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

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

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

In response to HyperallergicReached for comment, a Brooklyn Museum spokesperson 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 the NYPD does not need its permission to enter. because its The building is owned by the city on city-owned land.

The spokesperson added that the museum will not be pressing charges against those arrested and that it has “reached out to NYPD community affairs leadership to discuss its actions on Friday and how we can focus on de-escalating tensions in the future.” .

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

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

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

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

According to the NYPD’s Office of the Deputy Commissioner of Public Information (DCPI), 29 people were arrested in the action, although the Associated Press reported 34 arrests. Although the Brooklyn Museum has been accused of using excessive force to remove activists in the past, the scale of the police force deployed on May 31 far exceeded that of other actions by pro-Palestinian museums throughout New York City in the last eight months covered by Hyperallergic. Notably, banner displays, sit-ins, and other similar interventions managed to take place at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art without arrests despite a heavy police presence.

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

Following the early closing of the museum at 5:15 p.m., riot police entered the building and aggressively arrested at least nine people, including WOL co-founder and president Nerdeen Kiswani, who was accosted and had her hijab removed in the process. , as also documented Democracy now. Police began pushing and shoving both protesters and members of the press, including Hyperallergictowards and finally through the rear lobby exit.

This was said by an artist and organizer who lives in Brooklyn and asked not to be identified. Hyperallergic that the museum “became a military host” that night, adding that he had “never seen an institution unleash such violence against its community.”

“The police swarmed inside, outside, on the roof and at the back of the museum as they attacked our comrades, ripped off a woman’s hijab and beat people,” he said. “They were specifically targeting brown and Muslim protesters, including those who dispersed and left the museum as instructed. We were collectively brutalized by the same institution that prides itself on being a ‘People’s Museum’ and claims to praise our work.”

MJ, a Brooklyn-based organizer who was also inside, said Hyperallergic that while people followed orders to disperse, “it really became a madhouse when we were cornered by the police and, curiously, by the museum’s security guards.”

Several people tagged the yellow sculpture “OY/YO” (2015) by Deborah Kass and the display text of the installation at the museum entrance by Nico Williams that had just been unveiled that day. The museum said in an email to Hyperallergic Repainting Kass’s sculpture is estimated to cost between $48,000 and $140,000 and could take up to two months, but no other works suffered lasting damage.

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

“Instead of now doing the same with Palestine, (the museum) decided to redouble its support for the genocide by mobilizing the same racist police forces they spoke out against to brutalize and arrest members of the community,” the WOL representative concluded.

Two officers in riot gear look through a museum hallway window painted with the text “Blood on your hands” (photo Rhea Nayyar/Hyperallergic)

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