the stop-and-frisk litigation. Mr. Moore was lead counsel on the 2004 Republican National Convention class action, MacNamara, et al., v. City of New York, et al.

Among other things, today’s lawsuit seeks to challenge the NYPD’s practices of: (1) violently disrupting protests in violation of protesters’ First Amendment rights; (2) arresting and/or using force on protesters without first giving constitutionally-required fair warning; (3) using unreasonable force against protesters, including by subjecting them to tight flex-cuffing and failing to loosen or remove flex-cuffs that injure protesters; (4) subjecting protesters that New York State law and NYPD policy normally require to be released after a brief street detention to full-blown, custodial arrest processing at a centralized location, thereby exposing them to close, poorly ventilated conditions of confinement, without access to masks, social distancing, or soap and water to wash hands – a particularly dangerous practice in light of the COVID-19 pandemic; and (5) related failures on the part of the Defendants to train, supervise, and discipline subordinate officers on those topics.

“Since May, Black Lives Matter actions in the streets have pressed demands to defund and abolish brutal police regimes like the NYPD,” said Gideon Oliver, civil rights lawyer and past President of the NYC Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. “In response, the NYPD has repeatedly and unapologetically deployed some of the most brutal and repressive protest policing tactics from its deep and ugly toolbox. And, day in and day out, Mayor de Blasio has denied the brutal reality and done nothing to force NYPD transparency or accountability. Court cases will only ever do so much. However, through this litigation, and many others like it that have been and will be filed, legal workers like us will push – as much as we can in the courts – for the transparency and accountability that he and other local elected officials keep refusing to demand.”

“The NYPD’s brutal repression of this summer’s uprising in defense of Black lives is itself a condemnation of the institution of US policing and underscores the ways it is inherently racist. We hope this lawsuit is one small step in helping to bring about the change Black communities have been demanding for years,” said Elena Cohen, President of the National Lawyer’s Guild and Partner at Cohen & Green PLLC.

“From the RNC to Occupy Wall Street to this summer’s BLM protests, New York City’s practice of aggressively over-policing expressive speech activity is a repeating pattern supported by improper training that instructs NYPD officers to intimidate, disperse and demoralize protestors.” said Wylie Stecklow, a civil rights lawyer, adjunct Professor at Fordham Law School and past National Chair of the Federal Bar Association’s Civil Rights Section.

The Complaint in Sow, et al. v. City of New York, et al. is available here:

1 - Complaint
Download PDF • 629KB



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